Gearing Up for the NHL Playoffs

Joseph Sturtz, Editor-in-Chief

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As if hockey wasn’t already exciting enough, the energy brought to the game during the playoffs manages to bring the liveliness up yet another notch. This will become especially true for this year, where each team has something different to prove.

In recent years, the parity of Stanley Cup winners has been rather small, as the last five years have been dominated by the Chicago Blackhawks (3), and the Los Angeles Kings (2), Interrupted only by the Boston Bruins (1). Though the Blackhawks and the Kings have once again found themselves in the playoffs as possible cup contenders, the Bruins have narrowly missed playoff entry for the second straight year, this season only missing by one point. Taking their place, instead, is the Detroit Red Wings, who have now set a record of 25 straight years of making the playoffs.
Another interesting development in the Eastern Conference is the emergence of both the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have never made the postseason at the same time. The Florida Panthers have not been in the playoffs since the 2011-2012 season, but even more interestingly, they have not won a single playoff series since the early 1990’s. This also holds true for their first round opponents, the New York Islanders.

In yet another interesting turn of events, the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins have been paired to face off against one another for the third straight postseason, and the Penguins hope to break the Rangers’ stride, as the Rangers have won both of the last two meetings. The final Eastern matchup is between the Philadelphia Flyers, who failed to qualify for the playoffs last year, and the President’s Cup winning Washington Capitals, widely regarded as the favorites for the Stanley Cup.

Though the Eastern Conference certainly seems to be worthy of keeping an eye out for, the Western Conference is in no way slouching. The first engagement to look at is that of the Minnesota Wild and the Dallas Stars. The Minnesota Wild have been a playoff team for the past three years, though they have never made it past the second round, being crushed both times by their division rival Chicago Blackhawks. Though the Dallas Stars did not qualify for last year’s playoffs, they beefed up in the offseason by picking up key players and finished as the top team in the Western Conference, becoming another viable candidate for the Stanley Cup.

In the case of the Saint Louis Blues, they are hoping to finally make their run at the Cup after making playoffs for their fifth consecutive year, and they hope to do it by burying division rival and previous cup winners, the Chicago Blackhawks, who they face in the first round.

Finally we get to California’s local teams, beginning with the pairing of the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings. The San Jose Sharks boast an impressive record of making the playoffs 20 times out of their 25 total seasons as a team, though one of these five missed opportunities was last year. The year before, however, the Sharks were the victims of what is known in the hockey community as a “reverse sweep”, which is when a team wins three games of the seven game series without a loss, then proceeds to lose the series after the other team wins four straight times.

Of course the team that holds the bragging rights of accomplishing this in their series against the Sharks is the Kings themselves, which will place even more pressure on the Sharks to give their best against the team that has won the Cup twice in the last five years.Last but not least, the truly local Anaheim Ducks will face off against the Nashville Predators. The Predators have most definitely proven themselves as an elite defensively-minded team, but the Anaheim Ducks have been battle-tried, entering the playoffs for four consecutive seasons, each time holding the Pacific Division title.

The beautiful thing about sports is that nothing is definite, and anything can change in an instant. Speculation can only get so far, yet as we observe we wonder: Who will be the 2015-16 Stanley Cup Champions?

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