Painting a Playoff Picture

The Nashville Predators were a favorite to win the Stanley Cup going into the 2016-17 season. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

I don’t typically follow professional sports, but I watch hockey like it’s my day job. With that being said, it’s obvious that the Stanley Cup playoffs keep me on my toes year after year. This season, the playoffs have been turbulent and have yielded some of the best hockey I’ve seen in recent memory.

I’m a Minnesota Wild fan, so I had high hopes for the “State of Hockey” going into the first round. A change in coaching staff led to a successful early season, but the momentum fell off leading into the first round. I looked forward to the team recapturing the spark they had in the first half of the season, but my hopes were quickly dashed by the St. Louis Blues under the leadership of, sadly, Mike Yeo. The Wild failed to adapt his system to their team structure, but the Blues thrived under his coaching and were able to eliminate the Wild in the first round. Hopes dashed, we’ll get ‘em next year.

The first round was exciting from start to finish. Most games went into overtime, maybe even leading to too much hockey all at once. But nonetheless, I took in as much as I could. Many teams had back-and-forth exchanges throughout their series, such as the Rangers and the Montreal Canadiens. Both organizations traded blows in the first four games of the series, with the Rangers ultimately coming out on top with a 4-2 series win. They couldn’t, however, carry that momentum forward and were eliminated in the second round by the Ottawa Senators in six games. As always, Lundqvist had a strong playoff showing despite the club’s loss.

In a very similar display, the Washington Capitals eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. With a young team and a great system, however, the Leafs are looking strong going into the next season. I was elated to see the Senators eliminate the Boston Bruins from Cup contention. I can appreciate the analytical aspect of hockey and its stats, but playoff time means that emotions run high and I was rooting against the Bruins ever since they earned their playoff berth.

With the second round at a close, the matchup in this year’s final round is looking stranger and stranger. The Nashville Predators have been on a hot-streak, coming out of left field with their performance thus far, including a sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks in round one and a strong showing against the Blues in the second. To see them win in the conference final and progress to the finals would set them up for a potential Stanley Cup win or give them confidence moving into the next season.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Capitals also had a compelling second round series. The Pens picked up some momentum following a serious injury on Sidney Crosby, showing me that they don’t ride entirely on their star player. The Caps had done well to keep up though, forcing a seventh game after strong victories in games five and six. With the Pens winning the series, I can see them making it to the final round.

Before the start of the season, the Preds were a favorite for winning the Cup, but dropped off early on. Based on their performance late in the season and through the playoffs, it’s safe to say I’ve got my money on them taking home that Cup.