Hockey

How far can Vegas go? Will the Maple Leafs or Jets do Canada proud? These storylines will outline the NHL playoffs

From Vegas’ inexplicable run to the Maple Leafs and Jets doing Canada proud, there was quite a bit to love on this 12 months’s NHL common season. And primarily based on the first-round matchups within the playoffs, it ought to solely get higher.

Listed below are 10 storylines to be careful for within the subsequent couple of months.

ROLLING THE DICE IN VEGAS

The very best story of the common season was the Vegas Golden Knights, who ran the desk as an growth group and received the Pacific Division by eight factors. To say it was sudden could be an understatement. Most had pegged Vegas to contend for the No. 1 draft choose. As an alternative, Bodog betting website has them as 7-to-1 odds of profitable a Stanley Cup.

So can they hold their luck rolling? Nicely, possibly.

Now that it’s the playoffs, Vegas received’t be capable of depend on smoke and mirrors for wins. They aren’t catching anybody unexpectedly. And whereas they’d top-of-the-line residence information, you’d must assume that opposing gamers is not going to be as simply distracted by the glitz and glamour of the strip within the playoffs.

That being stated, the Golden Knights are for actual.

Marc-Andre Fleury has the most effective numbers of any goalie within the NHL, whereas William Karlsson scored extra targets than everybody not named Alex Ovechkin and Patrik Laine. With a well-rounded roster that’s quick, tenacious on the forecheck and 4 traces deep, Vegas may very well be a secure wager.

Vegas Golden Knights defenceman Brayden McNabb celebrates a objective towards the Edmonton Oilers on April 5. Amber Bracken / The Canadian Press

PREDATORS AND THE TROPHY

A 12 months after reaching the Stanley Cup ultimate as an eighth seed — the primary time in franchise historical past that they superior past the second spherical — the Predators head into the playoffs with heightened expectations because the No. 1 group within the NHL.

Bodog has them because the 7-to-1 favourites to win the Cup. On paper, there’s little cause to argue towards that.

Nashville won’t have a participant ranked among the many high 60 scorers, however they’ve 4 gamers who hit the 20-goal mark and 6 with not less than 50 factors. In fact, the group’s power begins from the again finish. The Predators, who allowed the second-fewest targets this season, have 4 Norris Trophy-calibre defencemen in addition to a goalie in Pekka Rinne who simply would possibly win the Vezina Trophy.

Add all of it up and Nashville may turn into the primary Presidents’ Trophy winners for the reason that 2012-13 Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup.

TWO HEADS ARE BETTER THAN ONE

Braden Holtby or Philipp Grubauer?

How about each?

From Washington and Philadelphia to New Jersey and Anaheim, there are numerous groups that might depend on two goalies to hold the load within the playoffs. That’s not essentially a foul factor.

Having only one goalie makes a coach’s life quite a bit simpler, but it surely’s turning into the exception — not the norm — as increasingly groups head into the playoffs with potential goalie tandems. In spite of everything, the Penguins received back-to-back Stanley Cups with Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury sharing the load.

It’s partially why the Geese, who’re heading into the playoffs with John Gibson nursing one other harm, signed Ryan Miller in the summertime. In New Jersey, backup Keith Kinkaid has changed Cory Schneider because the starter, whereas Washington is debating whether or not Holtby or Grubauer needs to be in web for Recreation 1.

After which there’s the Flyers, who in typical trend would possibly depend on three completely different goalies — Petr Mrazek, Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth — to get the job finished.

Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby celebrates a objective towards the Ottawa Senators on April 6. Matt Kincaid / Getty Pictures

DON’T BET AGAINST SID

The Penguins head into the playoffs not taking part in their finest model of hockey, but when there’s something we’ve realized within the final couple of years it’s this: Don’t wager towards Sidney Crosby — or, for that matter, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and anybody else was on the group for back-to-back championships.

In different phrases, Pittsburgh might be primed and prepared as soon as the post-season begins.

The Penguins not solely know what it takes to win, however they’ve the expertise to get it finished. That is the group within the league with three top-10 scorers. And what makes Pittsburgh’s offence notably exhausting to deal with is that Crosby, Malkin and Kessel play on separate ahead traces.

So long as goalie Matt Murray can discover his recreation after getting back from a concussion, there’s no cause why Pittsburgh can’t three-peat.

WE’VE GOT A SITUATION

It’s turn into a playoff custom for followers in Nashville to toss catfish onto the ice earlier than video games. However a brand new custom was born when a fan mailed a catfish to the NHL workplaces following a controversial disallowed objective towards the Predators in a current recreation.

“I’m significantly furious,” Carrie Underwood, who’s married to Predators ahead Mike Fisher, tweeted afterwards. “Goaltender interference? Are you out of your thoughts? On what planet?”

It may very well be an indication of issues to return.

Whereas the NHL has tried to make calls across the crease extra constant by giving the scenario room in Toronto the ultimate say on reviewable performs, it’s nonetheless removed from a precise science. You’re nonetheless going to have performs just like the one in Nashville, which may go both means. And due to the paradox, you’re going to have followers who’re outraged.

If it retains up, the NHL may obtain greater than only a smelly catfish at its workplaces.

DIVISION OF DEATH

A 12 months in the past, three of the highest 4 groups within the NHL had been taking part in out of the Metropolitan Division. And due to the wild card playoff format, the No. 2 ranked Penguins and No. three ranked Blue Jackets had been compelled to play one another within the first spherical, with the winner dealing with the top-seeded Capitals within the second spherical.

This 12 months, it’s the Atlantic that has turn into the Division of Dying.

Neglect the Stanley Cup ultimate. The very best matchup within the playoffs may come within the first spherical, when the third-seeded Maple Leafs play the second-seeded Bruins. Whichever group wins will get to play the top-seeded Lightning within the second spherical.

After that, the remainder of the playoffs may turn into a bit of cake. That’s, if the winner has something left within the tank.

Winnipeg Jets ahead Patrik Laine shoots towards the Chicago Blackhawks on April 7. Jason Halstead / Getty Pictures

THE CANADIAN DROUGHT

5 Canadian groups made final 12 months’s playoffs, with Edmonton reaching Recreation 7 of the convention ultimate and Ottawa coming inside an additional time objective of taking part in for the Stanley Cup.

This 12 months, the probabilities of profitable are down to 2. However what Canada lacks in amount, it makes up for in having two authentic contenders.

In response to Bodog, Toronto and Winnipeg are 10-to-1 favourites to turn into the primary group for the reason that 1993 Canadiens to convey the Cup again to Canada. their rosters, it’s simple to see why.

The Leafs completed with the third-best file within the Jap Convention, whereas the Jets had been the second-best group within the West (and the league). Each groups are led by younger stars, have above-average goaltending and might kill you with offence (Toronto had three 30-goal scorers, whereas Winnipeg was led by 44-goal scorer Patrik Laine and 91-point producer Blake Wheeler).

Winnipeg most likely has a barely simpler path to the ultimate, however don’t be stunned if both group makes important noise.

TRADE ACQUISITIONS

Brian Burke used to joke that common managers lose their collective minds and make their greatest errors of the 12 months on the final day of the commerce deadline. In fact, it’s a mistake provided that you don’t win the Cup.

There have been seven groups (Boston, Nashville, Pittsburgh, San Jose, Tampa Bay, Vegas and Winnipeg) prepared to half methods with first-round picks at this 12 months’s deadline. We received’t know if it was price it till a number of months from now, however pay shut consideration to the Lightning.

J.T. Miller has offered Tampa Bay with 10 targets and 18 factors in 19 video games, however thus far Ryan McDonagh has not checked out residence on the blue line. Perhaps he’s saving his finest hockey for when it issues probably the most. He higher, as a result of after giving up a first-round choose and a conditional second-rounder, in addition to three prospects to the New York Rangers, the Lightning are in it to win it.

EXORCISING DEMONS

As soon as once more, Alex Ovechkin was probably the most prolific objective scorer within the NHL this season. And as soon as once more, the Capitals had been the highest group of their division. However except they will switch that success to the playoffs, it received’t actually matter.

It’s been 20 years since Washington superior previous the second spherical.

That’s twenty years’ price of disappointment. And whereas Ovechkin doesn’t deserve all of the blame, all eyes might be targeted on the 32-year-old as he tries to win the one trophy that has thus far eluded him.

It’s not simply Ovechkin who has one thing to show in these playoffs.

New Jersey’s Taylor Corridor (529 video games) and San Jose’s Evander Kane (574 video games) are each taking part in of their first post-season, whereas Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky is attempting to redeem himself after getting referred to as out by his coach for final 12 months’s poor playoff efficiency. And although he hasn’t stated that is his final season, this may very well be 38-year-old Joe Thornton’s ultimate try at capping his profession off as a champion.

BEWARE OF THE BOTTOM FEEDERS

That previous adage of “when you’re in, something can occur,” definitely rings true within the NHL after Los Angeles received the Stanley Cup as an eighth seed in 2012 and Nashville reached the ultimate because the lowest seed final 12 months.

This spring, there’s potential for a few underdogs to do related injury.

It’s not about the way you begin, however somewhat the way you end. New Jersey was one of many hottest groups within the second half. Anaheim was simply as dominant down the stretch, with wins towards Winnipeg, Minnesota and Los Angeles.

And don’t low cost the Avalanche. The gamers is perhaps younger and taking part in above their heads, however as a group {that a} 12 months in the past was by far the worst within the NHL, Colorado additionally has nothing to lose. That’s a harmful mixture.

E mail: mtraikos@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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