The Stanley Cup playoffs are set, and as we learn every year, anything can happen from this point forward.
While the Washington Capitals and Dallas Stars had the best records in their respective conferences last season, neither was able to make it past the second round. The Pittsburgh Penguins beat the San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup Final a year after the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Tampa Bay Lightning. None of those teams finished first in their divisions.
This means while the Capitals and Blackhawks earned a lot of points this season, that won't guarantee success in what should be an exciting postseason.
|2017 NHL Playoff Schedule|
|Game||Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs||Date||Time (ET)||TV|
|1||Maple Leafs at Capitals||Thursday, April 13||7 p.m.||USA|
|2||Maple Leafs at Capitals||Saturday April 15||7 p.m.||NBCSN|
|3||Capitals at Maple Leafs||Monday, April 17||7 p.m.||NBCSN|
|4||Capitals at Maple Leafs||Wednesday, April 19||7 p.m.||NBCSN|
|5*||Maple Leafs at Capitals||Friday, April 21||TBD||TBD|
|6*||Capitals at Maple Leafs||Sunday, April 23||TBD||TBD|
|7*||Maple Leafs at Capitals||Tuesday, April 25||TBD||TBD|
|Game||Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets||Date||Time (ET)||TV|
|1||Blue Jackets at Penguins||Wednesday, April 12||7:30 p.m.||USA|
|2||Blue Jackets at Penguins||Friday, April 14||7 p.m.||NHL Network|
|3||Penguins at Blue Jackets||Sunday, April 16||6 p.m.||CNBC|
|4||Penguins at Blue Jackets||Tuesday, April 18||7:30 p.m.||CNBC|
|5*||Blue Jackets at Penguins||Thursday, April 20||TBD||TBD|
|6*||Penguins at Blue Jackets||Sunday, April 23||TBD||TBD|
|7*||Blue Jackets at Penguins||Tuesday, April 25||TBD||TBD|
|Game||Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers||Date||Time (ET)||TV|
|1||Rangers at Canadiens||Wednesday, April 12||7 p.m.||NBCSN|
|2||Rangers at Canadiens||Friday, April 14||7 p.m.||USA|
|3||Canadiens at Rangers||Sunday, April 16||7 p.m.||NBCSN|
|4||Canadiens at Rangers||Tuesday, April 18||7 p.m.||NBCSN|
|5*||Rangers at Canadiens||Thursday, April 20||TBD||TBD|
|6*||Canadiens at Rangers||Saturday, April 22||TBD||TBD|
|7*||Rangers at Canadiens||Monday, April 24||TBD||TBD|
|Game||Ottawa Senators vs. Boston Bruins||Date||Time (ET)||TV|
|1||Bruins at Senators||Wednesday, April 12||7 p.m.||NHL Network|
|2||Bruins at Senators||Saturday, April 15||3 p.m.||NBC|
|3||Senators at Bruins||Monday, April 17||7 p.m.||CNBC|
|4||Senators at Bruins||Wednesday, April 19||7:30 p.m.||USA|
|5*||Bruins at Senators||Friday, April 21||TBD||TBD|
|6*||Senators at Bruins||Sunday, April 23||TBD||TBD|
|7*||Bruins at Senators||Wednesday, April 26||TBD||TBD|
|Game||Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators||Date||Time (ET)||TV|
|1||Predators at Blackhawks||Thursday, April 13||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|2||Predators at Blackhawks||Saturday, April 15||8 p.m.||NBC|
|3||Blackhawks at Predators||Monday, April 17||9:30 p.m.||CNBC|
|4||Blackhawks at Predators||Thursday, April 20||TBD||TBD|
|5*||Predators at Blackhawks||Saturday, April 22||TBD||TBD|
|6*||Blackhawks at Predators||Monday, April 24||TBD||TBD|
|7*||Predators at Blackhawks||Wednesday, April 26||TBD||TBD|
|Game||Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues||Date||Time (ET)||TV|
|1||Blues at Wild||Wednesday, April 12||9:30||NBCSN|
|2||Blues at Wild||Friday, April 14||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|3||Wild at Blues||Sunday, April 16||3 p.m.||NBC|
|4||Wild at Blues||Wednesday, April 19||9:30 p.m.||NBCSN|
|5*||Blues at Wild||Saturday, April 22||TBD||TBD|
|6*||Wild at Blues||Monday, April 24||TBD||TBD|
|7*||Blues at Wild||Wednesday, April 26||TBD||TBD|
|Game||Anaheim Ducks vs. Calgary Flames||Date||Time (ET)||TV|
|1||Flames at Ducks||Thursday, April 13||10:30 p.m.||NBCSN|
|2||Flames at Ducks||Saturday, April 15||10:30 p.m.||NBCSN|
|3||Ducks at Flames||Monday, April 17||10 p.m.||NBCSN|
|4||Ducks at Flames||Wednesday, April 19||10 p.m.||USA|
|5*||Flames at Ducks||Friday April 21||TBD||TBD|
|6*||Ducks at Flames||Sunday, April 23||TBD||TBD|
|7*||Flames at Ducks||Tuesday, April 25||TBD||TBD|
|Game||Edmonton Oilers vs. San Jose Sharks||Date||Time (ET)||TV|
|1||Sharks at Oilers||Wednesday, April 12||10 p.m.||USA|
|2||Sharks at Oilers||Friday, April 14||10:30 p.m.||NBCSN|
|3||Oilers at Sharks||Sunday, April 16||10 p.m.||NBCSN|
|4||Oilers at Sharks||Tuesday, April 18||10 p.m.||NBCSN|
|5*||Sharks at Oilers||Thursday, April 20||TBD||TBD|
|6*||Oilers at Sharks||Saturday, April 22||TBD||TBD|
|7*||Sharks at Oilers||Monday, April 24||TBD||TBD|
|*If necessary; NHL.com|
Eastern Conference Predictions
|1st Round||Washington Capitals over Toronto Maple Leafs||4-1|
|1st Round||Columbus Blue Jackets over Pittsburgh Penguins||4-3|
|1st Round||New York Rangers over Montreal Canadiens||4-3|
|1st Round||Boston Bruins over Ottawa Senators||4-2|
|2nd Round||Washington Capitals over Columbus Blue Jackets||4-3|
|2nd Round||Boston Bruins over New York Rangers||4-2|
|Conference Final||Washington Capitals over Boston Bruins||4-2|
Based on the way this season has gone, it seems likely the Eastern Conference champion will come out of the Metropolitan Division.
The Capitals are once again the top team in the NHL, with the best defense and one of the top offenses in the league. Braden Holtby has had an outstanding year in net, while Alex Ovechkin has plenty of help around him on offense.
Pittsburgh is all about offense, with a league-best 282 goals scored, and Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are still as dangerous as anyone in the NHL.
Meanwhile, the Columbus Blue Jackets are a sleeper with arguably the top goaltender in the league this season in Sergei Bobrovsky.
Although the team doesn't have one go-to player on the front line, there are 12 players with at least 10 goals this year and nine players with at least 20 assists. That balance could be a positive in the playoffs instead of relying upon one or two elite players.
With that said, Washington remains the favorite to advance beyond the first few rounds and finally break through with success in the playoffs.
From the Atlantic Division, the Boston Bruins have the talent and experience to make a deep run.
Western Conference Predictions
|1st Round||Chicago Blackhawks over Nashville Predators||4-0|
|1st Round||St. Louis Blues over Minnesota Wild||4-3|
|1st Round||Anaheim Ducks over Calgary Flames||4-1|
|1st Round||Edmonton Oilers over San Jose Sharks||4-2|
|2nd Round||St. Louis Blues over Chicago Blackhawks||4-2|
|2nd Round||Anaheim Ducks over Edmonton Oilers||4-3|
|Conference Final||St. Louis Blues over Anaheim Ducks||4-3|
With three Stanley Cup wins in the past eight seasons, the Chicago Blackhawks are the obvious favorites to advance in the Western Conference.
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have been leaders for the team in all of the title runs and are still making a major impact. However, past success doesn't guarantee anything for the future.
One of the biggest threats will be the St. Louis Blues. Despite finishing with just 99 points on the year, there are few hotter teams in the NHL, with the Blues recording 15 wins in the final 19 games, including two overtime losses.
"It feels really good," Blues coach Mike Yeo said, per Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "That was something we set our sights on and really pretty impressive of our group, to be honest with you. These last couple months have been quite a run, and now we can get excited and get geared up for a real tough opponent."
This team reached the conference final last year and is just as dangerous this time around despite a worse overall record. The special teams could also come up big, with the No. 4 penalty kill in the NHL.
The Minnesota Wild won't be an easy out in the first round, but this sleeper could go the distance.
While the Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers are both capable of winning it all, the Oilers might be a bit too young to trust in these playoffs while the Ducks are inconsistent offensively.
|Stanley Cup Final|
|Washington Capitals over St. Louis Blues||4-2|
The Chicago Cubs have won the World Series, the Cleveland Cavaliers have won an NBA title and Sergio Garcia has won a major. Why can't the Washington Capitals win the Stanley Cup?
Recent history has not been kind to the Capitals. They have reached the playoffs eight of the past nine years with six first-place finishes. This has resulted in zero trips past the second round.
The key for this team is balance, with anyone on the top two lines capable of making a game-changing play. Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie are also capable of creating goals on their own when everything else breaks down.
Holtby won the Vezina Trophy last year and improved in almost every major category, making him even more dangerous going into the postseason.
This is the best team in every aspect of the game and should finally live up to the promise with a Stanley Cup.