Field Of 16 Set For NHL Playoffs

Ryan Jones, Assistant Sports Editor

Despite lining up with the postseason of the NBA on the calendar, hockey’s playoffs are more comparable to March Madness with its unpredictability. Last year, an expansion team, in its first-ever season, was defeated in the Stanley Cup Championship series by a Washington Capitals team that had not made it past the second round of the playoffs in almost two decades.

This year’s batch of 16 teams hold some familiar faces and early favorites, but also some newly constructed teams eager to shake things up.

In the Eastern Conference, the Tampa Bay Lightning appear to be one of the best-constructed teams in recent memory, finishing the regular season 62-16-4, winning 12 more games than the next best team in the NHL. The Lightning tout a dangerous offense, leading the league in goals along with posting a power play percentage (28.2 percent) 13 points higher than the next best team. Much of this can be attributed to forward Nikita Kucherov, whose 87 assists helped him lead the league in points this year.

The Columbus Blue Jackets, who will face Tampa in the first round, went all in on this year’s trade deadline and squeaked into the playoffs after a strong end to the season. The Blue Jackets have never won a playoff series in the franchise’s existence, and do not have a favorable matchup this year to break that slump.

Two teams very familiar with each other will be facing off for what could be the first round’s best series, a rematch of last year, as the Boston Bruins once again draws the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Bruins may have been able to stun Toronto in game seven of last year’s series, but the addition of John Tavares and his 47 goals for the Maple Leaves makes for a much tougher series this time around. After an up and down season from the Bruins, they seem to be clicking at the right time and hold a top three defense in the league heading into the postseason.

Another rematch from last years playoffs is slated for the western conference as well, as the San Jose Sharks rematch the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round this year. The Sharks have attacked defenses all year, averaging the second most goals per game behind the Lightning. The Golden Knights, on the other hand, are in the middle of playing their worst hockey of the year, losing five-straight games to close out their regular season.

The Calgary Flames shocked everyone this year, winning 50 games on their way to securing the best record in the Western Conference. After missing the playoffs last year, the worst to first Flames have an easy path in the first round as they take on the 38-win Colorado Avalanche.

Whether it’s a storied franchise hoisting the Cup at the end or a first time team, the action-packed excitement that is playoff hockey is finally here, which is something to celebrate in itself.