Wednesday April 13, 2016 is considered to be one of the most exciting days in the year. This is because the most exciting playoffs in the world start today. Every year at about this time sixteen teams enter the race for Lord Stanley’s Cup. By the time June rolls around the competition will be over. A team of heavily bearded individuals will be skating around a rink in the United States with the object of their childhood dreams held proudly over their heads. Today begins the nearly two month journey, that comes after the 82 game regular season, that makes all of the physical pain worth it.
Florida Panthers v. NY Islanders:
This matchup contains two teams that look to be contenders for years to come. Both of these teams have a talented young core of players that should help propel the team for years to come. In the end I think the veteran leadership of Jaromir Jagr coupled with the talented youth of the Panthers will help them advance to the next round of the playoffs.
Panthers in 6
Tampa Bay Lightning v. Detroit Red Wings
This is a matchup of teams that did not look quite like playoff teams at the end of the year. The Lightning limped their way into the playoffs having lost their best defender, Anton Stralman, as well as captain and best player Steven Stamkos. The Red Wings 25th straight was very much in doubt for the last few weeks of the season. The Red Wings were one of the two benefactors of a late season Boston Bruins collapse and their season will end in the first round of the playoffs.
Lightning in 7
Washington Capitals v. Philadelphia Flyers
The last few days has been difficult for the Flyers. Owner and founder Ed Snider passed away yesterday. Knowing Snider was in poor health the Flyers put together a fantastic run of games at the end of the year and somehow made the playoffs. The Capitals come in to the playoffs after cruising to the Presidents Trophy. While I believe in the curse of the trophy, I think that this Capitals is the better rested of the two teams because they have not really played a meaningful game in over a month. In the end I think already having played over a month of playoff games will take its toll on the Flyers and they will inevitably fall to the more talented Capitals team.
Capitals in 6
Pittsburg Penguins v. NY Rangers
Both teams pieced together good seasons and are full of seasoned veterans with plenty of playoff experience from the last decade of playing. The Rangers have the advantage because they have the better overall team. The Penguins have two of the most dynamic players in the league on their side and Sidney Crosby has been on an absolute tear since the start of 2016 scoring at an incredible rate. While I believe that the Rangers have the better team and they should win the series, I feel Sidney Crosby is playing too well to stop and despite the recent playoff struggles of the team, the Penguins will advance to the second round.
Penguins in 5
Anaheim Ducks v. Nashville Predators
The Ducks are a team that changed its identity part of the way through the season after the team looked awful trying to play as an extremely offensive team. Since switching to a more defensive style the team has improved and came into the playoffs looking strong. The Predators look like one of the top teams in the league and their playoff hopes have been bolstered by the play of goalie Pekka Rinne. The team looks solid on the offensive side of the puck led by young Filp Forsberg, as well as on the defensive side of the puck led by Shea Weber. In the end I think the Predators will prevail in a long and exciting series.
Predators in 7
LA Kings v. San Jose Sharks
This series features one of the best playoff goalie that is around at the moment, Johnny Quick, going against his understudy from last year, Martin Jones. The Sharks are trying to get past the early playoff dropout that has plagued them recently. The Kings are full of holes, however Coach Sutter has done fantastic things to keep the Kings in playoffs past and I think believe that he will be able to engineer a first round series victory over the in state rival Sharks.
Kings in 4
Dallas Stars v. Minnesota Wild
One of the most shocking things of the season was the play of the Dallas Stars. If you look at the roster it should not be very surprising, however because Dallas is not a big hockey town the team is overlooked more times than not. The Wild have been playing well coming into the playoffs but they do not have quite the talent that the Stars have. That being said the Wild have more players with playoff experience and that could be crucial if the series runs long. In the end I think the Stars will prevail over the Wild in a long, hard fought series.
Stars in 7
St. Louis Blues v. Chicago Blackhawks
A very defensively strong Blues team comes into the playoffs and face the team that has caused them trouble in the past few years. The Blues may struggle to win games in the playoffs due to their lack of high scoring offense. The Blackhawks are a team of seasoned veterans looking to defend their Stanley Cup title. Duncan Keith will return and he will be better rested than the rest of the team and he will be the most important part of this team as they look like they are gearing up for another long run in the playoffs. The Blackhawks will win this series as quickly as possible.
Blackhawks in 4
Those are my first round predictions for the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
After the first round I have the Bolts over the Panthers, and Washington over the Penguins with the Lightning winning the Eastern Conference.
In the West I have the Blackhawks over Dallas and the Kings over the Ducks with the Blackhawks winning the Western Conference.
In the finals I have a rematch of last year with the opposite result. The Lightning, with the addition of Stamkos who claims he would be back for the finals, will end up winning the second Stanley Cup in franchise history and first since the 2004 lockout.
The excitement begins tonight as 16 teams and their players fight to make their childhood dreams of being Stanley Cup Champions come true.