Everyone seems to be getting into summer sports mode, with spring training games, college pro days and the NFL draft coming soon. It seems ironic that when all this swings into high gear, so does the National Hockey League. It seems a little weird, especially from the perspective of a Chicago Blackhawks fan, that teams are hoisting a trophy they won in a winter sport at a parade in June. Regardless, this year will be another great year of games leading to the Stanley Cup final series. There’s been a bit of shifting in the past few years, with the Penguins taking the reins from the alternation of the Blackhawks and Kings for the title. Where will the title end up this year? Let’s take a look.
For five of the original six teams, the Eastern conference has always had a strong fan base. This year, the competition among top teams in the Metropolitan division has been a feisty one. The two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals are head-to-head to clinch the division title, and the competition seems it will ride out to the last few games of the season.
The Flyers are hanging around too, and with a strong finish could challenge for that title. In the Atlantic Division, barring unforeseen circumstances, the Tampa Bay Lightning look to be on track to clinch the title. If their strong play continues, it is likely that they will be the number one seed overall in the Eastern Conference as well. Contenders in the playoffs from the Atlantic Division are the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs.
They are a little ways from the Lightning at the top of the standings but are in a position where they will be in the playoffs regardless, so they can play without that pressure weighing on them. Teams on the bubble who could all end up clinching a wild card spot are the New Jersey Devils, the Columbus Blue Jackets and maybe Wake Forest’s hometown team, the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Canes currently only have about a 10 percent chance of making the playoffs, but crazier things have happened.
In the Western Conference, the new man on campus is very much the Nashville Predators. After winning the conference and losing in the Stanley Cup Final, the team is obviously all-in as seen through bold trades to get stars to build this year’s roster. Their probability to win the Central Division is continually going as the season progresses, with their only real challenger being the Winnipeg Jets.
A surprising team making a run this year is the Las Vegas Golden Knights in their first year of existence. Given the opportunity to grab unrestricted players from every team, their scouts did a great job in bringing together an all-around impressive team that is currently at the top of the Pacific Division. They’ll be a team to watch simply due to a Las Vegas fanbase and their historic first season that no one saw coming. The wild-card spots this year are going to be a tough race, as always, in the Western Conference. Anaheim, San Jose, Dallas, Los Angeles, Colorado, Calgary, St. Louis and Minnesota are within about five points in the standings, give or take, so those spots could really go to any of them. Minnesota, San Jose, Colorado and Los Angeles are looking the best at the moment, but in the Western Conference there is really no telling until the last game has been played.
All in all, this looks to be an interesting year in the playoffs with very strong teams leading the field on both sides. There’s also some great stories this year like the Las Vegas Golden Knights’ historic first season and the apparent reign of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Will they accomplish the historic feat of a three-peat, or will someone beat them to it?