It’s that time of year! The Stanley Cup Playoffs are one of sports’ most intense stretches. As usual, this year will be no different as the brackets were finalized this weekend. The action gets started on April 12th, and TicketNetwork has the complete schedule.
Stanley Cup Playoffs match ups are always enticing. Endless story lines arise, and the pressure of capitalizing on a successful season is palpable.
In 2017, there are plenty of cases in which a team used to playoff success will go up against a team looking to make a playoff impression for the first season in a while.
The defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins will have a great opportunity to repeat as well. Malkin and Crosby have been stellar all year, and while other teams are grabbing the headlines, the Pens have gone about their business.
In this playoff primer, we’ll key in on the game’s rising stars. Additionally, a Stanley Cup Champion prediction will be made.
Before we get started, here are the first round match ups in the Eastern and Western Conferences.
East – 1st Round
Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers
Ottawa Senators vs. Boston Bruins
Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
West – 1st Round
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators
Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues
Anaheim Ducks vs. Calgary Flames
Edmonton Oilers vs. San Jose Sharks
Stanley Cup Champion: Washington Capitals
In particular, three of these series have some very intriguing story lines. In both the East and the West, a few teams have hockey’s next superstars. Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers are all All-Stars that are 23-and under.
All of their respective teams used a high draft pick to add these players to their roster. In turn, the trio is making the front office look extremely smart as they realize their full potential at such an early age.
Here’s how each star will fare in the playoffs as they match up against experienced teams looking to make another deep playoff run.
Toronto Maple Leafs (40-27-15) vs. Washington Capitals (55-19-8)
The Rookie of the Year Award was wrapped up a long time ago. Auston Matthews has burst on to the scene for the Toronto Maples Leafs. He is the team’s go-to goal scorer after notching 40 in his rookie campaign. An additional 29 assists added up to 69 points, enough to lead his team in goals and assists…at the age of 19!
He is the perfect combination of athleticism and intelligence. Light on his feet and quick with the stick, Matthews can get to any spot on the ice to fire off a shot or set up a teammate.
Fans in Toronto have been excited ever since the season opener. Matthews scored four goals in his debut, but it wasn’t enough as the Leafs lost in overtime.
However, fans knew that the franchise’s future was bright thanks to Matthews.
Months later, the Maple Leafs have earned only their second playoff appearance in the last decade.
It only gets tougher from here for Matthews. The Capitals will key in on the rookie and look to shut him down for the entire series. Toronto went 1-1-1 against Washington this season, and Matthews tallied three points in the three regular season games.
Calgary Flames (45-33-4) vs. Anaheim Ducks (46-23-13)
Next up is the NHL’s newest play maker, Johnny Gaudreau. If Matthews is leaning towards the goal scoring path of Alex Ovechkin, Gaudreau is leaning towards becoming the next version of Sidney Crosby.
Gaudreau netted 18 goals this season, but more impressively he led the team with 43 assists. The well-rounded nature of his game has led to three All-Star selections in his young career.
Gaudreau is the only one on this list with prior playoff experience, but that came as a rookie. This season, the pressure will be on his shoulders to lead the Flames past the Anaheim Ducks.
Calgary only managed to go 1-4 against Anaheim this season; however, an 8-3 win has Calgary optimistic in this upcoming series.
On the other hand, this is a moment that Gaudreau was made for. He attended Boston College, a hockey powerhouse in the NCCA, and was an integral part of BC winning a National Championship during his freshman season.
Edmonton Oilers (47-26-9) vs. San Jose Sharks (46-29-7)
Although both of the aforementioned players are extremely talented, the cream of the crop might be Connor McDavid. The 20-year old has made an incredible impact on the Edmonton Oilers franchise in only a year and a half.
He was this year’s winner of the Art Ross Trophy in only his second season. McDavid won the award as a result of leading the NHL in points (100). He scored 30 goals and assisted on an additional 70.
A Canadian native, he has taken great pride in turning around the Edmonton Oilers franchise. Once the most feared team in the league with Wayne Gretzky on their roster, Edmonton had one of the best dynasty’s that the league has ever seen. Since his departure from the team, things have not been the same in Edmonton.
The Oilers have the better record, but the San Jose Sharks are the reigning champions of the Western Conference. With veteran leadership from Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, the Sharks will not lay down and let the coronation of Connor McDavid continue.
The young star will have to go out and earn it. Edmonton finished the season 3-1-1 against the Sharks, so confidence will not be a factor. However, this will be a bit of uncharted territory for McDavid and the Oilers. Edmonton has not qualified for the playoffs since 2006.
Other than these newcomers proving they belong, the playoffs are filled with interesting story lines. Will the Pens repeat? Can Ovechkin get it done in the playoffs? Will the Blackhawks add another chapter to their dynasty?
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