The race has begun. Tonight will mark the first games for the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs! There is nothing that can match the anxiety and suspense of an NHL Playoff game. Unlimited overtimes, huge hits, momentum building fights, and elite net-minders. Although hockey doesn’t get the ratings it deserves, the loyal are loud and proud, and probably some of the most fun sports fans to be apart of. A BIG good luck to all of your teams as they make the bold attempt to be the next team to lift the cup. Here is Tony’s Take’s 2016 NHL Playoff Preview.
Minnesota Wild- 38-33-11
The Minnesota Wild beat out the Colorado Avalanche for the last wild card spot in the Western Conference. Minnesota is lucky the Western Conference is top heavy on talent. They currently sit with a 5 loss losing streak, and look to regain that end of the season form that put them in the playoffs to begin with. The Wild had a shaky start in the 2015-16 hockey season. This eventually lead to them replacing their head coach with Torchetti, an Assistant Coach Stanley Cup winner with the Chicago Blackhawks. They immediately began to turn things around. If the Wild have any shot they need Dubnyk to hold off the relentless scoring of the Dallas Stars, and they need to make improvements on their penalty kills (27th in the NHL with a 77.94%). The wild are a deep team offensively though (11 players reached double digit goals), and they will need all cylinders firing for their first round match up.
Nashville Predators- 41-27-14
The Predators have built a contending team through a stout defense. One of the few teams that decides most games on the blue line. Lead by Shea Weber and Roman Josi this defense can be a difficult task to deal with. Statistically this team ranks middle of the pack, but don’t be surprised if they advance further into the playoffs. If puck possession is in their favor this team will wear down opponents, and that is their game plan. A strong fore check with a strong blue line will keep any team on their heels. They will need Rinne to step up big in net, and give them the spark they need to carry on to the Stanley Cup Finals.
San Jose Sharks- 46-30-6
The Sharks boast an offensively powered team. Any one of their lines can put the puck in on you. 4th in the league on Goals For, this team is always looking for the open shot. Where the sharks have always had troubles is on the back end, and on the special teams. They rank 21st on the Penalty Kill, and another 21st in Save Percentage. This needs to improve in the playoffs. They will need their big three in Pavelski, Thornton, and Burns, to step up big against this gritty Kings team. Martin Jones looks to have his first go as the number 1 goaltender in the playoffs. They will need key saves from him, and a strong counter attack with their depth. If they can mix the two together they’ll have a nice recipe for Stanley Cup success.
Los Angeles Kings- 48-28-6
If the Kings plan on lifting the cup this season they will need to rely on… Who else? Jonathan Quick. They rank 3rd in Goals Against, and they will need to maintain that position heading into the post season. However, that’s not all. This team is built to bully people. Size, strength, and grit. This team back downs from no one. This may very well be one of the most balanced Kings teams offensively, that we have seen in the past couple of years. They will need a strong fore check, and a good net front presence. I expect the Kings to do what they always do, and attempt to get under their opponents skin. With the addition of Lucic this last off season they may very well have created the best team at doing this.
Anaheim Ducks- 46-25-11
The Anaheim Ducks finished incredibly strong the second half of the season. Let’s not even talk about the first half because this looks like a brand new team with the mission of the Stanley Cup being the only thing on their minds. The key to Anaheim winning is goals. Yes, I understand that goals are the name of the game, but having ranked 17th in goals for and 1st in goals against, this means they need to have more production. This team leads the league in games decided by one goal, and they would do themselves a favor to ease the pressure of those situations in the playoffs. Where the ducks reign supreme is on special teams. They ranked 1st in both the Power Play and the Penalty Kill in the NHL. Quite an impressive feat. If they are raising the cup it is because they are a disciplined team that will make you pay for every mistake.
Chicago Blackhawks- 47-26-9
If the Chicago Blackhawks are lifting the cup mid summer it is for a few reasons. The main on being: Experience. The defending champs look to repeat for the first time since the Red Wings in the late 90s. They will need Crawford to play at a higher level, and their forwards need to play a sound two way game if this is to be the case. They ranked 22nd in Penalty Kill, and will need to ensure no careless mistakes are made to add to that stat. Seabrook will be playing heavy minutes in order to anchor the back end. Chicago is a talented team, but they are also lead by an extremely intelligent coach. Expect Quenneville to have a sound game plan to counter anything that is thrown at them.
St. Louis Blues- 49-24-9
The Blues show what a Defensive team can do in the Western Conference. On paper one of the more well balanced teams, in terms of talent, from the front end to their net minders. Jake Allen and Brian Elliot has had themselves a fantastic season. Unfortunately, they cannot escape these pesky Chicago Blackhawks. I think they’d prefer it that way, though. The Blues are out for revenge in their first round matchup, and if they want the shot of hoisting the cup they’ll need continued back end success. Whether Hitchcock chooses to play Allen or Elliot they’ll need a solid performance on the Penalty Kill (3rd in the league).
Dallas Stars- 50-23-9
Having not made the playoffs last season, the Dallas Stars made sure they sprinted towards the playoffs this time around. One of the most talented rosters in the league, and they are primed to have their star return for game 1 of the playoffs after an achilles injury. Seguin has shared that spotlight with Jamie Benn as they have produced point after point for this Dallas team. The most productive pair in the league this year looks to keep it rolling into the playoffs. Their Goaltenders split time this season, each coming away with 25 wins. If they are to win the cup they will need to settle with their choice of goaltender, (either Niemi or Lehtonen) and improve on the back end of the ice. They ranked 27th in the league on save percentage, and this will need to improve for the playoffs because one goal can be the deciding factor of moving on or going home.