2015 NHL Playoff Preview

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The NHL playoff are here and so the most exciting time in the NHL schedule is ready to begin.

This year is a great mix of teams that have been there before and teams that have found their way to the playoffs for the first time in a long time.

There are the usual suspects like the Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks, St. Louis Blues, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Then there is the ultimate team of consistency in the Detroit Red Wings who have now qualified for their 24th straight playoffs.

The Red Wings may not always be the best team in the playoffs or the best regular season team but to pull off something like this is extremely tough in this age of parity.

With powers constantly rising and falling there is rarely enough time for a team to make their statement in the league.

Despite the fact that the Blackhawks and Kings have consistently ruled the NHL over the last few years the parity in the NHL is still prevalent.

New teams constantly make their way to the playoffs while teams that used to be in the playoffs fall off.

This year alone the Boston Bruins and last year’s champions, Los Angeles Kings, have found their way out of the playoffs. In their place are the Winnipeg Jets and the Ottawa Senators.

Meanwhile the Calgary Flames and have replaced the Sa Jose Sharks in another change from the usual.

The amount of teams that can now make the playoffs is growing every year and with battles running to the wire the challenge of remaining relevant is a tough one.

Yet still the Red Wings continue to find themselves in the playoffs and are always a team to be feared. Their 24 years in the playoffs is the longest playoff streak in all of North American sports and is getting more impressive as they move along.

It was almost finished in 2014 when they barely scraped out a wild card berth but this year was much different.

They earned a top three spot in their division and rarely seemed to be out of the playoffs.

Their consistency has made them one of the most experienced teams in the playoffs this year, and every year for that matter, but it does not mean they can walk into the Stanley Cup Finals.

In fact despite those 24 straight playoff appearances the last seven have resulted in the team falling short of the Cup.

Such is the case in the playoffs as even the team coming into the postseason with the best record is not guaranteed to win the Cup.

In the last six years only one team that took home the President’s Trophy has taken home the Stanley Cup. Only eight President’s Trophy winners have ever won the Stanley Cup since they began handing out the award in the 1985-86 season.

So if the experience of the Red Wings and the regular season of the Rangers means nothing, what makes a good playoff team?

The answer is a simple one, the team that is playing the best hockey as they head into the postseason.

As of right now that is the Rangers who are 7-3-0 in their last ten games. If they can continue that run they may find themselves back in the finals.

Meanwhile the other seven teams will be trying to find their own way to the finals as the chances are up in the air when everyone’s slate is wiped clean.

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The Eastern Conference has not been pulling its weight in the last few years as they have not been able to overcome the power teams in the West.

With Los Angeles and Chicago taking four of the last five championships, including the last three, the East has been on the outside looking in.

It hasn’t been for a lack of great teams either as the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins were two favourited teams in the last two years.

So the East enters a new year with some new hope as the teams that enter the playoffs are looking strong.

There is the President’s Trophy winner in the New York Rangers who started the season not doing so great but picked it up in the second half. Now they move on as the best team in the NHL and although they are not as hot as they were a few weeks ago they are still playing great hockey heading into the second season.

Then there is the Atlantic Division winner in the Montreal Canadiens who have been consistent throughout the year. They have not been a hot team but have rarely struggled throughout the year and many teams wish they could have that type of team.

Heading into the playoffs they are a team that never seems to run hot or cold but have struggled against Ottawa, their first round matchup, going 1-3 in the season series and have struggled against Tampa Bay going 0-5 against the second place team in the Atlantic.

The Lightning return to the playoffs as they stay in a familiar place and because of that have entered the playoffs under the radar.

They were just as consistent as the Canadiens this year and challenged Montreal for the division title throughout the entire year.

Falling just short is not a sign that they don’t have what it takes as they are a great team ready to make an impact.

There is a fan base in the east that hopes they can make an impact for once as the Washington Capitals return to the playoffs and hope to avoid a disappointing outing. Led by the leading goal scorer in the NHL, Alexander Ovechkin the Caps are much the same team as usual and with that their unpredictability remains the same.

Rounding out the division qualifiers will be a team that looked like Stanley Cup winners at the start of the year and the most consistent team in the NHL.

The New York Islanders were at the top of the Metropolitan Division for most of the year but their great play slid off in the second half. They will hope to gain that fire back as they head into a new season and if they can they are a team to watch.

The Detroit Red Wings will try to capture that fire as well in their 24th straight playoff appearance. They are the team that has been through just about everything and although the names may be different from the start of the streak there are plenty of veterans on the ice and behind the bench to keep them calm throughout the playoffs.

Another team that is also full of these players is Pittsburgh but unlike the Red Wings they had to fight until the end of the season to earn their spot.

They are not the same team they used to be and they showed that this year in taking the last wild card spot.

Joining them in the wild card will be the Ottawa Senators who also waited to the last day to earn their spot but will try to take that fighting attitude into the playoffs after fighting for their playoff lives the better part of the month.

The Eastern Conference is trying to get back on top but judging by the teams in the playoffs for the conference they all have a fight on their hands just to get to the finals.

 new_york_rangers  montreal_canadiens

The picture of balance as the #3 team in Goals for and Goals Against per game the Rangers are deep and have one of the best netminders in the game.

They are a balanced team but can often rely on Carey Price too much with bad puck possession. Luckily Price is quite possibly the best goalie in the NHL.

 washington_capitals  tampa_bay_lightning

A good offensive team with a new proven coach behind the bench that could be the difference as Alexander Ovechkin tries to prevent another let down.

They are young but offensively superior to almost everyone with two great lines but a defence that could provide some problems throughout the playoffs.

 new_york_islanders  detroit_red_wings

A hot team at the start of the year they have fallen of but remain a high scoring team with one of the best players in the game, John Tavares, leading the way.

A very experienced team with solid goaltending, defence, and offence, they are well-rounded and won’t be shocked by anything that they see.

 pittsburgh_penguins  ottawa_senators
A once strong candidate for the Stanley Cup the Penguins are riddled with injuries especially on the blue line but their top line is still one of the best.

They weren’t supposed to be here a month ago but have played great hockey and forced their way into the playoffs behind the performance of The Hamburgler.

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The Western Conference is the power conference right now as they have won the past three Stanley Cups and four of the last five.

The interesting part of that streak though is the fact that two teams have accounted for all four of those Cups.

The Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks have been the teams to beat every year as they make up the best teams in the best conference in the NHL.

It has been a strange time of parity and yet dominance as plenty of teams have their shot at the Stanley Cup while only two of them have actually achieved that goal.

This year might be different though as the two dominant teams in the division are no longer in a position of power.

In fact the Kings are in no position at all after failing to make the playoffs a year after winning the Stanley Cup. Meanwhile the Blackhawks took the last of the division spots from the Central while falling short of the division title.

Instead it is their longtime rivals the St. Louis Blues who sit at the top of the Central and expect to be competing for the Cup.

The Blues have been a team that has been hurt by injuries but they go into the playoffs completely healthy giving them a very deep lineup. They remained one of the top teams in the league throughout the year and with a full complement of players they have a good shot at running to the Cup.

Taking the other division title is the Anaheim Ducks who are getting used to being one of the best teams in the league. After just losing out on the President’s Trophy the Ducks head into another playoff appearance where they hope to finally get back to the Finals after promising years have fallen short.

As they look to not disappoint the Vancouver Canucks look for the same as their window continues to close. The Canucks were once considered the best team in the NHL but falling short of winning a Cup and after a brief overhaul they have returned to the playoffs.

Now with time ticking on their veterans they try to bring the Cup back to Canada with a fairly potent offence and veterans that know what a deep run is like.

It is much like the Nashville Predators and the Chicago Blackhawks who also return to the playoffs. The Predators were the team that many cheered for two years ago and now they return after a two year absence.

They still have a team that many underestimate with a team built similar to the past as they have a good defence with a sometimes non-existent offence.

The Blackhawks are the team that knows what it’s like to make a run though after winning two Stanley Cups in the last five years. They enter the playoff struggling on offence without Patrick Kane but he seems set to return and the rest of the veterans on the team can’t be surprised much as they try to make another run.

That is unlike the Calgary Flames who return to the playoffs after a five year absence. The young team is a scrappy one and could be the team to watch for an upset as they have been essentially playing playoff hockey for a month.

Filling out the West will be two teams on opposite ends of the playoff spectrum in the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets.

The Wild were expected to compete this year and win the Cup but could not get much done and found themselves fighting for a spot in the playoffs.

Meanwhile the Jets find themselves in the playoffs for the first time in the new franchises history after fighting for a spot into the final week of the season.

The West is the best right now until the East can end this three year streak and if it is up to any team in the West they will remain the best and take home another Cup.

anaheim_ducks st_louis_blues
They cruised to the division title but are not necessarily great at any one thing making them a well-balanced team but also exposed. A team with plenty of scoring depth but a big question at goalie where they have two capable netminders and need to decide on one to lead them.
 vancouver_canucks  nashville_predators
They are an experienced team that has made runs in the past but they still rely on the Sedins to carry their offence and now a less experienced goalie in net. Much like their previous appearances this team is led by a good defence but can sometimes see scoring dry up leaving them exposed to better offensive teams.
 calgary_flames  chicago_blackhawks
They come out flying in every game and are playing great hockey but they are a young team with a serious lack in experience if things get hard. Still one of the best teams in the league despite a dip in offence that they believe will end when Patrick Kane returns to the lineup.
winnipeg_jets  minnesota_wild
Found their groove in the second half as they prepare for the first playoff appearance in Winnipeg since 1993 in what should be an extremely loud arena. Great on the penalty kill with a deep roster but few true gamebreakers that will take over a series and make a difference when they need it.

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2015 Stanley Cup Finals:
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The Rangers and Blues head into the playoffs as two of the best teams in the league and although they both have some issues the fact is they are both deep teams. There is more than top line scoring on either team but the difference may just come in net for either team. While the Blues have two good goalies in Brian Elliot and Jake Allen, one needs to take over and that decisions is a tough one. Meanwhile the Rangers have Henrik Lundqvist who is a steady presence in the net. For that reason the Rangers will take home the Stanley Cup.

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