2016 NHL Playoff Preview

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There is a strange lean to the Stanley Cup playoffs as the western conference has dominated in the past few years.

What makes it strange is the fact that it hasn’t been the entire western conference but instead two teams from the western conference that have dominated all year.

The Chicago Blackhawks and the Los Angeles Kings make-up all but one of the list of champions in the last six years.

The Boston Bruins were the only team to win a Stanley Cup not from Chicago or LA since 2010.

In an era of parity where more teams are making the playoffs than ever before the top of the list remains relatively unchanged.

Teams like Dallas and Florida are becoming more common in the NHL playoffs as parity does have a place.

They are teams that were not necessarily expected to be near the top of the league but more as playoff bubble teams.

Instead, they rose quickly to the top of their divisions and remained there all season as two very strong and consistent teams.

Teams like them are becoming the norm in the NHL as the league is enjoying a period where any team can win the division given the right group in the right season.

It makes the regular season more exciting and brings plenty of fans to the league to see the battles between teams.

Then the best part of any NHL season begins but that same parity doesn’t seem to come through.

The eastern conference continues that parity throughout their playoffs as only the Bruins have been in the Stanley Cup Finals more than once during the western dominance.

Other than that a new team has been able to make it to the final series and attempt to end the time of the Blackhawks and Kings.

The Flyers, Devils, Rangers, and Lightning have all failed to win in the finals while the Bruins dropped one of their two appearances but beat the Canucks in 2011.

The biggest competition for either of those western teams has really been each other as any series that they face-off is almost a de-facto Stanley cup final.hockey-sidebar

Both Chicago and Los Angeles are back in the playoffs this year and both are looking to make the same run to the finals they have many years before.

There are plenty of people believing that the western conference will come down to these two teams and that the winner has a good chance at the Stanley Cup.

They may very well do that but there are plenty of teams with a shot at ending the pattern that has now gone four straight years.

Teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins or Philadelphia Flyers who have had great second halves and sprung into being contenders.

Teams like the New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning, St. Louis Blues, Washington Capitals, and San Jose Sharks who have been solid all year and could come alive in the playoffs.

Even teams like the New York Islanders or Detroit Red Wings who have not necessarily had the best approaches to the playoffs but have experience and could win it all.

The Blackhawks and Kings could be the easy pick for the Cup this year but there is nothing easy about the Stanley Cup playoffs.

It is one of the toughest postseasons in any major North American sport. It is a march through some of the toughest hockey ever played and no team is guaranteed a spot in the finals.

Although many like the Blackhawks and the Kings they are far from easy shots to make it as there are any number of teams in any series that could end any teams run.

From this point on it is all about what a team can pull out of themselves to get through the race to the Stanley Cup.

They will have to overcome injuries and the bumps and bruises that come with playing tight hockey.

Whoever can do that the best, will be the team that will get to hold the Cup over their head as champions.

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It hasn’t been a good run for the Eastern Conference as they haven’t won a championship in the last four years. It has been western domination throughout the last few years of the playoffs and each year it seems to be the same. The Eastern Conference is constantly loaded with talent but much of that talent is on the offensive side of the ice while the West is slanted the other way. As the saying goes defence wins championships and despite the talent level in the east, their offensive hockey style is not bringing them to the top of the mountain. This year there are plenty of teams that will look to end that trend and there are a few that have the chance to bring the Stanley Cup back to the east. There is no shortage of talent and storylines to watch for as these teams look to bring back the championship. There are experienced teams in the Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, and Tampa Bay Lightning. All have been here before and all have made deep runs giving them an advantage in the difficult business of the NHL playoffs. The Washington Capitals are used to the pressure too but haven’t ever been able to achieve what most believed they could. This year could be different as the President’s Trophy winners have the top goal scorer in the league and the best goaltender in the league making them a scary team. President’s Trophy winners don’t usually take the championship though and the Caps have a tendency to falter in the playoffs. The Panthers were a bit of a surprise this year as they have been as consistent as the Capitals but few people are talking about them. With an older leadership group including leading scorer Jaromir Jagr and goalie Roberto Luongo, they have plenty of experience to guide them through the rough waters of the playoffs. In the wild card are two teams with limited experience as the Islanders are back in the playoffs but didn’t have the best second half and aren’t the most experienced of teams. The Philadelphia Flyers are a bit of a wild card as they looked like they were on the path to the Stanley Cup but faltered at the end of the year. Still there are in the hunt and they may come through to surprise everyone. The east is full of teams with big potential but it is never about the potential, it’s about the ability to take that potential and translate it into winning games in the playoffs.

washington_capitals florida_panthers

With the top goal scorer and goaltender, the Capitals are a scary team but their history doesn’t bode well for their chances at bringing home the Cup.

A good team led by experienced players but the big question is whether or not they have the experience throughout the team to get through the playoffs.

pittsburgh_penguins  tampa_bay_lightning

They are playing great hockey right now and have plenty working but recent history in the playoffs has not been good as they have run out of gas in the past.

Last year they made it to the Finals with much the same team but injuries could derail their plans especially with Steven Stamkos missing some time.

new_york_rangers  detroit_red_wings

They still have a Cup-caliber goaltender and a good defence but their offence has disappeared at times and it has been the reason for poor playoffs before.

They are the most experienced playoff team but they are not the team that ruled the league for years but their age has caught up to them in recent years.

new_york_islanders philadelphia_flyers
They might surprise some with great defensive talent but their offence might be too one-dimensional to support them throughout the playoffs.

The Flyers are playing well right now as one of the best teams in the second half but their path is tough and the talent on the team might not be enough.

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The western conference has been on a role and two teams are responsible as the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings have been on top for four straight years. Both teams are back in the playoffs and the battle in the entire conference is focused on those two teams. Every team is trying to catch them as they all hope to continue the dominance of the western conference in the Stanley Cup. Both the Blackhawks and the Kings did make it back to the playoffs but neither ended their season as dominant as they could be. The Blackhawks had a great year with Patrick Kane putting together the best season by an American in the history of the league. The end of their season was not great though as they went from division leaders to the third place team. The Kings looked to be easy division champions but in the end were caught by their division rivals and fell to second. Neither finished the season strong but both have more playoff experience than anyone else in the western conference and that counts for a lot in the run to the Stanley Cup. They won’t be able to run through many teams though as the west has plenty of contenders. The Anaheim Ducks were able to pass the Kings in the Pacific and are also full of experienced playoff talent. They are joined by San Jose who is also stocked with experience but also has a reputation of blowing it in important games. In the Central, the Stars put together a great season and took the top spot in the division. With a potent attack, they are a team that not many are watching but should be as they could make a deep run. The Blues were their usual selves this year with a strong overall team and they have that ability to make a run if they can put it all together. In the wild card, it is two teams that haven’t been talked about but showed the ability to fight. The Nashville Predators are a wild card team only by virtue of what division they’re in as the Central is never easy to win. Despite their position they are not a team to look past as they can make a run while the Wild have been playing playoff hockey for the last month and are already in the swing of things. The western conference will be watching Chicago and Los Angeles to find out who might unseat them or if they are headed for another battle to earn a Stanley Cup berth.

dallas_stars anaheim_ducks

They play on the edge with the best offence and worst defence of any team in the playoffs which could prove to be a bad thing when the game tightens up

The Ducks have the best defence in the league with a two-goalie system but their offence is lacking and might not have enough to get them through the playoffs

st_louis_blues los_angeles_kings

Their defence is great but they struggle with everything else as they don’t have great goaltending and their offence struggles to put up enough goals

Another great defensive team will help them while their grinding style is built for the playoffs although their offence is lacking the punch of some other teams

chicago_blackhawks san_jose_sharks

A dominant team in all facets but injuries hurt them and may continue as Corey Crawford is just returning from injury while other key players may miss time

They are a team built for the playoffs but they just can’t seem to win when it matters most as evident by their playoff failures year after year

nashville_predators minnesota_wild
The Predators have been consistent with a balanced team but their depth could be an issue against team that role out three strong lines every game

The Wild have been fighting for the playoffs for a while and have that mentality going into the playoffs but they are not as deep as other teams

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2016 Stanley Cup Finals:
Both teams had a great year and although the Capitals were far more consistent than the Ducks throughout the season the adage will continue that defence wins championships. The Ducks have that defence and they will struggle to hold off the Caps and score on Holtby but the defence of the Ducks seems to be too much. The Caps will take it to seven games but it won’t be enough to get past the Ducks who take home the title.

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