With the Stanley Cup Playoffs officially three games in for all 16 teams, history has been made for two teams in particular: the Las Vegas Golden Knights and the Winnipeg Jets. Both have won their first playoff games in franchise history; Vegas making their first playoff run and Winnipeg breaking an eight-playoff game losing streak.
With these major breakthroughs for both teams’ history, many other teams are steamrolling ahead in their opening round matches, with only the Pittsburgh Penguins—Philadelphia Flyers and Minnesota Wild—Winnipeg Jets splitting their respective series 2-1 at the end of Sunday. All other matches are lopsided starts, either 2-0 or 3-0.
In my article predicting the playoff runs at the beginning of the season, I mentioned that the NHL shouldn’t take the Golden Knights for granted – and look where the team is now.
As an expansion team, they did have the advantage of selecting one player from every other NHL team, which set them up for a season of winning with a carefully crafted team. Now in their first playoff appearance, up 3-0 against the Los Angeles Kings, there seems to be nothing stopping the Knights.
Depending on who wins the series between the Anaheim Ducks and the San Jose Sharks, hockey fans should plan on Vegas playing a hard fought series. Even though the Kings are a wild card, they are a strong team, and Vegas is playing with even strength, well deserving that 3-0 start.
Likewise, the Nashville Predators are up 2-0 against the Colorado Avalanche, although that 2-0 goes against the strength of play that the Avalanche have brought against the Predators. Each game has brought a one-score lead for the Predators, so they will have to fight hard to make it out of the series with their number one ranking still intact.
On the Eastern Conference side of the bracket, the Columbus Blue Jackets have surprised hockey nation after taking a 2-0 series lead against the number one ranked Washington Capitals. Both of the Blue Jacket’s wins have come in overtime, so it will be interesting whether the Capitals try to make a comeback from that 2-0 series deficit.
The Penguins and the Flyers have provided perhaps the most lopsided series in relation to scoring, game one bringing a 7-0 Penguins victory, game two bringing a 5-1 Flyers victory and the reverse score for the Penguins coming from game three.
There hasn’t been a lack of physicality and scoring opportunity for either team, so no matter the outcome of the series, it will be high scoring, intense and might even push the series to its full seven game capacity.
On the other quarter of the Eastern Conference, the Boston Bruins have quickly jumped to a 2-0 lead against the Toronto Maple Leafs, not hesitating to show their physicality and scoring abilities as a team. Like the Penguins—Flyers series, the games have been mostly lopsided, with Toronto not showing much willingness to get into the games.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, as the overall number one ranked team in the entire playoff contest, have continued to show their dominance against the New Jersey Devils, pulling out fast breaking scores to rise their level of contest early in games. The Devils have tried to come back in these contests, but to no avail. It seems like this series will be an easy 4-0 sweep for the Lightning.
Even though the first round has yet to end, although the possibilities of 4-0 sweeps are there for Vegas and the Lightning, some ascertains can be made about the following three rounds.
As the number-one team, many have the Lightning hoisting the Stanley Cup in early June, which is the most likely outcome of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, as the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions, the Penguins can’t be counted out for a deep run in the playoffs.
Although I don’t see a Western Conference team hoisting the cup this year, a match-up against the Golden Knights and Predators seems imminent for the championship of the Western Conference Final. No matter which team, the Knights or the Predators, makes it into the final, it will provide for a lengthy, hard-fought battle, which will probably go to its full seven game series.