With the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs set to begin in a little more than a month, hockey fans are starting to wonder who will be playing in the postseason. It’s no secret that the chase for Lord Stanley is a long and treacherous journey. However, each year it’s a new set of unlikely candidates that find their way into the sport’s final series of the season. Let’s take a look at which 16 teams will be competing for the Stanley Cup this postseason.
1) Boston Bruins
Currently, the Bruins are the best teams in the NHL by a healthy margin. Boston reached the Stanley Cup Finals last season but fell to the St. Louis Blues at home in Game 7. There’s no doubt the Bruins can make it all the way back to the finals, considering they’ve got one of (if not) the most solid team in the entire league. No other team is allowing fewer goals per game (2.42) in the NHL up to this point. Home ice would certainly be important for the Bruins, as they’ve got an NHL-best 22-3-9 record at home this season.
2) Tampa Bay Lightning
The loss of Steven Stamos for 6-8 weeks is certainly going to hurt the Lightning’s chances of winning the Stanley Cup. However, this team certainly won’t go down without a fight. After an embarrassing four-game sweep in the first round of last year’s playoffs, Tampa Bay is bound to show the rest of the league what a fluke that was. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy has been one of the best at his position this season, and he’ll need to be larger than life down the stretch. The Lightning is scoring the second-most goals per game (3.51) this season.
3) Washington Capitals
Now that Alexander Ovechkin netted his 700th career goal, the Capitals can finally focus on getting back to the Stanley Cup. Washington raised Lord Stanley two seasons ago but faltered last year in a shocking seven-game exit to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Caps are scoring the fourth-most goals per game (3.42) this season and have a solid goalie in Braden Holtby that can carry them if need be.
4) Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers have ridden a 23-5-4 home record into a potential playoff bid. Much of that is in part to goaltender Carter Hart, who has been phenomenal with a 22-12-3 record to go along with a 2.51 goals-against average. Philly’s offense has picked up of late and now has the seventh-most goals per game (3.31) this season. It’ll be very important for Claude Giroux to keep on the right path heading down the stretch. The Flyers will need all of the offense they can get if they have to play more games on the road during the postseason.
5) Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins were missing Sydney Crosby for most of the season and it certainly showed early on. This team made a nice surge to get back into the playoff picture but have currently lost six straight games. It’s anyone’s guess as to where Pittsburgh will finally end up when the regular season is all said and done. However, the Pens do have enough talent on the roster to at least make it in.
6) Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs are scoring an NHL-best 3.52 goals per game this season. Unfortunately, stopping goals from being scored has been a major issue – at 3.24 per game, fourth-most in the NHL. It’ll depend on which matchup Toronto gets in the first round, but this is a team that could certainly make some noise if given the opportunity.
7) New York Islanders
Luckily, the Islanders won’t be playing any Western Conference opponents during the playoffs – unless they make it to the Stanley Cup Finals, of course. Unfortunately, this team still does have one more treacherous road trip – a three-game trek up to Western Canada. We don’t believe that’ll ultimately keep the Islanders out of the playoffs. However, it will keep them in one of the lower seeds. In order for the Islanders to be deadly in the playoffs, they’ll need more home playoff games at Nassau Coliseum.
8) New York Rangers
Goaltending will be the biggest reason the Rangers slip their way into the postseason. Unfortunately, rookie netminder Igor Shesterkin was involved in a car accident that’ll keep him sidelined for a few weeks. Fortunately, the team didn’t move Alexandar Georgiev at the trade deadline, giving them a solid option down the stretch. Recently, the Rangers had a nine-game road winning streak snapped, letting us know that this team can play hockey wherever and whenever.
1) St. Louis Blues
The defending Stanley Cup champions went through a bit of lull lately and even lost their best the defenseman Jay Bouwmeester to a frightening scare. Fortunately, this is a team that has rebounded with a solid seven-game winning streak en route to currently owning the top mark in the Western Conference. It won’t be easy to hold off the rest of the pack, though, as this will be one of the more entertaining stretch runs in the West’s history. Luckily, the Blues have the experience that could propel them right back into the Finals.
2) Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche were a lot of experts’ dark-horse pick to win the Stanley Cup Finals at one point. However, numerous injuries have subsided that excitement for a short while. Despite all of that skepticism, Colorado has waved off the naysayers by winning seven straight and keeping pace with St. Louis. A lot of the weight will fall on the shoulders of goalie Pavel Francouz, who is replacing the injured Philipp Grubauer. The Avalanche has a nice balance of offense and defense, scoring the third-most goals (3.44) and allowing the fifth-fewest goals per game (2.67) this season.
3) Dallas Stars
The Stars have been getting it done with defense, allowing the second-fewest goals per game (2.54). Goaltender Anton Khudobin actually leads the NHL with a .930 save percentage and ranks third with a 2.23 goals-against average. This has been a different type of game Dallas is playing, but this team will take it any way they can get it. Most of the successful teams in the playoffs get it done this way.
4) Vegas Golden Knights
Vegas made some huge moves at the trade deadline that could potentially give them another fascinating run at the Stanley Cup. Just two years ago, in their first year of existence, the Golden Knights, made it all the way to the Finals before losing to the Washington Capitals. Nonetheless, that experience has kept this team right in the thick of the race. In January, the team made a big move by firing then-head coach Gerrard Gallant and going with Peter DeBoer. Since that move, the Golden Knights have turned a new page and haven’t looked back.
5) Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers have one of the NHL’s best players in Connor McDavid, who just returned from a quadricep injury. Leon Draisaitl could be looking at an MVP season when it’s all said and done; the winger now has 43 goals and 64 assists, giving him a firm lead in points this season. Edmonton is basically middle of the pack as a team offensively and defensively, so its playoff livelihood will depend a lot on the matchups that come about.
6) Calgary Flames
Calgary is a team that can light the lamp in a hurry, but it can also come right back on them the other way. Youngins Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk both lead the team in points while Elias Lindholm isn’t too far behind. Goaltending will be an issue with this team, considering David Rittich probably isn’t the most trustworthy at that position. That doesn’t mean the games won’t be entertaining, though.
7) Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks made a big trade for Tyler Toffoli, which hasn’t paid off immediate dividends just yet. After all, Vancouver has lost three straight and gone 4-5-1 over the last 10 games. Scoring in basically how the Canucks will need to get it done, as they have the ninth-most goals per game (3.25) this season. JT Miller and Elias Pettersson need to get Toffoli involved quickly if this team wants to have a chance to make a big run in the postseason.
8) Minnesota Wild
Minnesota is an interesting team that can make some noise in the playoffs. When the Wild are playing at their most capable, it’s tough to beat these guys – especially at home. Unfortunately, the bad side of its inconsistency is what almost lead GM Bill Guerin to trade away the whole team before the deadline. If the Wild get rolling, it’ll likely be due to the play of goaltender Alex Stalock, who has been solid with an 18-10-4 record with a 2.64 goals-against average and four shutouts this season.