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.


Stanley Cup 2018, I: Place Your Bets


Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here to today to celebrate and to mourn, for we have come to the end of another long, yet exciting, yet miserable, NHL season.  The playoffs are here, which today will ring in one of my favorite times of the year.  As is tradition, I will go through the matchups and dissect them with my expert analysis and make a prediction on not only each series, but the tournament as a whole.

Hang on.  Predictions.  Why does that ring a bell…

Oh.  Right.  Before the season began, way back in September of 2017, I decided to put my prognostication prowess to the test and calculate out every single teams’ point projection and standings position.  What resulted was this image:

You know, it’s not half bad!  …in that it’s actually straight up half bad.  Let’s have a closer look.  I expected more from Dallas.  Edmonton, what the hell??  Chicago, it was going to happen eventually, but the year after winning the West?  Montréal — meh.  Carolina, I am so sorry.  New York Rangers, I predicted a slide, but not one this bad.

Now, I got the Jets as a playoff team right as a bit of a bold pick.  Nashville should have been higher, obviously.  The Lightning winning the East was right on, though it got hairy at the end of the season there and they didn’t win the Presidents’ Trophy.  Washington & Pittsburgh were perfect and easy, as were Toronto, Minnesota and San Jose.

Boldly, I chose St. Louis to miss the playoffs.  That was a close one.  Colorado, good on you.  Vancouver, that’s about right.  In the east, I correctly foresaw Ottawa’s slide, though severely underestimated it.  Boston is not even close, looking like perhaps the best team in the league right now.  Buffalo… sigh… congrats on being the first ever 31st place team in NHL history.

And that brings us to the elephant in the room: the Vegas Golden Knights.  I am absolutely willing to eat a whole buffet of crow, given that I called them to finish dead last disdainfully with, and I quote, “that roster.”  I am happy to be exceptionally wrong, as the Golden Knights have weaved one of the season’s most compelling stories and becoming the best expansion team in all of major league sports history.  As had been cheekily predicted by many, they were dominant at home, and having attended a game at T-Mobile Arena myself, I can attest to their definite strength on home ice, as well as their fantastically entertaining arena experience.  Additionally, the Golden Knights, despite being a hockey team in the desert, have a ubiquitous presence in and around the Strip.  Las Vegas is proud to have their team, and they’ve shown that it’s well deserved.

Diving a little deeper into the numbers: I correctly predicted the exact point totals for two teams: Philadelphia and St. Louis.  I was within 3 points with Washington, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Detroit, Tampa Bay, and Vancouver.  I mentioned the playoff seeds I got correct above — strangely enough, I missed on all non-playoff seeding positions.  The worst predictions were Buffalo, Montréal, and Edmonton, all being off by exactly 30 points too many.  But of course, I was wrong on Vegas by 44 points too few.  On average, my predictions were off by 15 points.  Yikes.  It’s a good thing I’m not a professional hockey writer.

Naturally, after gambling on preseason picks and finishing quite a bit in the red, it makes complete sense to stay at the table and pray for Lady Luck to come around.  Same shooter.  Coming out:

Bringing the Cup back to Canada, eh?  Bold choice, especially against the Bruins, slayer of northern dreams.  Along the way we’ve got some choice matchups — Jets/Preds, Sharks/Kings, Penguins/Jackets, Bruins/Lightning — as well as upsets galore.  Fun and plausible!  Let’s take a look at the first round, shall we?

Stats herein (Power Play and Penalty Kill percentages, 5v5 Score-Adjusted Corsi [Shots on goal + missed shots + blocked shots, a decent measure of possession] & PDO [save percentage + shooting percentage, a decent measure of luck]) are measured from the trade deadline, February 26th, 2018, until the end of the regular season.  This is done in order to portray a more representative sample as teams trend toward their playoff forms.  All numbers are taken from,, and Corsica.


A1. Tampa Bay Lightning vs M5. New Jersey Devils:  For the first time since I’ve been writing playoff predictions, the New Jersey Devils are in.  (Aside: that leaves only Arizona, Buffalo, and Carolina as the teams I’ve never written about on here…)  It’s been five long years, which is crazy since I grew up with the Devils being a playoff mainstay and multi-Cup winning team.  They face the Tampa Bay Lightning, reluctant winners of the Eastern Conference and most recently a playoff rival from back in 2007.  These are two speedy teams, lead by two late 2000s first overall draft picks in Steven Stamkos and Taylor Hall, respectively.  In fact, the Devils are basically just Taylor Hall and friends.  He put up 93 points this season, first on the team by a margin of 41 (!) points.  Holy crap.  Think they won the 2016 trade with Edmonton?  The Devils depth leaves a lot to be desired, and their goaltending tandem is shaky with former number one Cory Schneider performing horribly in limited starts since returning from injury.

Meanwhile, the Lightning, while still the best in the East, had fallen to Earth down the stretch (that negative goal differential since the deadline is a huge red flag).  This is  an incredibly deep team with superstars and solid youngsters, yet their goaltending of late has turned from Vezina quality to just about average.  If Andrei Vasilevskiy is fatigued as rumored, I don’t know that I trust him and Louis Domingue to handle a playoff workload successfully.  Still, their defense is solid, and goal scoring should come in spades given their overwhelming talent.  With the Devils having swept the season series (somehow), I can easily see this being an upset, however I think the Lightning will find a way to shut down Taylor Hall, and therefore, the Devils.  Lightning in six.  Truth be told, I don’t see my confidence in Tampa lasting longer than a round.

Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
TBL: 113 | 54 [48] - 23 - 3 - 2 | +56
NJD:  97 | 44 [39] - 29 - 2 - 4 |  +3

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
TBL: 26 [0.650] | 12 [ 9] - 6 - 2 - 0 | -2
NJD: 25 [0.625] | 12 [11] - 7 - 1 - 0 | +5

Power Play%
TBL: 20.7%, 14th
NJD: 28.8%,  4th

Penalty Kill%
TBL: 70.8%, 26th
NJD: 79.5%, 14th

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
TBL: 52.69%,  6th
NJD: 47.93%, 24th

TBL: 100.09, 17th
NJD: 100.86, 13th

Notable Injuries
TBL: Steven Stamkos
NJD: Marcus Johansson

Season Series
2017-10-17; TBL 4, NJD 4 S/O
2018-02-17; NJD 4, TBL 3
2018-03-24; TBL 1, NJD 2
TBL: 0-2-1 [0.167]
NJD: 3-0-0 [1.000]


A2. Boston Bruins vs A3. Toronto Maple Leafs:  Ohhhh baby this is what I’ve been hoping for ever since these two seeds were basically locked up back in… November.  Although the Sabres fan in me prefers that both teams missed the playoffs entirely, this will certainly do instead!

Everybody remembers 2013.  I was at a Sara Bareilles concert checking the scores on my phone before it started.  Toronto was up 4-1 in Game 7 and we know how that ended.  Six weeks later, I was in Boston the same night as the deciding game of the Cup Final… in Boston.  The Leafs imploded dramatically, bottoming out in 2016 to win the right to draft phenom Auston Matthews.  In 2014, the B’s won the Presidents’ Trophy, then imploded in a slightly less dramatic fashion over the subsequent two seasons.  Now we’ve got possibly the best matchup of the Eastern Conference, with both teams having something to prove and an age-old rivalry still burning hot.

These two have a lot in common; both are quick, young teams with a handful of incredible rookies, a smattering of dependable vets, and decades upon decades of history.  Toronto has arguably the better forward group, though Boston’s Brad Marchand eclipses all in points by a sizable margin.  Toronto has a higher scoring defensive core, but Boston has a better back end in general, including star goaltender Tuukka Rask, as well as boasting the best possession numbers in the league.  Honestly, I’m sensing a toss up here.  I hope it’s a brutal, seven game war of attrition, and I think that (gag) Boston triumphs over Toronto once again.  Bruins in seven.  It just feels like they’re peaking at the right time.

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
BOS: 112 | 50 [47] - 20 - 9 - 3 | +56
TOR: 105 | 49 [42] - 26 - 5 - 2 | +40

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
BOS: 30 [0.682] | 13 [13] - 5 - 3 - 1 | +13
TOR: 22 [0.611] | 10 [ 9] - 6 - 1 - 1 | +10

Power Play%
BOS: 33.3%, 2nd
TOR: 41.7%, 1st (!)

Penalty Kill%
BOS: 85.3%,  8th
TOR: 74.0%, 23rd

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
BOS: 53.10%, 4th
TOR: 52.75%, 5th

BOS: 100.26, 15th
TOR: 101.52, 10th

 Notable Injuries
BOS: Rick Nash, Brandon Carlo
TOR: None

 Season Series
2017-11-10; BOS 2, TOR 3 OT
2017-11-11; TOR 4, BOS 1
2018-02-03; TOR 1, BOS 4
2018-02-24; BOS 3, TOR 3
BOS: 1-2-1 [0.375]
TOR: 3-1-0 [0.750]


M1. Washington Capitals vs M4. Columbus Blue Jackets:  Welcome to the club of perennial playoff teams, Columbus.  It’s been a long time coming.  In your first back-to-back appearance, you’ve been rewarded with a team that’s not Pittsburgh.  Hooray!  And I didn’t realize at the time, but Columbus, despite the wild card finish, has been one of the hottest teams of late.  That should terrify the Capitals, who, while winning the division, have fallen noticeably backward since last year.  Perhaps the lack of Presidents’ Trophy pressure will relax Washington into winning three rounds this time around?  I’m not sure.  Alex Ovechkin is always a force, however Columbus too comes equipped this year with a bonafide offensive dynamo in Artemi Panarin.  The Jackets are quite a bit deeper than the top-heavy Capitals but they do stumble significantly on special teams.  On the goaltending front, it’s Braden Holtby versus Sergei Bobrovsky, two of the best in the league, yet both have a bit of a playoff choking reputation, both specifically against the Penguins, funnily enough.  Oy, I have no idea what’s going to happen, so I’m going to do what I promised to do last year: never pick the Capitals to win anything again.  Blue Jackets in five.  Oh yes, I’m going there.

…congrats on your series win, Washington…

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
WSH: 105 | 49 [46] - 26 - 6 - 1 | +18
CBJ:  97 | 45 [39] - 30 - 3 - 4 | +10

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
WSH: 28 [0.700] | 14 [14] - 6 - 0 - 0 | +10
CBJ: 30 [0.750] | 14 [14] - 4 - 2 - 0 | +23

Power Play%
WSH: 25.0%, T6th
CBJ: 25.0%, T6th

Penalty Kill%
WSH: 81.3%, 12th
CBJ: 74.5%, 22nd

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
WSH: 48.50%, 22nd
CBJ: 52.47%,  7th

WSH: 101.80, 9th
CBJ: 103.67, 3rd

 Notable Injuries
WSH: Jay Beagle
CBJ: Nick Foligno, Markus Nutivaara

 Season Series
2017-12-02; CBJ 3, WSH 4
2018-02-06; WSH 3, CBJ 2
2018-02-09; CBJ 2, WSH 4
2018-02-26; WSH 1, CBJ 5
WSH: 3-1-0 [0.750]
CBJ: 1-3-0 [0.250]


M2. Pittsburgh Penguins vs M3. Philadelphia Flyers: Awwwwww yes!  It seems the Penguins keep pulling in teams for series that I absolutely love to see, such as Columbus or Washington of late, but now we’re treated to the real Battle of Pennsylvania.  The last matchup in 2012 was a barnburner and a donnybrook, one of the most memorable series of the last decade, easily.  It featured scores like 8-5 and 10-3, 56 goals in total, and most notably, three suspensions and 258 PIMs in just Games 3 and 4.  So yeah, it was awesome.

Now we have the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, led by the arguably best player in the game and the sidekick who’s flown under the radar with 98 points in Evgeni Malkin, as well as the enigmatic Phil Kessel with 92 of his own.  The defense leaves a little to be desired, but as we know that doesn’t seem to matter, given their success in last year’s playoffs.  Matt Murray is accustomed to winning Cups, having two to his name in his first two seasons — at some point he must come to Earth.  Meanwhile, Philadelphia is an enigma of their own.  Last year they had a ten game winning streak and missed the playoffs; this year, they went on a ten game losing streak and made the playoffs in a divisional spot.  Weird, but not entirely unexpected, given the resurgence of Claude Giroux who put up 102 points — his best year since, you guessed it, 2012.

I don’t think this is a particularly hard choice.  The Penguins have scored 5 goals in each of the four games with Philadelphia this year.  The Flyers’ penalty kill over the course of the season is next to second last, and Pittsburgh’s power play over that time is first.  That alone tips the scales heavily in favor of the Penguins.  Given their feisty history, there should be no shortage of special teams this series, so there’s a clear advantage here.  Penguins in six.  Honestly, it should probably be a sweep, but Philly will make it at least a little interesting.  I would prefer that this went seven though, for obvious reasons.

Notice how I set up a Pittsburgh – Columbus second round matchup?  Calculated.

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
PIT: 100 | 47 [45] - 29 - 4 - 2 | +22
PHI:  98 | 42 [40] - 26 - 7 - 7 | +13

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
PIT: 24 [0.632] | 11 [11] - 6 - 2 - 0 | +3
PHI: 22 [0.550] |  9 [ 8] - 7 - 2 - 2 |  0

Power Play%
PIT: 22.4%, 10th
PHI: 18.2%, 21st

Penalty Kill%
PIT: 69.6%, 28th
PHI: 78.3%, 17th

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
PIT: 51.78%, 10th
PHI: 50.44%, 14th

PIT: 99.31, 18th
PHI: 98.41, 25th

 Notable Injuries
PIT: Derrick Brassard
PHI: Johnny Oduya, Michal Neuvirth

 Season Series
2017-11-27; PHI 4, PIT 5 OT
2018-01-02; PIT 5, PHI 1
2018-03-07; PIT 5, PHI 2
2018-03-25; PHI 4, PIT 5 OT
PIT: 4-0-0 [1.000]
PHI: 0-2-2 [0.250]


C1. Nashville Predators vs C4. Colorado Avalanche:  Can you believe this?  The Colorado Avalanche made the playoffs the year after they set a modern record for futility in the regular season.  Well done.  You’ve been rewarded with a date with the best team in hockey, the Nashville Predators.  And you get to go up to seven games potentially without your best veteran defenseman and goaltender.  Welp.  At least Nashville doesn’t have the best D-corps and the Vezina frontrunner to contend with…  Whoops!  Just kidding.  Colorado, if you make it out of this series, I will be damn impressed.  Without even going into Nashville’s offense, which is stellar and balanced, by the way, I don’t see the Avalanche winning a game.  Indeed, in the season series they did not.  The only way the Predators don’t win this series is if they lose a key piece to injury — like a Ryan Johansen or Filip Forsberg.  Otherwise, yeah, not much else to say here.  Predators in four.

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
NSH: 117 | 53 [47] - 18 - 4 - 7 | +57
COL:  95 | 43 [41] - 30 - 8 - 1 | +19

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
NSH: 32 [0.762] | 15 [14] - 4 - 0 - 2 | +17
COL: 26 [0.619] | 11 [10] - 6 - 4 - 0 | +16

Power Play%
NSH: 15.6%, 28th
COL: 27.8%,  5th

Penalty Kill%
NSH: 79.5%, 15th
COL: 86.0%,  6th

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
NSH: 51.91%,  9th
COL: 49.14%, 18th

NSH: 102.28, 6th
COL: 103.70, 2nd

 Notable Injuries
NSH: Calle Jarnkrok, Yannick Weber
COL: Erik Johnson, Semyon Varlamov

 Season Series
2017-10-17; COL 1, NSH 4
2017-11-18; COL 2, NSH 5
2018-03-04; NSH 4, COL 3 OT
2018-03-16; NSH 4, COL 2
NSH: 4-0-0 [1.000]
COL: 0-3-1 [0.125]


C2. Winnipeg Jets vs C3. Minnesota Wild:  Since 2011, the Jets and Wild have been geographic rivals, sort of.  It wasn’t until 2013-14 that the Winnipeg Jets finally moved into the Central Division, and since then they’ve been to the playoffs just once, failing to win a single game.  Minnesota, meanwhile, has been in the show every year since 2013, so I guess it was only a matter of time before these two finally met to consummate their rivalry.  I don’t know what to expect out of this, honestly — I haven’t watched a ton of Wild games this year, and, while the opposite is true of the Jets, they’ve been outright dominant in just about every game I saw.  So, my bias is toward Winnipeg.  In fact, they win in every category below.

That said, Minnesota is a sneaky good team.  Eric Staal has had a hell of a good year, against expectations and recent history.  And for the Wild, that’s where the good news ends.  They’ll be without Ryan Suter, and their defense will suffer greatly as a result.  On the other hand, the Jets have had an outstanding season, blowing away their team records and capturing home ice in the playoffs for the first time (out of their three franchise appearances).  Jets captain Blake Wheeler has had a career year, phenom Patrik Laine continues to make a push for future Rocket Richard trophies, and the older kids, Ehlers and Connor, are alright.  Oh yeah, they have Tyler Myers too.  Remember him?  And they have the winningest American goaltender in Connor Hellebuyck, so that’s pretty nifty I would say.  Jets in five.  A low five — four would not surprise me in the least.  Then we get our perhaps de facto Western Conference Final in Nashville-Winnipeg in the second found.

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
WPG: 114 | 52 [47] - 20 - 8 - 2 | +57
MIN: 101 | 45 [42] - 26 - 8 - 3 | +21

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
WPG: 31 [0.775] | 15 [13] - 4 - 1 - 0 | +11
MIN: 24 [0.600] | 10 [10] - 6 - 3 - 1 |  +9

Power Play%
WPG: 19.3%, T17th
MIN: 19.3%, T17th

Penalty Kill%
WPG: 78.0%, 18th
MIN: 82.5%, 11th

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
WPG: 53.90%,  3rd
MIN: 48.80%, 20th

WPG: 101.92,  7th
MIN: 100.62, 14th

 Notable Injuries
WPG: Matt Hendricks, Toby Enstrom, Jacob Trouba
MIN: Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter

 Season Series
2017-10-20; MIN 2, WPG 4
2017-10-31; WPG 2, MIN 1
2017-11-27; MIN 2, WPG 7
2018-01-13; WPG 1, MIN 4
WPG: 3-1-0 [0.750]
MIN: 1-3-0 [0.250]


P1. Vegas Golden Knights vs P4. Los Angeles Kings:  Yeah, so about those Golden Knights.  They absolutely ran away with the Pacific Division, having led it since late December and finishing, albeit on a bit of slump, eight points up on second place.  The aforementioned game I attended was the night they clinched the division and it. was. awesome.  Now, the Los Angeles Kings are back in the playoffs after a brief hiatus.  I expected them to slide into mediocrity, but with a reborn Anze Kopitar putting up 92 points and the top defensive line in Cup-winning condition, they were right there fighting for the division all along.  The Golden Knights strength lies in their balance.  Due to the Expansion Draft providing no real superstars, the Knights instead have what amounts to a team of second and third liners.  Their weak spots are few, so opponents must compete against talent all game long.  They’ve also established deadly chemistry on offense, with William Karlsson’s unexpected 43 goal breakout demonstrating its effectiveness.

While Las Vegas will be pumped to host the playoffs for the first time, Los Angeles, the Knights’ de facto biggest rival, will be set on ruining their fun.  It is a new era for the Kings, but I learned not to underestimate this core a long time ago.  The Knights on the other hand have been underestimated consistently, yet they’ve always thrived against all odds.  At some point, they have to fall, right?  It’s true they’ve already been slumping for a few weeks (see their recent negative goal differential — thanks, Calgary), so I don’t really know what to expect with them.  The Golden Knights moving on the second round would be the best story, but I think it’s going to be the Kings in seven.  Los Angeles is used to winning, especially as a low seed, and the pressure is rising for Vegas.  Experience wins here.

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
VGK: 109 | 51 [47] - 24 - 4 - 3 | +43
LAK:  98 | 45 [43] - 29 - 7 - 1 | +35

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
VGK: 23 [0.548] | 10 [ 8] - 8 - 2 - 1 |  -7
LAK: 27 [0.675] | 12 [12] - 5 - 2 - 1 | +16

Power Play%
VGK: 20.0%, 15th
LAK: 22.6%,  9th

Penalty Kill%
VGK: 83.6%, T9th
LAK: 92.3%,  1st

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
VGK: 49.20%, 17th
LAK: 50.05%, 15th

VGK:  99.02, 19th
LAK: 101.87,  8th

 Notable Injuries
VGK: Luca Sbisa, David Perron
LAK: Jake Muzzin, Alex Iafallo

 Season Series
2017-11-19; LAK 2, VGK 4
2017-12-28; VGK 3, LAK 2 OT
2018-02-26; VGK 2, LAK 3 OT
2018-02-27; LAK 4, VGK 1
VGK: 2-1-1 [0.625]
LAK: 2-1-1 [0.625]

P2. Anaheim Ducks vs P3. San Jose Sharks:  Our final matchup of the first round is an old favorite.  The third leg of the Battle of California has been dormant since 2009, when the Ducks upset the Presidents’ Trophy winning Sharks in the first round.  In intrastate rivalries since then, the Ducks and Sharks have played the Kings in the playoffs one and four times, respectively, with the Kings winning three of five series (and two Cups).  That said, there’s never a dull moment between these two.  They really don’t like each other.  And how can you blame them?  The Ducks are horrible.  Just the worst.  They’ve been the bullies of the Western Conference for years and they just never seem to stop.  Unfortunately, they were able to secure home ice on the last day of the season due to the Sharks cooling off down the stretch.

But, seeding doesn’t matter, especially to the Ducks who are prone to losing Games Seven on home ice.  The Sharks, despite being a point behind in the standings, are simply the better team.  They score more, have better special teams, possession stats, and fewer wounded goaltenders.  I just can’t see the Ducks winning this series.  Sharks in six.  Get it done.

Regardless of any result in the Pacific, the second round is sure to be a bloodbath.

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
ANA: 101 | 44 [40] - 25 - 6 - 7 | +22
SJS: 100 | 45 [40] - 27 - 7 - 3 | +21

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
ANA: 27 [0.750] | 13 [13] - 4 - 1 - 0 | +21
SJS: 25 [0.658] | 12 [11] - 6 - 1 - 0 | +15

Power Play%
ANA: 17.5%, 22nd
SJS: 16.7%, 26th

Penalty Kill%
ANA: 86.7%, 5th
SJS: 87.5%, 4th

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
ANA: 50.86%, 12th
SJS: 51.45%, 11th

ANA: 104.19,  1st
SJS: 101.19, 11th

 Notable Injuries
ANA: John Gibson, Cam Fowler
SJS: Joe Thornton, Eric Fehr

 Season Series
2017-11-04; ANA 1, SJS 2 S/O
2017-11-20; ANA 3, SJS 2 S/O
2018-01-21; SJS 6, ANA 2
2018-02-11; SJS 3, ANA 2 S/O
ANA: 1-2-1 [0.375]
SJS: 3-0-1 [0.875]

We’ve got exactly as much turnover as last year, and somehow despite that, still only seven Cup virgins.  I guess bringing back New Jersey, Colorado, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Tampa will do that.  The rivalries here though might just be the best of the divisional playoff system.  It’s guaranteed to be a good time in the first round.

One other related fun fact to note: not only are there only two Original Arbitrary Six teams in the first round, one of which is guaranteed to go home, but the last five expansion teams, those no older than twenty years, are all in the playoffs together for the first time.  Nashville, Winnipeg (formerly Atlanta), Minnesota, Columbus, and Vegas collectively outnumber their rivals from antiquity five to two.  Pretty neat.  Maybe one of them will win a Cup?

Fun Facts & Frivolity Field
Cup Virgins:  7 — CBJ, MIN, NSH, SJS, VGK, WSH, WPG
Cup Champions since 2006:  4 — ANA (’07), BOS (’11), LAK (’12, ’14), PIT (’09, ’16, ’17)
Longest Cup drought:  TOR — 49 seasons
Returning teams:  9 — ANA, BOS, CBJ, MIN, NSH, PIT, SJS, TOR, WSH
Fresh blood:  7 — COL, LAK, NJD, PHI, TBL, VGK, WPG

Only minor tweaks were made in the offseason — none of them particularly notable.  I like where I’m at with the bracket.  If anything changes, I’ll be sure to let you know when they happen.

Let’s go Sharks!

Twenty-Seventeen in Photographs

Frohes Neues Jahr!  2017 has come and gone, and I don’t know that I’ll miss it all that much.  It was spent nearly entirely in the Bay Area, although I did take a couple weeks in India before starting my latest job.  There are 59 photos in total, mostly in and around San Francisco, with several from a trip home to Buffalo and a pair during the journey to the Eclipse.  Enjoy!