The book has closed on the NHL regular season, meaning it’s now time for the playoffs to start. Many intriguing narratives outline this year’s playoffs. For instance, the Detroit Red Wings will be participating in the playoffs for the 25th straight year, which is the longest current streak in North American sports. Also, it will be the first time since 1970 that no Canadian team will compete in the playoffs.
There’s endless storylines behind the 2016 playoffs. Like, will the Chicago Blackhawks repeat as champions and capture their fourth championship in seven years. Or can the Los Angeles Kings’ even year dominance reign supreme again? Here are the most compelling storylines to look forward to during the final eight weeks of the hockey season.
Can the young Stars deliver for Dallas?
I’m trying to provide some puns into your life. There’s nothing wrong with that and I actually hope it leaves you feeling amused.
Dallas has made the most out of its extremely young roster, which carries an average age of 28. Captain Jamie Benn leads the team in goals (41) and points (89). He’s third in the NHL in these two categories. Benn’s steady production was a big reason for the Stars finishing first in goals scored during the regular season with 265. But it hasn’t just been Benn who has carried the load for Dallas. 24 year-old Tyler Seguin and 32 year-old are tied for second on the team in goals also, with 33.
If there’s a reason why Dallas falls short in the playoffs, it won’t be because of their offense. That was confirmed throughout the regular season by them finishing with the best record in Western Conference. It will be however, by the reason of their shaky defense and goal-tending. Out of all 12 playoff teams, Dallas upholds the worst GAA, surrendering 2.78 goals per game.
Dallas’ woeful defense was overshadowed because of its blistering offense during the regular season. Blemishes like that can become exposed come playoff time. All together, Dallas has built the perfect team to advance far in the playoffs. Despite not having any immense forwards on the roster — at 6’4”, 24 year-old defenseman Stephen Johns is Dallas’ tallest player. Instead, a complement of quickness and young talent has pushed the Stars all season. Can this formula reign true once more?
Is this the year that Washington breaks through?
You’ve heard the story before. A sweltering offense, paired with a plethora of goal scorers who can dispatch any defense they encounter. Nothing can impede the surging storm that is the Washington Capitals. Wait, did I forget to tell you that Washington, even amid their annual regular season success, has won just four playoff series since 2008?
It’s hard to fathom at the moment. A team that’s won their division six out of the last nine seasons has failed to even make it to conference finals. But that’s been the Capitals’ problems.
A thorn in the side. An elephant in the room. Whatever you’d like to call it, whenever Washington has gotten to the postseason they’ve crumbled. But maybe, just maybe, this is the year their fortune turns. No other team in hockey carries three 70+ point scorers heading into the playoffs with Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, and Nicklas Backstrom, whom headline a lethal offense that led the NHL this year in points by a wide margin, with 120. In addition, the Capitals were the NHL’s lone team to have a point percentage over 70%.
And it’s not just the offense that’s gathered rave this year. Braden Holtby was a mainstay for the Capitals in net all season. He’s not to the level of the Blues’ Brian Elliot, Lightning’s Ben Bishop, or even Islanders’ Thomas Greiss, but he’s pretty damn solid.
Holtby owned the seventh best GAA (2.20) and save percentage (.922) in the regular season and that’s something Washington can lean on if their offense once again fails to perform. So with that being said, can Washington, with the most wins in the Eastern Conference finally thrive under pressure when it matters the most?
How far can the Islanders and Panthers last?
You know that old cliché in sports, that it’s not always the best team that wins? Well, if you go back to the past two Stanley Cup champions — Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings, who were both third place finishers in their divisions — this definitely validates that point.
If there’s a set of teams that can take on that label, it just might be the New York Islanders and Florida Panthers. The Islanders, similar to the Tampa Bay Lighting last year finished in the middle-of-the-pack in their division. New York has relied on its trio of goal scorers — John Tavares (33 goals), Brock Nelson (26), and Kyle Okposo (22) to maneuver past sporadic goaltending. Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss split starts this year, Greiss with 41 and Halak with 36. Greiss features a slightly better SV% than Halak, so they’ll role with him in the playoffs.
Florida finished with 103 points and took home the Atlantic division by a wide margin, so I guess calling them a sleeper would be a misnomer. Regardless, what’s simply holding the Panthers back is experience, as they are appearing in the postseason for the first time since 2012. Florida doesn’t have one clear superstar that stands out on its roster. But what makes the Panthers different is the balance it showcases. Not one player manufactured over 30 goals during the regular season. However, with five forwards all accounting for at least 20 goals and 50 points makes Florida very potent.
Unlike the Islanders, Florida has the luxury to lean on veterans that can propel them through the playoffs. Ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr leads the team in goals (27) and points (66. He is also the anchor that has kept young stars such as Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov patient and hungry.