Stanley Cup 2018, IV: It’s Knight Time


Uh.  Wow.  With due respect to the awesome Eastern Conference Final and the improbable Eastern Conference champion Washington Capitals, I’m going to make this all about the Vegas Golden Knights for a moment — I’ll get to the Caps in a bit.

We all know this is their inaugural season.  Their arrival in Las Vegas, announced way back in 2016, was met with skepticism and confusion.  Why would the NHL choose another desert market while a cash cow in Québec sits waiting?  It didn’t seem to make any sense.

Flash forward to the expansion draft last year.  The Golden Knights took second- and third- line scraps from each team, plus a few stars like James Neal and Marc-Andre Fleury.  Their hodgepodge roster raised some eyebrows — the cast of misfits was laughed at.  Hockey pundits and prognosticators saw them as a basement team.  Few saw them even competing for the playoffs, much less sneaking in as a wild card.

Because the Golden Knights were a new team with shiny new uniforms, a dazzling new arena, and an untainted reputation on the ice, I watched more Knights games than any other team this year, save the Buffalo Sabres.  With their improbable record in the first half of the season, a lot of skeptical heads were turned.  This group, somehow, was lighting up the league, eventually popping into Presidents’ Trophy contention.  It didn’t make any sense.


Except it did, if you watched the team.  Whilst having no real superstars, the chemistry these guys had was undeniable.  Castoffs became stars in their own right, driven, perhaps, to prove everyone’s naysaying of the team and franchise wrong.  Even during a stretch without their star goaltender (and their second stringer… and their third stringer…), they persevered.  Now, with Fleury back and healthy, they seem absolutely unstoppable.

This Golden Knights team, insofar as their playoff performance is concerned, reminds me a lot of the 2012 Los Angeles Kings.  I know, I know.  But humor me — through three rounds, those Kings were 12-2, and as the numbers necessarily show, this includes one sweep.  The Knights are 12-3 this year, with a sweep of their own, but one six-game series as well.  This is the best record in the playoffs by a mile: the Caps are 12-7 and the slain Lightning were 11-6.  They’re also led by a seemingly unstoppable goaltender.  After 12 wins, Jonathan Quick had a 0.946 Sv% and an absurd 1.54 GAA.  Marc-Andre Fleury this year?  0.947 Sv%, with but a 1.68 GAA.  We know how 2012 ended — the Kings went up 3-0 on the Devils, won the Stanley Cup in six games, and Jonathan Quick won the Conn Smythe Trophy.  I’ll go into it below, but it sure looks like the Vegas Golden Knights will do very much what those Kings did, and they’ll have Marc-Andre Fleury, clear-cut Conn Smythe favourite, to thank for it.

RIP Bracket 2018.  You lasted longer than my last few, but alas the Knights, who I’d embarrassingly picked to lose in the first round, just could not be stopped.  At least deep in the playoffs, predictions are somewhat easier.  Let’s see how I fared last round…



Lightning vs Capitals:  Can you believe this?  The Washington gorram Capitals are in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years, and the first time in the Ovechkin era.  After years and years of being the Cup favorite and flaming out spectacularly in the playoffs, here they are — they finally made it.  And boy did they.  After a set of road wins in Tampa, they headed home looking for a sweep at Capital One Arena; that is, until some boneheaded fan had Nick Backstrom sign a freakin’ broom when the series was not even half over.  Way to go, dummy.  The Lightning stormed back (heh) to take three in a row, looking as strong as ever in their quick dismantling of the Caps defense, especially on the power play, and absolutely stifling on the back end, at least until late in those games.  Well, as has been typical of the Lightning of late, they went up 3-2 only to fall back down spectacularly, allowing the Caps to trounce them by a collective score of 7-0 in the final two games.  That’s two (and change) straight shutouts for Braden Holtby, when it mattered most.  So, it’s not hard to see these guys as a team of destiny.  After everyone had discounted them because of their continual playoff failures, after letting the Penguins tie their series, after letting the Lightning take a lead in theirs… after all that, the Washington Capitals are your Eastern Conference Champions.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, being the last team who has won a Cup left standing, guarantee that we’ll have a brand new team win a Cup this year.  I’m going to say it a few more times, because it’s rare and incredible and I can’t believe it.  I think the Lightning will be fine in the long run.  They’ve managed to rotate in some fresh youth to compensate for the pieces they’ve lost over the last few years, and all indications are that their goaltending and defense should stay solid for a while.  Maybe, though, they should stop picking the New York Rangers for parts — there’s a reason they haven’t won a Cup in 25 years running…

Playoff Series
2018-05-11; WSH 4, TBL 2
2018-05-13; WSH 6, TBL 2
2018-05-15; TBL 4, WSH 2
2018-05-17; TBL 4, WSH 2
2018-05-19; WSH 2, TBL 3
2018-05-21; TBL 0, WSH 3
2018-05-23; WSH 4, TBL 0
WSH defeats TBL: 4-3
Prediction: Lightning in 6 ☓☓

Jets vs Golden Knights:  Ouch.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice (after not being fooled in the meantime), shame on me?  My overconfidence and my faith in my Canadian friends were my weakness.  And boy, was I cocky about Winnipeg.  After a dominant Game One win, where the Jets went up 3-0 in the first 8 minutes of the first period, it felt like the Cup was already on its way back to Canada.  Flash forward to today, and the Knights are in the Cup Final.  Yeouch.

What happened?  Marc-Andre Fleury happened.  As I’ve already noted, he’s been absolutely outstanding all playoffs long.  The offensive buzz-saw that was the Winnipeg Jets had no answer for his mastery in net.  In the games subsequent to Game One, all Knights wins, it felt like Vegas was toying with Winnipeg.  The Jets just could not score — but when they did, usually to tie the game because Vegas kept scoring early, the Knights would just take the lead back in short order.  It was frustrating to watch as  Jets bandwagoner, but, stepping retrospectively into the shoes of a Golden Knights or a neutral hockey fan, just incredible.

The combination of high-flying offense (to say nothing of the series winning goal scored by Ryan Reaves of all people) and the godlike goaltending of Fleury leaves the Jets staying home in just five (!) games.  Good lord.  I’m looking forward to next year, which according to The Hockey News is the Jets’ Cup year.  After this simultaneously expected and surprising playoff run, I think they might be right on with their predictions.

That is, assuming this Golden Knights squad isn’t a dynasty or anything.  Gneurshk.

Playoff Series
2018-05-12; VGK 2, WPG 4
2018-05-14; VGK 3, WPG 1
2018-05-16; WPG 2, VGK 4
2018-05-18; WPG 2, VGK 3
2018-05-20; VGK 2, WPG 1
VGK defeats WPG: 4-1
Prediction: Jets in 6 ☓☓

Again, for the first time since 2007 and the second since 1999 (😭), we are guaranteed to have a brand new Stanley Cup Champion.

Advanced stats herein are taken from February 26th through the end of the third round.


P1. Vegas Golden Knights vs M1. Washington Capitals:  I’m still in shock that this will be our Stanley Cup Final.  An expansion team in an unconventional market, proving the world wrong in decisive fashion, versus a team (and a city) with a storied history of failure, who was also notably the worst expansion team of all time.  One has been waiting years, suffering, begging for a championship.  The other has a drought (no pun intended) as long as that of the defending champion Penguins.

Both teams are likable and unlikable in their own ways.  The Golden Knights have no history, so previous to now, no rivals.  They’ve got a member of every other team on their roster (sort of), so everyone can root for somebody.  But their quick ascendancy has left fans of struggling teams saying “Enough.” — including Capitals fans.  They play fast, exciting hockey, and they’ve established a model for success that should be emulated, from their coaching, their roster decisions, and their community outreach.  It must be a blast to be a Golden Knight.

The Capitals, on the other hand, have shifted perceptions in my mind.  Back in the day, I hated the cockiness that went along with having a generational talent quickly carrying a team to near-greatness, then expecting a championship to fall into their laps.  In the 24/7 Penguins Capitals series, I felt the Capitals were the villains — arrogant, dirty, and just plain unlikable.  Maybe it’s the decade of playoff failures that drove them to humility, or perhaps they’re starting to be pitied.  Either way, I, and many many hockey fans these days, would love to see Alexander Ovechkin finally win a Stanley Cup.  He’s deserved it for years, carrying teams on his back only to have them lose despite his effort.  To win the Cup against his former general manager would be something, wouldn’t it?

At this point, after a playoff tournament that went nearly perfectly for top seeds, all bets are off.  Nothing makes any sense anymore.  The Capitals are a team of destiny.  Obviously, more than any other year, this is their year.  But the Golden Knights are one as well, and they just can’t stop winning.  Where the Capitals stumbled, admittedly against their greatest nemesis and a so-called better team, the Golden Knights have thrived, blasting their opponents, including the fantastic Winnipeg Jets, like they weren’t even trying.

It’s Knight time in Vegas — the Stanley Cup Champion will be your Golden Knights in five.  For the first time this playoffs (and in franchise history), I believe the Knights will win a series on home ice.  It just happens to be the best win of them all.

Power Play%
VGK: 18.9%
WSH: 26.9%

Penalty Kill%
VGK: 83.1%
WSH: 78.4%

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
VGK: 50.37%
WSH: 49.47%

VGK: 101.06
WSH: 101.77

Notable Injuries
VGK: Malcolm Subban
WSH: none

Season Series
2017-12-23; WSH 0, VGK 3
2018-02-04; VGK 4, WSH 3
VGK: 2-0-0 [1.000]
WSH: 0-2-0 [0.000]

Like I said last time regarding team colors, it’s either non-red/black or the Capitals.  Either way, I’m a happy camper.

Final Fun Facts & Frivolity Field
Cup Virgins:  2 (!) — VGK, WSH, WPG
Cup Champions since 2006:  0
Longer Cup drought:  WSH — 42 seasons (duh)

Wow, I really can’t believe it.  Since I’ve been writing here, and since the year after I started making brackets in the first place, let me say it one more time: we will have a new Stanley Cup champion guaranteed.  Let’s go!


Stanley Cup 2018, III: Lady Luck Strikes Again


I am interrupting this 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff recap / prediction series to bring some much needed, somewhat deserved, good news for the city of Buffalo:

The first overall selection in the 2018 NHL Draft belongs to… the Buffalo Sabres.

Oh my gods it finally happened.  Two Saturdays ago, three years after a second consecutive last-place finish, and a second consecutive lottery loss (though Jack Eichel isn’t bad 😉 ) the Buffalo Sabres, having become the first team to finish in 31st place in NHL history, have finally won the right to draft first overall.  Waiting for them in Dallas this June will be Swedish defensive phenom Rasmus Dahlin.  And isn’t that just what the team needs?  Their defense has been mediocre at best for years; to add a generational talent to the blue-line changes the dynamic of this roster immensely and immediately, and for a long long time.  I cannot wait to see what comes in the offseason and how Jason Botterill puts his touches on the team after a full year of observation and tweaks.  Hopefully the toxicity of the locker room starts to shed, they give Jack Eichel the C, and the Sabres make great strides forward after years and years of suffering.  It happened to the last two teams to pick first overall… It’s about time it happened to Buffalo too.

Before we get to the second round, I need to voice my opinion concerning a recent, popular debate.

See, a lot of people have been complaining about the playoff format — that it’s a shame #1 and #2 overall (Nashville and Winnipeg, respectively) have to play in the second round instead of the Cup Final, or one of #4 in the East Toronto and #2 in the East Boston has to go home after the first round, even though they deserve to advance, etc.

Well, things don’t always go the way they should, especially in hockey, where randomness is a major factor.  Upsets are common: the higher seeded team advanced in 8 of 15 series in 2016 and 9 of 15 last year.  Sometimes a team that based on seeding alone looks like they don’t deserve to win, does.  Just look at Los Angeles in 2012 — an eight seed that won the Stanley Cup.  And just last year, the lowest seeded team in the playoffs, the Nashville Predators, went six games deep in the Cup Final.  So yeah, seeding doesn’t really matter now, does it?  Parity, and the reduction of an 82 game marathon into a 7-game series against a particular opponent, basically nullifies what came before it.  Anyone can beat anyone, so what’s the issue here?

The weird part this year is, yes, actually, seeding does seem to matter.  There have only been two upsets this season through two rounds (and barely, with the #2 overall beating #1 and #11 overall beating #9).  However, that’s exceptionally low as I noted above.  In this year’s final four, we have three of four division winners, with the fourth being a #2 that actually has more points than the rest, and therefore home ice, somehow.  I never thought I could win a bracket challenge by picking nothing but higher seeds, yet I’m losing a bracket challenge to someone who did just that…

The point is: this year is so far unusual, but usual is unpredictable, so I don’t see a problem here at all.  Playoff seeds shouldn’t guarantee that the favorite advances, nor do they resign the underdog to defeat.  Conference seeding worked well, sure, but I think the recurring match-ups between rivals old and new makes the divisional format light years better.  And just forget about 1-16 seeding — travel and time zones make it a non-starter.  So, maybe we should all just stop complaining about the playoff format and enjoy seeing great hockey between great teams.

Close one!  Thank you Winnipeg!  I’m glad you’ve rewarded my trust in you with fake internet points.

So, how about that second round??

Lightning vs Bruins:  Well, huh.  I guess I was wrong about the Lightning.  …and the Bruins.  My Cup finalist is gone, and, like Vegas last round, my lack of faith in Tampa Bay was misplaced.  The Lightning, after looking like crap against Boston in Game One, and conversely, the Bruins, looking like they should win the Cup right then and there, traded fates before the next four.  Tampa Bay made quick and easy work of a banged-up Boston roster, becoming the first team to advance to the Conference Final in five, and the only series of the second round not to be tied at two.

I guess on the one hand, I’m relieved because I cannot abide Boston sports’ success.  I thought the Bruins were better than they ended up being, and for that I’m not sad, I’m disappointed.  Boston, you’ve disappointed me.  As if I needed another reason not to like your teams.  But seriously, what the devil is wrong with Brad Marchand?  That boy ain’t right.  I love watching hockey, but I don’t need to see players licking each other.  No thank you.  I get that antics make playoff series fun — see all of the shenanigans that went on in 2011 between Vancouver and, of course, Boston — but come on, that’s gross.  I’m glad this is over.

Playoff Series
2018-04-28; BOS 6, TBL 2
2018-04-30; BOS 2, TBL 4
2018-05-02; TBL 4, BOS 1
2018-05-04; TBL 4, BOS 3 OT
2018-05-06; BOS 1, TBL 3
TBL defeats BOS: 4-1
Prediction: Bruins in 7 ☓☓

Capitals vs Penguins:  What the fuck.  Of course this happens now, after I’ve given up faith in the Capitals.  I was a year early on the no-expectations-so-of-course-this-is-their-year trendy pick and that defeat plunged me into never picking the Capitals again.  Whoops?  I don’t really like the Capitals, per se, but I really do feel happy for them now.  This is the hill they’ve failed to climb year after year with this group.  And not only that, but it’s been twenty years since Washington has seen the third round, where they defeated my Buffalo Sabres — when I was just a kid too young to stay up and watch.  I digress; the Capitals have slain their tormentors, the Pittsburgh Penguins, two-time defending Cup champions, for the first time since 1994 and only the second time ever.

And what a series it was.  It had everything.  Suspensions!  Fights!  Goaltender interference!  Inconclusive goal reviews!  An overturned goal call!  Ovechkin versus Crosby every single shift.  It was insane.  I said Winnipeg/Nashville was the marquee series in this fantastic second round, but even that seven game epic pales in comparison to the sheer animosity and intensity we’ve seen between these long time rivals.  Indeed, rivalries have been waning in general during the post-lockout, speed- and skill-focused years, but clearly they’re still possible.  Of all of the so-called rivalries still active in the league, this might just be the best.

До Свидания Pittsburgh.  Nobody will miss you.

Playoff Series
2018-04-26; PIT 3, WSH 2
2018-04-29; PIT 1, WSH 4
2018-05-01; WSH 4, PIT 3
2018-05-03; WSH 1, PIT 3
2018-05-05; PIT 3, WSH 6
2018-05-08; WSH 2, PIT 1 OT
WSH defeats PIT: 4-2
Prediction: Penguins in 6 

Predators vs. Jets:  Can you believe it?  The Presidents’ Trophy winning Nashville Predators, a trendy pick for Cup champion after coming so close last year, is out after just two rounds, to a team that, previous to this season, had never even won a playoff game in almost 20 seasons.  This series was awesome.  The Jets looked phenomenal in their wins, while the Predators held steady in theirs.  Game Two was insane, where Winnipeg lost a lead, but kept rallying late to force OT, where they lost in front of Nashville’s rabid home crowd.  But the real crown jewel of this series was Game Three, the greatest comeback in Winnipeg Jets history — down 0-3 after one, they stormed back to put 5 goals past Vezina finalist Pekka Rinna and add two empty netters to make the score an absurd 7-4.

I don’t know if Nashville was just tired or lacked the chemistry of last year’s Cinderella run.  They were good, but perhaps that long Colorado series was a harbinger of doom.  Then again, the Jets are really good.  They’ve got firepower up top, rock-solid goaltending, and a hard-hitting, offensive defense.  The only number two seed left among a trio of one seeds, they’re somehow the Cup favorite.  That’s right, the Winnipeg freakin’ Jets are the Cup favourite.  What a year.

Playoff Series
2018-04-26; WPG 4, NSH 1
2018-04-28; WPG 4, NSH 5 2OT
2018-04-30; NSH 4, WPG 7
2018-05-02; NSH 2, WPG 1
2018-05-05; WPG 6, NSH 2
2018-05-07; NSH 4, WPG 0
2018-05-10; WPG 5, NSH 1
WPG defeats NSH: 4-3
Prediction: Jets in 6 ✓☓

Golden Knights vs Sharks:  This makes just about absolutely no sense.  And yet, I (mostly) predicted this series correctly, save for a game seven and/or one extra road win.  What can I say?  The Vegas Golden Knights are for real, and this fairly dominant display over the feisty San Jose Sharks should once and for all put a nail into the coffin of doubt that’s been hanging around them since the start of the season.  Marc-Andre Fleury is running away with the Conn Smythe at this point, and I’d not be surprised in the least if (gag) the Golden Knights win the Stanley Cup this year.  I can’t believe I’ve finally said those words…

Poor Sharkies though.  Joe Thornton never saw the ice in the playoffs, and this might be it for Jumbo Joe’s career.  Will they re-sign Evander Kane?  Are we back to an era of choking in San Jose?  I hope not, I hope so, and I freakin’ hope not.  I believe the window’s still very much open in the Bay.  That is, if they can just win a Game Six at home for once.

Playoff Series
2018-04-26; SJS 0, VGK 7
2018-04-28; SJS 4, VGK 3 2OT
2018-04-30; VGK 4, SJS 3 OT
2018-05-03; VGK 0, SJS 4
2018-05-05; SJS 3, VGK 4
2018-05-07; VGK 3, SJS 0
VGK defeats SJS: 4-2
Prediction: Golden Knights in 7  ✓☓

I said last year that if we get 75% turnover in the final four every year, we’ll  get a new team a Cup eventually.  Well, look at this.  The Stanley Cup Champion is not going to be Pittsburgh.  It’s not going to be Chicago.  Nor Los Angeles.  Nor Boston.  That weird cycle is over.  It’s also not going to be Detroit, Anaheim, nor Carolina — all of the post-lockout Cup champions are out.  And we’ve got 50% unweighted odds of a first-time winner to boot.  Heck yes.

Advanced stats herein are taken from February 26th through the end of the second round, with the rankings being among the four teams remaining.


A1 Tampa Bay Lightning vs M1 Washington Capitals:  This feels weird.  Tampa Bay is obviously no stranger to the Conference Finals, having reached the third round in 2015 and 2016.  Washington, on the other hand, well, I said it above — their last appearance was in 1998, and their only other was in 1990.  So, ‘sbeenawhile.  These once Southeast Division rivals are meeting for the third time in the playoffs, where Tampa Bay won the previous two meetings.  From my perspective, this is the battle of two teams I had no faith in at the start of the playoffs.  My Eastern bracket is cooked, so this matchup is a new start.  Tampa Bay had been everyone’s Cup pick (or finalist, at least) at the start of the year, and for good reason.  They’re an extremely well rounded team, with exceptional scoring ability, forward depth, a Vezina finalist in goal, and a Norris Trophy finalist on the top defensive pairing.  They’re a powerhouse team built to win now, and they’re healthy.

On the other hand, the Washington Capitals have far exceeded (admittedly low) expectations, but don’t forget, this team won their division handily this year.  They too have a dangerous set of forwards, with some previously unknown depth guys chipping in clutchily.  Defensively, the Capitals are a bit weaker than Tampa, but their goaltending, while not as lauded of late, can steal a game or four just as well.  Washington has the better special teams here, while the Lightning boast better possession numbers, a (presumably) healthier roster, and took the season series.  This is almost a toss-up, however I’m leaning toward Tampa Bay here.  I’d be okay with a Capitals win (probably more so, as it would secure a brand new Cup champion), but I think it’s Lightning in six.  My faith is restored — they’re just too good to lose now.

Power Play%
TBL: 22.9%, 2nd
WSH: 27.5%, 1st

Penalty Kill%
TBL: 71.9%, 4th
WSH: 80.4%, 2nd

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
TBL: 53.47%, 2nd
WSH: 49.40%, 4th

TBL: 100.88, 3rd
WSH: 101.90, 2nd

Notable Injuries
TBL: none
WSH: Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky

Season Series
2017-10-09; WSH 3, TBL 4 OT
2017-11-24; TBL 1, WSH 3
2018-02-20; TBL 4, WSH 2
TBL: 2-1-0 [0.666]
WSH: 1-1-1 [0.500]


C2. Winnipeg Jets vs P1. Vegas Golden Knights:  I’m still in disbelief about this series.  The last two teams left standing in the Western Conference are the two most recent additions to the NHL — the Jets were re-established in Winnipeg in 2011, moving from Atlanta, and of course the Golden Knights are still in their first season as an expansion club.  At the start of this year’s playoffs neither team had won a playoff game in franchise history; now one is guaranteed to play for a Stanley Cup.  Incredible.  Now, which one?  I tipped my hand above, but again, it’s time to justify my support.

The Vegas Golden Knights are the team that continues to defy expectations.  They have perhaps the best chemistry and well-roundedness of the final four.  Scoring comes from everywhere, and their previous opponents have had a hard time line matching against a speedy Knights team composed of nothing but second and third lines.  To add to that, their goaltending has been outstanding through two rounds, with Marc-Andre Fleury putting up an obscene 0.951 Sv%, 1.53 GAA and 4 shutouts in 10 games.  His days as a playoff liability are long gone.  I don’t know what the solution to defeating the Golden Knights is, because they’re not injured, not tired, well-rested after a week-long break, and against all odds, they show no signs of slowing.

The Winnipeg Jets will beat them.  Not only are they the best team remaining, but they simply look the best as well.  Their opponents have been tougher than Vegas’s, as they overcame the pesky Minnesota Wild in just five, and went the distance against the favored Nashville Predators, trading blowout wins with close losses.  As I said above, the Jets have offensive star power in droves, not only up front but from the blue-line as well.  Their goaltending has been incredible as well — among goaltenders starting all of their teams’ games, Connor Hellebuyck ranks third with 0.927 Sv%, 2.25 GAA, and 2 shutouts of his own.  These teams are very similar — very quick, brick walls in goal, and succeeding against expectations and each having almost no playoff experience to carry them.  In the battle of the Western teams of destiny, it’s going to be the Jets in six.  The Winnipeg White Out will storm into the Stanley Cup Final.

Power Play%
WPG: 21.3%, 3rd
VGK: 19.0%, 4th

Penalty Kill%
WPG: 76.7%, 3rd
VGK: 84.1%, 1st

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
WPG: 53.83%, 1st
VGK: 50.64%, 3rd

WPG: 102.40, 1st
VGK: 100.65, 4th

Notable Injuries
WPG: none
VGK: William Carrier

Season Series
2017-11-10; WPG 2, VGK 5
2017-12-01; VGK 4, WPG 7
2018-02-01; VGK 3, WPG 2 OT
WPG: 1-1-1 [0.500]
VGK: 2-1-0 [0.666]

Like last year, this is a very different final four, except this time, none of the teams are making a repeat appearance.  We’ve got three Cup Virgins out of four teams, the only previous winner precedes the lockout, and they have just one Cup to their name — the Lightning in 2004.  Now here’s the cool aesthetic part: every Cup winner since 1994 (!) has worn red or black, primarily.  This year, there’s only one red (or black) team left — the Washington Capitals.  So, either we finally get a new color as champion, or the Capitals win the Cup.  I’m okay with either!  Also, weirdly, it looks like we’ve reached the bottom of the alphabet.  Sorry, Vancouver.

Final Four Fun Facts & Frivolity Field
Cup Virgins:  3 — SJS, VGK, WSH, WPG
Cup Champions since 2006:  0 — BOS (’11), PIT (’09, ’16, ’17)
Longest Cup drought:  WSH — 42 seasons
Returning teams (to the third round):  0 (!)
Fresh blood (in the third round):  4 — TBL, VGK (!), WSH (!), WPG (!!)


Stanley Cup 2018, II: The Real Fun Begins


What the hell was that?  We had potential — rivalries old and new, sneaky good teams, and juggernauts — but somehow, this first round wasn’t all that exciting.  Two sweeps in the first week, in series that should have been bloodbaths.  A Presidents’ Trophy winner pushed harder than expected, with their opponent in wait absolutely dominant…

NO OVERTIME.  I mean, there was some, but it was basically all in the Capitals-Blue Jackets series, which, like the Capitals-Maple Leafs series last year, isn’t even a rivalry.  How many blowouts did we see?  Eight games decided by four goals or more, half of which were in the Penguins-Flyers series, and just the one Game Seven, a thriller to be sure, but it too got a little bit blowout-ey by the end.  I don’t know, it feels like this year was a step backward from the excitement of the first few years under the divisional playoff format.

And then there were the suspensions.  Four of them in the first week, totaling six games.  And while each series had its share of chippiness and pugnacity, these infractions seemed recklessly out of the blue.  Hopefully we don’t see more of this in coming rounds, but I have a pessimistic feelingthat  discipline may get worse, given the incredible potential for bloodshed in the matchups we’ve got coming.

Misplaced faith in the Blue Jackets and not enough faith in the Golden Knights has me going 6 for 8, which is pretty good, especially since my wrong choices die in the second anyway.  There was only one upset, and it was the one I went for the hardest in picking San Jose over Anaheim.  This was entirely too straightforward of a first round.

Lightning vs Devils:  I see we’re starting off right — I didn’t actually watch this series.  It always started during my commutes home, and even then it was on at the same time as more exciting Eastern series, so what I caught in the end was only peripheral action and highlights.  It makes complete sense to me that the Lightning finished quickly, despite the lopsided season series, since the Devils were a bit unfamiliar with playoff hockey.  I see Taylor Hall’s magic pulled them through in Game 3 but it clearly wasn’t enough to get by Tampa’s defense in the end.  It looks like Vasilevskiy is in top form once again, so there’s a little less to worry about next round.  Meanwhile, I have a feeling the Devils won’t be this good next year — they were dragged into the playoffs by one player’s sheer determination.  If they want to repeat, they’ll need to address several issues, including forward depth, defense, and goaltending.  So, everything, really.

Playoff Series
2018-04-12; NJD 2, TBL 5
2018-04-14; NJD 3, TBL 5
2018-04-16; TBL 2, NJD 5
2018-04-18; TBL 3, NJD 1
2018-04-21; NJD 1, TBL 3
TBL defeats NJD: 4-1
Prediction: Lightning in 6 ✓☓

Bruins vs Maple Leafs:  Whew.  I never thought I’d be relieved for the Boston Bruins to take a late lead in a Game 7, but here we are.  What the heck happened anyway?  They looked so dominant through four and then just faded away for a while.  Perhaps its injuries?  Maybe they wanted the Leafs to come back only to crush their hopes again.  Hey, at least this time it was 4-3 and not 4-1 in the third period of Game 7.  Silver linings, I suppose.  I’m a little worried about my Bruins pick going forward, since they seem pretty banged up already, but more on that below.  As for the Leafs, well, I take great pleasure in seeing them eliminated once again, especially after their franchise record season.  The longest Cup drought in NHL history continues, and I love it.

Playoff Series
2018-04-12; TOR 1, BOS 5
2018-04-14; TOR 3, BOS 7
2018-04-16; BOS 0, TOR 2
2018-04-19; BOS 3, TOR 0
2018-04-21; TOR 3, BOS 1
2018-04-23; BOS 0, TOR 1
2018-04-25; TOR 4, BOS 7
BOS defeats TOR: 4-3
Prediction: Bruins in 7 ✓✓

Capitals vs. Blue Jackets:  Another year, another first round loss for the Columbus Blue Jackets.  I really believed this year, though a hedged bet is no bet at all.  This was a fun series, with what felt like the only overtimes of the first round.  What is it with the Capitals and excessive first round OTs?  Last year they set a record with five and now four more this time??  Well, it turns out Washington isn’t quite done yet, and they’ve made a strong case that they could be for real this year, having just won four games straight against a pretty pesky Blue Jackets squad.  But more on that later.  Sorry ‘Lumbus, you’ll get your… third playoff win eventually.

Playoff Series
2017-04-13; CBJ 4, WSH 3 OT
2017-04-15; CBJ 5, WSH 4 OT
2017-04-17; WSH 3, CBJ 2 2OT
2017-04-19; WSH 4, CBJ 1
2017-04-21; CBJ 3, WSH 4 OT
2017-04-23; WSH 6, CBJ 3
WSH defeats CBJ: 4-2
Prediction: Blue Jackets in 5 

Penguins vs. Flyers:  This was no 2012, at least in the penalty minute department.  On the scoreboard, somehow this was even crazier, albeit without either team hitting 10 goals in a single game.  The road team won each game except Game One, which was a tone-setting blowout by Pittsburgh.  Each team traded blowouts up until Game 5, which was relatively tame, but had the exciting late tie-breaking goal by Sean Couturier, who then had a hattrick in Game 6, all whilst playing with a torn MCL.  What.  That’s unreal.  Of course it was Pittsburgh who prevailed in the end, driven by unrivaled superstar power and depth that, while middling on paper, is somehow always elevated in the playoffs.  The big question going forward is goaltending — Matt Murray didn’t look great in this series, but then again, the kid’s got two Cups to his name already.  The Flyers’ future is always a question mark; unless this year was a fluke, they should be even better next season.  Maybe.

Playoff Series
2018-04-11; PHI 0, PIT 7
2018-04-13; PHI 5, PIT 1
2018-04-15; PIT 5, PHI 1
2018-04-18; PIT 5, PHI 0
2018-04-20; PHI 4, PIT 2
2018-04-22; PIT 8, PHI 5
PIT defeats PHI: 4-2
Prediction: Penguins in 6 ✓✓

Predators vs Avalanche:  I didn’t see this coming.  Sure, the Predators still won, and in resounding fashion in the deciding game, but wasn’t Colorado’s effort pretty outstanding?  Even crippled by injury and discounted by just about every hockey pundit, they actually made a series of it, especially after that hotly debated late go-ahead skate redirect goal by Nick Bonino in Game 5.  When the Avalanche not only tied the game, but took the lead, all within the last five minutes of regulation, one might have thought the hockey gods were dishing out some karmic payback.  But, of course, in the end it was the juggernaut Predators, though suddenly looking a little bit more mortal, who advance to the Central Division championship series.

Playoff Series
2018-04-12; COL 2, NSH 5
2018-04-14; COL 4, NSH 5
2018-04-16; NSH 3, COL 5
2018-04-18; NSH 3, COL 2
2018-04-20; COL 2, NSH 1
2018-04-22; NSH 5, COL 0
NSH defeats COL: 4-2
Prediction: Predators in 4 ✓☓

Jets vs Wild:  Meanwhile, over in the prairies of the Upper Midwest, a series that went exactly as expected.  Minnesota stole a game at home, but the upstart Jets blew them away in the other four, allowing zero goals in the last two and advancing to the secound round for the first time in franchise history, and for the first time in thirty years as a team from Winnipeg.  This series was fun, if a bit predictable.  Between Myers’ accidental injury, and Morrissey’s well-deserved suspension, as well as the countless late game scrums, there was no shortage of bad blood between these two, at least by modern standards.  I hope this series kicked off a real rivalry between these two geographic rivals, but I fear Minnesota might be on the decline.  The Jets’ supremacy should be just beginning…

Playoff Series
2018-04-11; MIN 2, WPG 3
2018-04-13; MIN 1, WPG 4
2018-04-15; WPG 2, MIN 6
2018-04-17; WPG 2, MIN 0
2018-04-20; MIN 0, WPG 5
WPG defeats MIN: 4-1
Prediction: Jets in 5 ✓✓

Golden Knights vs Kings:  Huh.  The first team to advance, in a sweep nonetheless, were the Vegas Golden Knights.  Who would have thought?  And in such a fashion?  The Kings were the better team in almost every metric, and had most recently swept a home and home with the Knights.  Yet, in the playoffs, the high-flying Knights adapted, potting only 7 goals, which is an insanely low amount of goals to score and sweep an opponent.  Just wild.  Goaltending was the story in this series with both Marc-Andre Fleury (0.977 Sv%) and the vanquished Jonathan Quick (0.947) posting stellar numbers each game.  As I should have expected, it was Vegas who was propelled by depth scoring, while the Kings put just three goals past Fleury all series.  That’s… not good.  But as a Northern California resident, it makes me quite happy.

Except, we have to play these guys now, so…

Playoff Series
2018-04-11; LAK 0, VGK 1
2018-04-13; LAK 1, VGK 2 2OT
2018-04-15; VGK 3, LAK 2
2018-04-17; VGK 1, LAK 0
VGK defeats LAK: 4-0
Prediction: Kings in 7 ☓☓

Ducks vs. Sharks:  Well this was awesome.  I’d brazenly put down the Ducks as an awful team who the Sharks would handily beat in my predictions.  It turns out, I wasn’t bold enough.  For the second time in franchise history, the Sharks have swept a series — and both times have been on home ice.  They looked fantastic, climaxing in their relentless, disciplined blowout of Anaheim in Game Three.  The Ducks on the other hand looked horrendous; uninterested, tired, and done.  Whereas the Sharks core somehow keeps holding their Cup window open year after year, I think Anaheim’s is now firmly shut.  There’s something rotten in that room, and their shocking, but not entirely unexpected, meltdown is the result.  And now Southern California is out if the playoffs entirely — swept away by Northern California and Nevada.  C’est la vie.

Playoff Series
2018-04-12; SJS 3, ANA 0
2018-04-14; SJS 3, ANA 2
2018-04-16; ANA 1, SJS 8
2018-04-18; ANA 1, SJS 2
SJS defeats ANA: 4-0
Prediction: Sharks in 6 ✓☓

We’ll see if I can catch more hockey this time around.  Fewer games should mean more attention, but lately my focus has been… elsewhere.  At the very least, I won’t be missing my Sharks, especially as they play my third-string-bandwagon Knights.

Advanced stats herein are taken from February 26th through the end of the first round, with the rankings being among the eight teams remaining.


A1. Tampa Bay Lightning vs A2. Boston Bruins:  I was hoping for this series from the beginning — the 2011 seven-game showdown for the Cup Final was ridiculously fun, even if these two teams are largely different by now.  I have a bad feeling about my initial picks, however, given how the first round shaped up.  The Lightning have been idle since Saturday, having cleaned up at home against the Devils in short order, so they’ve been just chilling in Tampa, waiting for their opponent; the opponent who went seven games and has to play again two days from now and is likely far more injured than the reports suggest.  What’s up with Patrice Bergeron?  He had a mini-slump in the last series, prompting speculation he’s struggling physically, but he did have three points in Game 7, so maybe not?  On the Tampa side, everyone appears healthy, it’s just a matter of staying that way against the far more physical Bruins.  I didn’t have faith in Tampa moving on initially; I have less faith that Boston moves on now than I did.  Both teams have excellent goaltending; a dangerous top forward line, although Tampa gets the nod in the depth department; and their defense is roughly at parity.  Since it’s a toss-up, especially in the advanced stats department, I’m going to stick with my bracket.  Bruins in seven.  Another long series awaits, and the preseason Cup favorites stay home.

Power Play%
TBL: 22.1%, 3rd
BOS: 33.0%, 1st

Penalty Kill%
TBL: 73.8%, 8th
BOS: 78.9%, 3rd

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
TBL: 52.69%, 3rd
BOS: 53.10%, 2nd

TBL: 100.09, 6th
BOS: 100.26, 5th

Notable Injuries
TBL: none
BOS: Brandon Carlo

Season Series
2017-11-29; TBL 0, BOS 3
2018-03-17; BOS 3, TBL 2
2018-03-29; TBL 2, BOS 4
2018-04-03; BOS 0, TBL 4
TBL: 1-3-0 [0.250]
BOS: 3-1-0 [0.750]


M1. Washington Capitals vs M2. Pittsburgh Penguins:  You’ve gotta be f&cking kidding me.  Third times the charm, eh, Washington?  For the last two years, you’ve held home ice in the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins.  For the last two years, the Pittsburgh Penguins have won the Stanley Cup.  And so it goes, that the Capitals and Penguins meet in the second round for a third consecutive year.  The last time I recall something like this happening, it was Vancouver and Chicago between 2009 and 2011, though in different rounds and with only the one Cup to the Blackhawks’ name.  That 2011 series ended with Canucks’ demon-slaying #3venge over the defending Cup champs, and a four-round run of their own.  Is that happening again?  Or is this happening again.  You know, how the Penguins always beat the Capitals and the Capitals never see the light of the third round during the Ovechkin Era?  Yeah, that one.  Penguins in six.  I don’t care that Washington is the better team on paper and that they beat a tougher opponent (debatably).  That Evgeni Malkin injury is a glaring hole for the Pens, but they haven’t seemed to care.  I don’t know what it is — the Penguins win and the Capitals choke, every. single. time.

I’m as serious as the Cigarette Smoking Man.  As long as the Capitals are built around the core of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Holtby, I will never again bet that they even sniff the Conference Final.

…so they will this year, right?  He says, hedging his bet for the second time…

Power Play%
WSH: 27.6%, 2nd
PIT: 21.7%, 4th

Penalty Kill%
WSH: 81.8%, 4th
PIT: 75.3%, 7th

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
WSH: 48.50%, 8th
PIT: 51.78%, 5th

WSH: 101.80, 3rd
PIT:  99.31, 7th

Notable Injuries
WSH: Andre Burakovsky
PIT: Evgeni Malkin, Carl Hagelin

Season Series
2017-10-11; PIT 3, WSH 2
2017-11-10; PIT 1, WSH 4
2018-02-02; WSH 4, PIT 7
2018-04-01; WSH 3, PIT 1
WSH: 2-2-0 [0.500]
PIT: 2-2-0 [0.500]


C1. Nashville Predators vs C2. Winnipeg Jets:  And we’re off.  This has been the de facto Western Conference Final for months, going back to the late season series with these two Central powerhouses, and with this series, one of two things will happen: the Preds and Jets will beat each other up, leaving the survivor as easy pickings for the Pacific Division champion; or, the winner of this series wins the Stanley Cup.  Nashville and Winnipeg are just that good.  This is, in my opinion, the marquee matchup of the second round, perhaps of the entire tournament, no disrespect to Caps v Pens III.

Now, how to pick a winner?  The good news is my bracket is intact here, so I’ll be sticking with that.  But, I have to justify it, so here goes.  Nashville took too long to beat Colorado, who is arguably a worse team than Minnesota.  The best defensive corp in the league was shaken by the talents of the Avs’ top line, which could mean trouble against the Jets multiple levels of snipers.  Both goaltenders in this series are Vezina finalists, each with a shutout in the series deciding game.  Nashville’s forwards certainly produced more on the scoreboard than Winnipeg’s, and the Jets have significantly more injuries overall (like, holy crap that’s a lot of names on the injury report).  This should be a close series, but based on what I saw (the dreaded eye test), Winnipeg was simply dominant in their series, especially at home.  Nashville may be motivated after their scare against Colorado, but I think the cracks in their game are starting to show.  Jets in six.  The Whiteout continues its undefeated streak, and Winnipeg secures a trip to the Conference Final on home ice.

Power Play%
NSH: 15.7%, 8th
WPG: 20.0%, 6th

Penalty Kill%
NSH: 81.6%, 5th
WPG: 77.8%, 6th

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
NSH: 51.91%, 4th
WPG: 53.90%, 1st

NSH: 102.28, 1st
WPG: 101.92, 2nd

Notable Injuries
NSH: Yannick Weber
WPG: Toby Enstrom, Mathieu Perreault, Joel Armia, Nikolaj Ehlers, Steve Mason

Season Series
2017-11-20; WPG 3, NSH 5
2017-12-19; WPG 6, NSH 4
2018-02-27; NSH 6, WPG 5
2018-03-13; WPG 1, NSH 3
2018-03-25; NSH 4, WPG 5 S/O
NSH: 3-1-1 [0.700]
WPG: 2-3-0 [0.400]


P1. Vegas Golden Knights vs P3. San Jose Sharks:  This will be historic.  One of these two teams will be undefeated in the playoffs after Game One.  And if it’s the Knights, they might as well just sweep their next three series.  I honestly don’t know what to do here.  The Sharks look better than I’ve seen them in a long time, perhaps even more so than their Cup Final team two years ago.  Their path to the Final goes through Vegas, a goram expansion team, and the potentially ruined husk of Nashipeg.  But man, the Vegas Golden Knights just keep winning and I feel like I should have learned not to pick against them by now.  In fact, I watched these very teams play against each other in person less than a month ago, and the Sharks, despite what I just said above, did not look good on T-Mobile Arena ice, which is unfortunately where this series begins.  According to the numbers I choose to use as my tea leaves, the Sharks are the better team.  Historically, the Knights have beaten San Jose more often than not, especially on home ice.  My bracket has San Jose in the Conference Final, over Los Angeles.  Well, it didn’t quite go that way, and my gut is now screaming at me given this new matchup.  As much as I want the Sharks to advance, I don’t think its in the cards against Vegas.  Golden Knights in seven.  Each team will steal one home game from the other, but it’s the Vegas flu that leads the Knights to victory.  If I’m wrong, well, great!

By the way, doesn’t it feel like forever since these two have played a game?  Their first round series have been wrapped up for 8 and 9 days, so expect a bit of rust in the beginning of this one.

Power Play%
VGK: 18.1%, 7th
SJS: 20.3%, 5th

Penalty Kill%
VGK: 85.0%, 2nd
SJS: 86.5%, 1st

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
VGK: 49.87%, 7th
SJS: 51.35%, 6th

VGK:  99.02, 8th
SJS: 101.19, 4th

Notable Injuries
VGK: Luca Sbisa
SJS: Joe Thornton

Season Series
2017-11-24; SJS 4, VGK 5 OT
2018-02-08; VGK 5, SJS 3
2018-03-22; VGK 1, SJS 2 OT
2018-03-31; SJS 2, VGK 3
VGK: 3-0-1 [0.750]
SJS: 1-2-1 [0.375]

No team left in the Western Conference has won a Cup.  I like those odds, but I have a bad feeling Pittsburgh’s going to ruin things again.

Fun Facts & Frivolity Field
Cup Virgins:  5 — CBJ, NSH, MIN, SJS, VGK, WSH, WPG
Cup Champions since 2006:  2 — ANA (’07), BOS (’11), LAK (’12, ’14), PIT (’09, ’16, ’17)
Longest Cup drought:  WSH — 42 seasons
Returning teams (to the second round):  3 — NSH, PIT, WSH
Fresh blood (in the second round):  5 — BOS, SJS, TBL, VGK, WPG

This might be the best looking second round in years.  Let’s do this.