The Stanley Cup Playoffs is the elimination tournament that follows the National Hockey League regular season. Eight teams from each of the two conferences compete in four rounds of best-of-seven-series games, with the final round being the Stanley Cup Finals. The top three teams from each of the four divisions that make up the NHL enter into the playoffs. The final two teams entered are the two teams with the best regular season record from each conference that haven’t already qualified for the playoffs.
In the first round of the playoffs, the top-ranked team in the conference plays against the lowest-ranked wild-card, while the other division winner plays against the higher ranked wild-card. The second and third place teams in each division then play each other. The winners of each series progress to the next round until the Western Conference champions and the Eastern Conference champions face off in the Staley Cup Finals.
Washington Capitals (56-18-8, 120 points): The Washington Capitals were simply dominant throughout the regular season. They started strong and never appeared to slow until after winning the Presidents’ Trophy. Team captain Alex Ovechkin is the true star of this team; he scored fifty goals and added a further twenty-one assists on the season. Despite this don’t overlook the play of Branden Holtby with his .922 save percentage on the season and favourite for the Vezina Trophy for best goaltender .
Pittsburgh Penguins (48-26-8, 104 points): Pittsburgh fired head coach Mike Johnston after a disappointing 15-10-3, replacing him with Mike Sullivan in June. Since the change in coaching personnel the Penguins have gone 33-16-5 and once again look like a contender. Pundits have suggested that the injury to star player Sidney Crosby could see the Penguins struggle. However, Pittsburgh fans will point to the 2008-9 season when there was a change in coaching personnel midway through; they went on to win the 2008-9 Stanley Cup. Could history repeat itself?
Florida Panthers (47-26-9, 103 points): During the postseason referees are far more reluctant to call penalties so the Florida Panthers ability to outscore opponents at even strength will be incredibly important. On the flip side, if the referees do being to call penalties Florida could struggle as it’s only been able to convert on seventeen per cent of its power play opportunities. That number places it twenty-third in the league and amongst playoff teams only the Tampa Bay Lightning have converted at a lower percentage.
New York Rangers (46-27-9, 101 points): The New York Rangers have been outshot by their opposition more than any other playoff team and ranks 22nd amongst all NHL teams. With the quality of opposition only increasing in the playoffs the Rangers will struggle to keep opposition teams from finding the net. One thing that will aid New York in this endeavour is the play of starting goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist posted a .920 save percentage for the 2015-16 season and is widely considered to be one of the best goalies in the league.
New York Islanders (45-27-10, 100 points): Despite the fact that the New York Islanders are coming off a 100 point season many analysts believe there is still significant room for improvement with this team. Many individual players disappointed over the regular season, earning less points than in years previous. Despite the under par season of many players the Islanders still made the playoffs and, if they can get hot, could be a highly dangerous and competitive team. The Islanders do, however, have a long list of injured players including their starting goalie, number one defenseman and three of their veteran forwards. The Islander’s lengthy injury list could see their postseason push ended before it has even begun.
Tampa Bay Lightning (46-31-5, 97 points): The Tampa Bay Lightning’s goaltender Ben Bishop is having a career-best year having posted a .926 save percentage on the season, a number good enough for him to be considered a contender for the Vezina Trophy. The biggest issue facing the Lightning in the play offs, much like the New York Islanders, is their lengthy injury list, with at least four key players for this team already out injured and another facing a potential suspension for an illegal boarding play.
Philadelphia Flyers (41-27-14, 96 points): The Philadelphia Flyers finished the season in strong form going 15-6-4 over the last 25 games of the season. Further cause for optimism is the fact that the Flyers won these games thanks to solid fundamental hockey and not simply good fortune. However, much like the Panthers the Philadelphia Flyers struggle on special teams, only converting on 18.1 per cent of their chances this year, putting them below the league average.
Detroit Red Wings (41-30-11, 93 points): The Detroit Red Wings will need to rely on the veteran presences of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk if this young Detroit team is to progress through the playoffs. The biggest issue facing this Red Wings team is the number of goals they concede. Only the Dallas Stars (230) have conceded more goals than the Red Wings (224) however the Stars are considerably better at the offensive end than Detroit having scored fifty-six more goals over the course of the regular season.
Eastern Conference Stanley Cup Finalist Prediction: Washington Capitals.