By Harrison Sillings
Playoff hockey is back. For those of you that aren’t hockey fans or are trying to begin your fandom, there is no better time than now. The hits are harder, the goals are more frequent and the energy from the fans is second to none. You can feel the energy from the arena through your TV on most nights.
When playoff hockey left us last summer the Washington Capitals were hoisting their franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup. They defeated the Las Vegas Golden Knights in five games which sent star player Alexander Ovechkin on a summer long bender celebrating his first ever Stanley Cup. The defending champs are beginning their title defense against the Carolina Hurricanes. Although they’ve looked good early in the series, the Capitals have to remain in the present and not let themselves play in the past if they want to be successful.
“They’re a calm team that isn’t scared of anyone,” said junior philosophy major JT Kruzich. “They’ve been there and done that and they’re thirsty to do it again.”
One of the biggest storylines going into the playoffs was the St. Louis Blues, who were the worst team in the NHL at one point in January. They fired their head coach after 19 games and had become a rapidly sinking ship. There were even rumors that the team was in a a full rebuild mindset, and were looking to trade anyone they could, including star scorer Vladimir Tarasenko. In February, something clicked. The Blues started winning games and even rattled off 11 in a row at one point. They rapidly climbed the standings and found themselves as the three seed in the competitive Central Division.
“This season was completely unexpected,” said sophomore management major Drew Ritter. “Now that we’re in the playoffs all expectation are off. It’s all going to come down to our power play. If our power play is good then we’ll go far.”
Now, the Blues are set to square off against the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets have been a red hot team all season and are looking to make their first ever Stanley Cup finals. The team is fueled by their home ice “white outs” that strike fear into opposing teams (fans wearing all white to the games). This series will hinge on the play of Blues rookie goaltender, Jordan Binnington. He has been lights out this season during the Blues regular season run, but his lack of experience could be costly in a playoff environment. If he’s on his game, expect the Blues to advance. If he’s not, look for the Jets to take flight.
The rise of the New York Islanders has also been a big storyline heading into the playoffs. After losing their captain and franchise player John Tavares to the Maple Leafs in the off-season, the Islanders have outperformed all expectations and are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2016. They finished second in their division and have had one of the best defenses in the league all season.
“The Islanders are my favorite ‘upset’ pick to make the Stanley Cup Finals,” said Sully Tomich, a junior actuarial science major. “Elite goaltending is the biggest key to playoff success and they have two of them.”
That elite goaltending will be put to the test in the first round as they face off against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins have arguably the best player in the league in Sydney Crosby and a battled tested roster that has won multiple Stanley Cups in the past decade. The script for a possible upset has been written, and it’s up to the Islanders to fill in the blanks.
These storylines may be in the spotlight, but every matchup comes with intriguing narrative and the promise of plenty of action. In the Western Conference, we have the Calgary Flames going up against the Colorado Avalanche while the San Jose Sharks are facing the Las Vegas Golden Knights, with the Nashville Predators taking on the Dallas Stars.
In the Eastern Conference, the Tampa Bay Lightning are playing the Columbus Blue Jackets while the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs are reigniting their playoff rivalry once again. This years playoffs are primed to be one of the best ever and it’ll be exciting to see who hoists Lord Stanley’s Cup in June.