The Ticker's Definitive Guide to the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Bguila521 | Flickr

Bguila521 | Flickr

A seven-month regular season is officially in the books, as the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs take the spotlight.

It is not a surprise that every NHL fan looks forward to this time of the season, as the playoffs are where teams assert their dominance, iconic moments are created, Hall of Fame legacies are cemented and dynasties are born. 16 teams are beginning their quest for hockey’s ultimate prize, with the Washington Capitals set to defend their reigning Stanley Cup title in the process. All eight first-round matchups offer plenty of excitement, drama and, of course, the element of surprise.

Several Stanley Cup favorites have emerged, none more obvious than the Tampa Bay Lightning.

They cakewalked through the regular season on their way to a record-tying 62 wins and a league-best 128 points. The Bolts are in a league of their own and the numbers speak for themselves — first in goals scored, first in goals scored per game, first in power play efficiency and first in penalty kill efficiency.

They have three 40-goal scorers on their roster, a ridiculous four-line depth on offense, a formidable six-man defense and the best goaltender in the league in Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Lightning will square off against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who punched their ticket to the postseason in their second-to-last game.

Columbus will have a very tough test on their hands, but have a respectable offensive core led by Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson and Pierre Luc-Dubois. Sergei Bobrovsky is one of the league’s elite at goaltending, but has struggled when it comes to the playoffs. Offense and goaltending will be on full display in this “David vs. Goliath” matchup.

Prediction: Lightning in 5

In what is likely the most anticipated first-round series in the East, the Boston Bruins will take on the Toronto Maple Leafs, a rematch of last season’s seven-game thriller. Both teams bolstered their offense throughout the course of the season, with the Leafs adding John Tavares in free agency to a loaded core led by Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, and the Bruins reigniting their core of David Pastrnák, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.

Boston has the upper hand when it comes to defense, as Toronto has struggled at times during the season. They did, however, improve their defense tremendously by acquiring stalwart Jake Muzzin.

Boston’s Tuukka Rask and Toronto’s Frederik Andersen are two of the league’s premium goaltenders, and both power plays are ranked in the top-10. This Original Six clash should be a good one for fans to enjoy.

Prediction: Bruins in 7

The Capitals, the defending Stanley Cup champions, begin their quest to repeat against the upstart Carolina Hurricanes. Washington has put out the same core that has been around for many years, led by the league’s leading goal-scorer, Alexander Ovechkin. His supporting cast of Nicklas Bäckström, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov create matchup nightmares on defense, while goaltender Braden Holtby always elevates his game in the playoffs.

The Hurricanes are in the postseason for the first time since 2009, and the young core of offensive dynamos has led the way. Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen lead the way, while head coach Rod Brind’Amour has his team playing a stellar combination of up-tempo and defensive-minded hockey.

In Carolina’s last three playoff appearances, they reached the Eastern Conference Finals at the minimum, including winning the Stanley Cup in 2006. It will be interesting to see if history is on their side this time around, but Washington will be a very difficult foe to take down. 

Prediction: Capitals in 6

Rounding out the East, the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins clash in a marquee first-round battle. The Isles have completely transformed their identity after losing Tavares in free agency. Head coach Barry Trotz has instilled a defense-first mentality, under which his team has blossomed, allowing the fewest goals in the league this season.

The goaltending duo of Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss has outperformed expectations, while Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee and Anthony Beauvilier lead the way on offense. On the other side of the coin, Pittsburgh is led by perennial superstars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. The Penguins have a much better offense and special teams, but the Isles’ defense should not be underestimated. A low-scoring, nail-biting series is all but inevitable, but Pittsburgh’s recent championship experience could prove critical.

Prediction: Penguins in 6

Moving over to the West, the conference-leading Calgary Flames square off against the Colorado Avalanche.

Calgary has incredible depth, including five 70-point scorers. Led by Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm on offense and Mark Giordano on defense, the Flames are legitimate championship contenders for the first time in a long time.

The Avs have been a one-line show for the whole season, with Nathan Mackinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog doing pretty much all of the scoring. The lack of depth is concerning for Colorado, but both teams have questions at goaltending. Despite two high-octane offenses running the show, the depth and defense will be key in this series.

Prediction: Flames in 5

Up next, the defending Western Conference champions, the Golden Knights are back in the postseason, securing a matchup with the San Jose Sharks. These teams met in the playoffs last year, with Vegas coming out on top. This year, San Jose has retooled and revamped its roster with several major acquisitions.

They traded for star defenseman Erik Karlsson just a few weeks before the regular season began and acquired top-six forward Gustav Nyquist at the trade deadline. The Sharks added to an already loaded offense and defense, led by Joe Pavelski, Evander Kane, Logan Couture and Brent Burns.

Eight players scored 50 or more points, justifying their outstanding depth. Despite losing nine of their last 12 games, the Sharks are not to be taken lightly.

The Knights may not have last year’s Vegas magic, but they are very formidable. They made their big trade deadline acquisition of Mark Stone to bolster the offense. Goaltender Marc-André Fleury has backstopped Vegas all year long and can be depended on to keep them in this series. San Jose’s goaltending issues may haunt them, despite their high-powered scoring, but in any case, this should be an exciting clash of Pacific foes.

Prediction: Sharks in 6

The Nashville Predators look to keep their playoff presence felt after a disappointing performance last season, bowing out in the second round.

Their first foe this postseason is the Dallas Stars. The Preds have the same core of Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen leading the way in scoring. Pekka Rinne continued to dominate in net, backstopping the Preds to another Central Division title. But they also made major acquisitions to add toughness, defense, power play scoring and physical net-front presence.

Wayne Simmonds, Mikael Granlund, Brian Boyle and Cody McLeod were all acquired by Nashville to bolster those categories. Dallas continues to be led by Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov, along with young defenseman Miro Heiskanen.

Their major acquisition of Mats Zuccarello should start paying off in the playoffs, as he looks to be fully healthy and ready to go. Nashville’s putrid, league-worst power play will be a crucial factor, but their defense and goaltending gives them a slight edge.

Prediction: Predators in 6

Closing out the first round are the Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues. Despite both teams finishing with 99 points in the standings, they are trending in very different directions. Winnipeg enters the playoffs on a cold streak, winning just three of their last nine games. St. Louis went from basement dwellers in the middle of the season to one of the league’s hottest teams. They closed out the season with a 30-10-5 record after firing head coach Mike Yeo.

New bench boss Craig Berube deserves a ton of credit, as does goaltender Jordan Binnington, who has taken the league by storm, posting a ridiculous 24-5-1 record. Longtime netminder Jake Allen has had his share of struggles in the big moments, giving Binnington a chance to shine.

Their major offseason transactions have paid off, with Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, Patrick Maroon and Tyler Bozak all adjusting nicely on their new team.

They also have their regular core of Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Pietrangelo and Alexander Steen. The Jets, despite their late struggles, have a lethal offense with an absolutely loaded core of Mark Schiefele, Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor and Dustin Byfuglien.

They hope that their trade deadline acquisition of center Kevin Hayes will give them an upper hand. Special teams and depth at the center position have been major factors in both teams’ success, and they could prove critical in this series. The Jets’ home-ice advantage will also be critical, as it is arguably the best home crowd in the league.

Prediction: Blues in 6

Every first-round series has something exciting to look forward to, whether it be close finishes, thrillers and star-studded clashes. If there is one thing for sure, it is that there are no guaranteed winners, except the fans themselves.