By: Jeremy Perrigo
The hope is that this article will serve as a reference for anyone who is interested in the NHL playoffs. Some fans are interested in making a playoff bracket with their predictions of how the postseason will play out. Some want to keep up with their favorite team, and others just want to know what the heck is going on when they sit down for dinner with hockey-crazed family and friends.
For any such occasion I have mapped out each series with top players, stats and recent playoff performances (if applicable) in order to best understand every matchup. I don't expect every reader to sift through all six thousand plus words of this article (I’d love it if you did) therefore I have highlighted each matchup accordingly to make it easy to find the desired series.
If you think I'm crazy for doing all of this in my spare time, while keeping track of the NHL from over five thousand miles away in Buenos Aires, Argentina you're probably right. But there is something about this game that drives its fans crazy. After all, the NHL playoffs are the most wonderful time of year, enjoy!
Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
It is safe to say the Washington Capitals are the last opponent anyone wants to face off against in the first round of the playoffs. For the second consecutive year the Capitals have won the Presidents’ Trophy for the most points in the regular season.
The Capitals won two of their three contests against the Maple Leafs this season, and the two franchises look to make history as they face off against each other for the first time. Toronto has not been to the postseason since suffering a heartbreaking first round exit in game 7 to the Boston Bruins back in 2013. Washington, on the other hand, has qualified for the playoffs 9 of the last 10 seasons, but every time has failed to make it past the second round.
This isn’t the first year where whispers about the Washington Capitals potentially winning the Stanley Cup have floated around the NHL. However, this year certainly has to have the most complete Capitals team in recent history. This is the first time in four years where Alex Ovechkin hasn’t scored 50 goals. In fact, with 33 goals in 81 games, he got nowhere close. Yet the Capitals still finished with 118 points on the season. This is because Ovechkin has had a variety of players around him that have helped him get the job done.
Nicklas Backstrom has been the peanut butter to Ovechkins jelly for his entire NHL career, feeding number 8 passes for countless highlight-reel goals since joining Washington in the 2007-2008 season. Backstrom ended this season with 63 assists, leading the Capitals in points with 86 on year. Along with Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson and T.J Oshie who all finished with above 50 points, the list of high-powered Washington scorers goes on. Kevin Shattenkirk has made an immediate impact on the Capitals back-end, logging over 20 minutes of time on ice since being acquired from the Blues at the trade deadline.
Last year Braden Holtby won the Vezina Trophy for being the best overall goaltender in the league with a save percentage of .922 and a goals against average (GAA) of 2.20. This year his numbers are even better as he boasts a save percentage of .925 a GAA of 2.07 and leads the league in shutouts with 9. Getting past him will be no easy task for even the best shooters.
Toronto has been in the news plenty this season after acquiring Auston Matthews first overall in the 2016 NHL draft. Matthews jumped right into the Maple Leafs’ lineup playing all 82 regular season games under head coach Mike Babcock. Matthews lead the team with 40 goals and a total of 69 points in his rookie year, and if the Maple Leafs have a chance against Washington, a strong performance from him will be essential. James van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, William Nylander and Mitchell Marner all have over 60 points this year as well. An offense that is firing on all cylinders is the only offense that has a hope of solving the Caps defense.
Frederik Andersen has solidified the starting role in net for the Leafs this season after being traded from Anaheim over the summer. Toronto, a team that has notoriously struggled with goaltending the past couple seasons, will need Andersen, who finished the regular season with a save percentage of .918 and a GAA of 2.67, to be solid in net for this series.
Toronto has a chance against the Caps if everyone is playing at their best . If they give anything less, Washington could be pulling out the brooms early in this one. The Capitals could have a mediocre series and still come away with the win. Because of this I give the series to the Caps in five games, but this is the NHL playoffs, and Toronto winning this series wouldn’t be the craziest thing we’ve seen happen.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets have only made it to the postseason twice in franchise history. Their most recent playoff appearance was in 2014, ironically, against the Pittsburgh Penguins. In that first round series the Blue Jackets fell to the Penguins in six games. It was a historic series for Columbus regardless, as they recorded their first two postseason victories in the six games they played against the Penguins (Columbus was swept in four games in 2009 by Detroit, failing to register a win).
This year they hope to put four more wins under their belt versus the defending Stanley Cup Champions. This will be no small task for Columbus, who has surprised many this season by setting a franchise high record of 108 points in 82 games played. The Blue Jackets are 2-1-1 against the Penguins this season, which includes a 7-1 victory back on December 22.
Pittsburgh is a powerhouse of a team that has flourished under head coach Mike Sullivan who took over less than halfway through last season behind the Penguins bench. With Sullivan calling the shots, the Penguins were reinvigorated. One of the most notable changes was in captain Sidney Crosby, who had not been performing at the level expected of him. In the first 27 games of the 2015-2016 season, before Sullivan took over, Crosby had just 19 points. His plus/minus rating (see bottom for +/- explained) was -7. In the remaining 53 games Crosby played in the regular season under Sullivan he had 66 points and a +/- of 26. Crosby’s points per game (PPG) went from .70 to 1.24, from less to a point a game to well over it.
Under the leadership of Crosby and an outstanding performance by rookie goaltender Matt Murray who had a .933 save percentage and 2.08 goals against average in 21 playoff games, the Penguins won their first Stanley Cup since 2009.
Pittsburgh’s play this season has shown that they are ready to be the first team to win back-to-back Stanley Cups since the 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings. With 111 points, the Penguins finished second in the highly competitive Metropolitan Division. In 75 games played Crosby scored a total of 89 points. Look for him to be another determining factor in this year’s playoff run. Upon recent news that the Penguins will not have star defenseman Kris Letang back for the playoffs, questions are being raised as to how far the Penguins can make it in the postseason without him. Letang, who is recovering from a herniated disc, has not played a game since February 21 but was expected to be back in time for playoffs. An April 5th announcement from the team, and Letang himself, crushed any hopes of that dream coming true. Letang had 15 points in 23 playoff appearances last season with a plus/minus of 6 and an average of 28:52 on ice per game.
Here is Letang addressing the Pittsburgh Media with Coach Mike Sullivan:
Good news for the Penguins is that they will likely get center Evgeni Malkin back for the start of the post season. Malkin has not played a game since he suffered an upper-body injury against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 13. Malkin has 72 points in 62 games for the Penguins.
The Blue Jackets’ solid play this season has been due most notably to right wing Cam Atkinson, who has 35 goals and 62 points in 82 games. This should not come as a huge surprise as Atkinson has been steadily progressing over the last couple seasons scoring 22 goals for 40 points in 78 games during the 2014-2015 season and 27 goals for 53 points in 81 games last year. On defense, David Savard leads the team with a plus/minus of 33 and Zach Werenski has the most points among the Columbus defense with 47 on the season. Not to be forgotten is Sergei Bobrovsky in net who with a save percentage of .931 and GAA of 2.06 produced numbers this year that are strikingly similar to his stats when he won the Vezina Trophy in 2013 for best goalie in the league with a save percentage of .932 and a GAA of 2.00.
Even though the Penguins will be missing Letang for the postseason, and Columbus has been playing far and above where many expected them to be playing for the entire season, I still believe playoff experience wins out in this one. The Penguins offense will likely have all its top scorers in the lineup, which includes Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. They also have Matt Murray, who while playing in only his first full NHL season, has already won a Stanley Cup, and played the majority of the Penguins’ playoff games last season. This series will be a great watch no doubt, however I give Pittsburgh the win in 6 games.
Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers
This playoff matchup, similar to the Pittsburgh and Columbus series, has some recent history behind it; a history Montreal Canadiens fans would rather forget. In the 2014 playoffs the Canadiens entered as the third seed in the Atlantic Division behind the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning. After sweeping the Lightning in the first round, the Habs went on to beat the Bruins in a 7-game series. They were confident and ready to go for the next round, coming off a huge road win in Boston to advance to the Conference Final against the New York Rangers.
The Rangers themselves had just played through two 7-game series against division rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins. They also were heading into the Conference Final with a clean slate, a chance to win a new series without the immediate worry of elimination.
What happened next is a nightmare for any Canadiens fan. Star goaltender Carey Price went down with a lower-body injury in game one and was out for the remainder of the series, and what would be the end of the Canadiens’ season. The Canadiens fell 7-2 to the Rangers in that game and never recovered. The series ended in six games and the Rangers moved on to the Stanley Cup Final where they eventually lost to the Los Angeles Kings in five games.
As good as the Canadiens were in 2014, this year’s team looks even better. They have been at the top of the Atlantic Division nearly all season. Although they went through a period of bad play through January and February, which resulted in the firing of head coach Michel Therrien, they have gotten back to their winning ways since, while under the reigns of new head coach Claude Julien. Captain Max Pacioretty is leading the way with 35 goals for 67 points in 81 games. Shea Weber, who was traded for P.K. Subban in the off season, has made a lasting impact on the Habs back-end, scoring 42 points in 78 games. Add in the fact that he leads Montreal’s defense with a time on ice (TOI) of 25:03 per game, and there is no doubt that if the Canadiens are going to beat the Rangers in this series, he will have something to do with it.
What is noticeable about the Rangers is the sheer number of players they have with more than 30 points. The Rangers have eleven players with more than 30 points, the most being Mats Zuccarello with 59 (15 goals 44 assists) . This compares to Montreal who has only seven players with over 30 points. On the defense they are lead by captain Ryan McDonagh who has 42 points in 77 games a plus/minus of 20 and an average of 24:21 TOI per game. Henrik Lundqvist has been playing strong for the Rangers his entire career and this season, while he has faltered a bit, he has still helped lead his team to a strong regular season performance. With a save percentage of .910 and GAA of 2.74 his numbers aren’t Vezina material, but they are certainly enough to lead a good team to the Stanley Cup.
The Canadiens are 3-0 against the Rangers this season, with one of those wins being a one-goal game and another a shootout victory. So the series has been close, and both teams have been playing well for nearly the entire season. Henrik Lundqvist is now back from a recent injury, where he missed eight games with a hip strain. It is difficult to choose a winner for this series; my gut is saying New York, but it very well could go to the Canadiens. Despite the Rangers’ poor record against Montreal, they have been taking care of business all season. Either way, expect this series to go six or seven games.
Ottawa Senators vs. Boston Bruins
Boston and Ottawa have never met in the playoffs before; however, this year the Senators swept the Bruins in their season series 4-0. Each game was decided by no more than two goals, and the most recent matchup between Boston and Ottawa ended on a shootout. This series should be another tight matchup much like the series between the Rangers and Canadiens.
Defenseman and Captain Erik Karlsson has been leading the way this season for the Senators with 71 points and a TOI of 26:50 per game. Best known for his ability to transfer defense into offense, he is in the conversation again this year for the Norris Trophy, an award given to the best defenseman in the league, which he won in 2012 and 2015. The Senators first line consists of Mike Hoffman, Kyle Turris and Mark Stone, a trio that combined for 170 points and will be influential in this series against Boston if Ottawa hopes to advance to the second round.
Karlsson will be the biggest obstacle for the Bruins defensively in this series. After Karlsson’s 71 points the next highest-scoring defenseman for the Sens is Dion Phaneuf who has 30 points on the season. Every other Senators defenseman has under 20 points this year, which is normally an indication of stay-at-home defensemen who do their job in their own end of the ice, and don’t contribute much offensively. However, none of the Senators defensemen have higher than a plus/minus of 13, and Dion Phaneuf actually has a plus/minus of -6. If there is one hole in this Senators team that the Bruins will want to try and exploit, it will be on the back-end. However, Craig Anderson and Mike Condon have split the workload in net this year, and both have strong records to show for it. Anderson, the likely starter for this series, has a save percentage of .926 and a GAA of 2.28, and will help lockdown the Sens defense in the first round.
Boston started off the season as a team that no one was really sure of. They had gaps on defense, and forwards that felt like they should be able to produce at higher levels, with more consistency, than they had in the past. The most pleasant surprise for the Bruins was the emergence of young forward David Pastrnak, who early in the season was competing with Sidney Crosby for most goals in the league. Pastrnak continued his strong play throughout the year and finished the season with 34 goals and 70 points. There are numerous players still on the team that won the Stanley Cup in 2011. Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Krejci are among the forwards that have been there before, and their play in this series against Ottawa will be essential in determining whether or not the Bruins move on. Brad Marchand has had a career season with 39 goals and 85 points, but he is also known for being inconsistent and streaky. If he doesn’t produce in the first round it is likely Boston will be sent home early.
It remains to be seen how the Bruins defense will hold up in the playoffs. If Ottawa has holes in its defense then Boston has craters. Torey Krug had 51 points for the B’s this season but recently went down with an injury that may see him miss substantial time in the first round. If that is the case, the Bruins will have to rely on their top shot-blockers like Adam McQuaid to help get the job done in front of goalie Tuukka Rask. Rask won’t be in the Vezina conversation this year but he certainly is a large reason why the Bruins made it to the playoffs this season. With a save percentage of .915, GAA of 2.23 and 8 shutouts, Rask can steal a series. In the 2013 playoffs Rask had an elite save percentage of .940 and GAA of 1.88 over 22 games, which resulted in the Bruins making it to the Stanley Cup Final.
This series will be long and hard-fought, and whoever wins will most likely do so in no less than six games. Ottawa has had the edge in the regular season, and maybe some will use that to make their prediction for the outcome of this matchup, but the Bruins have been unpredictable this year, and I’m not ready to count them out just yet.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators
The Blackhawks have a 4-1 record against the Nashville Predators this season. Historically the Blackhawks dominate the Predators when they meet up in the playoffs. In 2010 and 2015 the two clubs squared off in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Both times the Blackhawks won in 6 games, and both years Chicago went on to win the Stanley Cup.
This past history should not mean much in this series. What should matter is the fact that the Blackhawks are the best team in the Western Conference and the Predators are coming in at the bottom in the second wild card seed.
Like Washington in the east, no one wants to find themselves facing the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round. Patrick Kane leads the offense with 34 goals and 89 points, playing in all 82 of the Blackhawks’ regular season matches. Right behind him, also playing all 82 games this year, is Artemi Panarin, known to Blackhawks die-hards as simply the “Bread Man”. Panarin has 31 goals and 74 points in only his second NHL season. Captain Jonathan Toews, lesser known for his scoring capabilities and more for his defensive reliability, has acquired a respectable 58 points in 72 games this season. On defense the Blackhawks are not short on playoff experience as Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have been with the team for all three of their most recent Stanley Cup victories. Keith leads the back-end with 53 points over 80 games and a TOI of 25:37 per game.
For the Predators the biggest surprise has been Viktor Arvidsson. Playing in 56 games for Nashville last season, Arvidsson only recorded 16 points. This season he has played in 80 games and has 31 goals and 61 points. Linemate Ryan Johansen, who the Preds acquired midway through last season for defenseman Seth Jones, is playing in his first full season with the Predators and has not disappointed. He has recorded 47 assists and a total of 61 points, centering Viktor Arvidsson on the right and Filip Forsberg on the left. Forsberg has remained consistent for the Preds ever since taking the league by storm two years ago, recording 63 points in his rookie season. He followed that performance up with another strong showing of 64 points last season. This year he finished with 31 goals and 58 points, the third consecutive season where he has played in every one of his team’s 82 games. The Predators defense is lead by Romi Josi and P.K. Subban. Nashville acquired Subban in a blockbuster trade over the summer, when they dealt away their then captain Shea Weber. Josi scored 49 points in 72 games followed by Subban who had 40 points in 66. Josi and Subban each play about 25 minutes a night, and they will be relied on heavily to shut down the Blackhawks high-powered offense in order to give their team a chance of moving on.
Despite the solid first-line the Predators have put together this season, it is hard to believe that they will have what it takes to beat the Blackhawks, a team that is the definition of playoff experience. The matchup in net is one of the few areas where these two teams are near dead-even. Blackhawks netminder Corey Crawford has 32 wins this season, a save percentage of .918 and a GAA of 2.55. Predators goalie Pekka Rinne has 31 wins, also a save percentage of .918 and a GAA of 2.42. Chicago rarely has to rely on the man in between the pipes in order to get the job done night in and night out, and I expect it to be the same in this series, I give this series to the Blackhawks in five games.
Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues
This series is another tough matchup; in five regular season games the Blues came out on top 3-2 over Minnesota. One of those games ended in a shootout, so in theory each team won two games, and the fifth one was decided in a competition that really has very little to do with how the game of hockey is actually played (a conversation for another day).
The Wild had a terrible month of March where they went 4-10-2. Fortunately, they found a way to get back on track, and ended their season on a four-game winning streak. Normally I don’t like to put much emphasis on a team’s final week of the season, due to the fact that they are often resting players as much as they can if they know they are in a secure playoff position. However, in the case of Minnesota, it was important to see that they were able to find a way to play well after such a lackluster final month of the season.
Minnesota is another team that is built with a deep roster; what they lack in an individual star, they make up for in a core of strong forwards. Mikael Granlund leads the way with 69 points in 81 games, and he is followed by ten other players that have more than 30 points on the year, similar to the New York Rangers. Eric Staal, Stanley Cup champion with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, has made himself right at home in the state of hockey. Staal has 65 points in 82 games for the Wild, a number he hasn’t reached since the 2011-2012 season when he had 70 points in a full 82 games with the Hurricanes.
Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon have put up remarkable numbers for the Wild’s defense this year. Suter and Spurgeon have 38 and 39 points respectively, but what stands out about this pair is their plus/minus ratio. Suter is a positive 39 on the season with Spurgeon right behind him at positive 38. Along with these impressive numbers, the duo spends the most time on ice for the Wild in a given night (Suter 26:55 and Spurgeon 24:01 on average). With these two on the ice, the Blues with have to fight for every inch in front of the Wild net. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk is right up there with best in the league, boasting a save percentage of .923 and a GAA of 2.25; he is sure to provide a solid last line of defense for the Wild in this series.
As for the Blues, they are lead by Vladimir Tarasenko who scored 39 goals for 75 points and played in all 82 games for the Blues this season. Last year the Blues made it to the Western Conference Finals before being eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in six games. Tarasenko did not have a point in this series until game six, emphasizing how much he means to the Blues offense. Production from Tarasenko will be a critical part of the Blues being able to defeat the Wild in this series.
On defense, Alex Pietrangelo has stepped into the leading role this season after former captain David Backes signed with the Boston Bruins in the offseason. He scored 48 points this season, most among Blues defensemen, and average a TOI of 25:16 per game, Expect him and veteran Jay Bouwmeester to be responsible for shutting down Minnesota’s top scorers in this series. Last season Jake Allen assured the Blues last year that he was ready for the starting role in net. He split time between the pipes last year with Brian Elliott. Elliott was traded to Calgary during the 2016 NHL draft, and this season Allen played 61 regular season games for St, Louis posting a .915 save percentage and a 2.42 GAA.
This matchup has the potential to make it to six or seven games, and depending on who comes ready to play, either team could potentially come out on top. Although the Blues won the regular season series, it wasn’t by much. Minnesota, outside the month of March, has been playing consistently strong hockey all season. Although the Blues were able to scrape together their season after firing Ken Hitchcock and adding in former Wild head coach Mike Yeo, it doesn’t feel like enough. I give this series to Minnesota in six games.
Anaheim Ducks vs. Calgary Flames
The Anaheim Ducks have had the Calgary Flames’ number this season, plain and simple. In the season series Anaheim won four out of five games, the two most recent wins coming in a home and home on April 2nd and 4th. In 2015, the last time the Flames were in the playoffs, they were eliminated by the Ducks in five games. Surely some of that resentment hasn’t faded over the last two years, and depending on what kind of person you are, you can determine how much of an influence that should have in the outcome of this series, if any at all.
Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have been with the Ducks since they last won the cup in 2007 and these two are still producing at a high level. Getzlaf lead the team with 58 assists and 73 points in 73 games and Perry finished with 34 assists and 53 points playing in all 82 of the Ducks regular season games. I highlighted assists for Getzlaf and Perry because each of them scored less than 20 goals on the season (Getzlaf 15 and Perry 19). Anaheim’s goal-scoring comes from a wide range of forwards making it hard to single out one player. Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg and Ryan Kesler were the only Ducks to score more than 20 goals this season, with 33, 23 and 22 respectively. This can make the Ducks a hard team to play against because there is no one player that the opposing team should be focusing on at all times, their production came come from anywhere.
Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm are the leading defensemen for the Ducks. Fowler averages 24:50 TOI per game for Anaheim while Lindholm averages 22:26. John Gibson, with a save percentage of .924 and GAA of 2.22, will be the man the Ducks rely on in net for this series. However, if Gibson was to go down injured or his play was to falter, Jonathan Bernier, with a save percentage of .915 and GAA of 2.50, wouldn’t be a terrible second option.
When you hear Calgary Flames the first name that probably comes to mind nowadays (sorry Jarome) is Johnny Gaudreau. “Johnny Hockey” has been a star in Calgary, recording two 60-plus point seasons and a 70-plus point season since joining the team full time in 2014. With 43 assists in 72 games this season, he leaves the goal-scoring to linemate Sean Monahan who put up 27 goals in the Flames 82 games this year. Calgary is another team that spreads out its scoring amongst a range of players, making any one player a potential scoring threat.
On defense Dougie Hamilton has had an impressive season with 50 points in 81 games and a plus/minus of 12. Flames veteran captain Mark Giordano scored 39 points in 81 games this season, but what is most notable is his plus/minus of 22. Know that when he is on the ice the chance of the Flames scoring a goal is far more likely than the chance that they give one up. Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson have pretty evenly split the time in net for the Flames this season. However, Johnson suffered a lower-body injury on April 4th coincidentally in a game against the Ducks, and his return is uncertain. The Flames were likely going to start Elliott in this series anyway as he went 10-2 for the Flames in the month of March; however, if something happens to Elliott and Johnson has still not returned, it may force the Flames to start young netminder Jon Gillies. Gillies is a promising talent, who won the NCAA Championship with the Providence Friars in 2015, but he has played only one game with the Flames this season.
Calgary GM Brad Treliving addresses the status of goaltender Chad Johnson:
The Flames have a strong core of forwards with reliable defense and solid goaltending. The only issue is Anaheim has all of those things too, plus a long history of playoff experience, qualifying for the playoffs every year since the 2011-2012 season. The Ducks know what it takes to get the job done and they are on the hunt again this year to make it to the Stanley Cup final after falling short each of the previous four seasons. I take the Ducks in five games.
San José Sharks vs. Edmonton Oilers
It has been a long time coming for the Edmonton Oilers, who haven’t been to the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2006 when they lost in the final round to the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games. Coincidentally they also played the Sharks in the second round of the playoffs that year, who they defeated in six games. Over ten years has passed since that time and San Jose is still looking for its first Stanley Cup. They got so close they could almost taste it last year, when they advanced to the finals for the first time in franchise history; only to fall to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. They will get no breaks if they want to make it back to the final this year, as they face an Edmonton team that has beaten them in three of five matchups.
This season the Oilers, directed by ex-Sharks head coach Todd McLellan, have been the team fans in Edmonton have been dying to see for years. If you have been following the NHL at all this year the chances are you’ve heard the name Connor McDavid a few times. McDavid, Edmonton’s first overall pick in the 2015 NHL entry draft, is rightfully deserving of the publicity he has gotten. The young star amassed an incredible 30 goals and 70 assists for 100 points with the Oilers, playing in only his first full NHL season. Not to be forgotten is Leon Draisaitl, the Oiler’s third overall pick in the 2014 NHL entry draft, who scored 77 points this season playing frequently alongside McDavid. Big bodies such as Milan Lucic and Patrick Maroon make Edmonton a difficult team to clear out in front of opposing nets, adding depth and versatility to the Oiler’s lineup.
Edmonton’s top six defensmen all finished the season with a plus/minus of equal to or above zero, and Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera lead the team with an average TOI of 22:22 and 21:28 per game. Those are relatively normal time on ice averages for defensemen, this speaks to the way that Edmonton gets a regular contribution from its entire D-core. Cam Talbot started an astounding 73 games for the Oilers this season and ended with a save percentage of .919 and GAA of 2.39. The Oilers are banking on Talbot being healthy for the duration of their playoff run, because without him in net, they don’t have a battle-tested second option.
The San Jose Sharks are another team with a plethora of recent playoff experience with not much to show for it other than a trip to the Stanley Cup Final last year. They have qualified for the playoffs every year except for one since the NHL lockout in what would have been the 2004-2005 season. Defenseman Brent Burns leads the Sharks in scoring with 76 points in 82 games, and has to be leading the race for the Norris Trophy this year. With 29 goals Burns will play an important role not only on the back-end for the Sharks, but also as a top scoring weapon if they hope to make it past Edmonton. Veterans Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are all in the top five in points for the Sharks this year, and after many fruitless playoff runs, they come into the playoffs every season with a chip on their shoulder.
Performing in the shadow of Brent Burns are Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Paul Martin, David Schlemko and Justin Braun. I’m sure Burns would be the first one to tell you that each of his D mates is as important to the Sharks success as he is. Not everyone can be the star of the show, and defensmen are notorious for being the players least noticed night in and night out, as their hard work and regular efforts often doesn’t appear on the score sheet. Martin Jones hasn’t played above expectations this season, but if you have a good team in front of you, a .912 save percentage and a GAA of 2.40 will do just fine.
This may be the one series where I choose the team with no playoff experience over the team that can’t get enough of it. I like San Jose and I would love to see the Stanley Cup make it there one year, but unfortunately for Sharks fans I think they will meet their match early this postseason. Edmonton has an offense lead by individual scorers in McDavid and Draisaitl, that also have the ability to become the man dishing the puck at a moment's notice. Combine this with a tough presence in front of the net and solid goaltending and they make an intimidating opponent, Oilers in six games.
Plus/Minus (+/-) Explained - When a goal is scored, every player on the ice for the team who scored the goal gets a “plus” one and everyone on the ice for the team who allowed the goal gets a “minus” one. If a player is on the ice for three of his team’s goals and only one goal that the opposing team scored, that player would be a plus two for the game. This stat can be calculated for a single game, or over the duration of the season.
I hope this helped you gain a well-rounded understanding of the playoff picture this year, but don’t be mad at me when your bracket falls apart, mine usually does too. Happy Playoffs!