There’s only two weeks of regular-season NHL hockey remaining, which means it’s a reasonable time to look at possibly enticing Stanley Cup Playoffs matchups
The Stanley Cup Playoffs picture can never be entirely clear until the latest stages of the regular season. This season, the Western Conference’s eight playoff participants seem decided, but their positioning certainly isn’t. Meanwhile, the Eastern Conference has a few contenders who could upset the current order.
With this knowledge, I’m going to look at five Stanley Cup Playoffs matchups that would be highly enticing this season. Without considering potential seeding in the postseason, here are the teams I consider to be in contention for a playoff spot in both conferences:
East: Washington, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, New York Rangers, Boston, New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes
West: Chicago, Minnesota, Nashville, Anaheim, San Jose, Edmonton, Calgary, St. Louis
Let’s talk about five matchups that would be intriguing for fans to witness in this year’s playoffs.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild
These teams have put on some entertaining spectacles this regular season. The Blackhawks finally broke free from some recent regular-season struggles against the Wild by posting 4-3, 5-3 and 4-2 wins after a 3-2 loss earlier in the year.
The Wild, while they’ve been struggling down the stretch, were built this season to beat the Blackhawks in the playoffs. That alone would be worth the price of admission in this series, as the Wild would be throwing everything they have at each game.
A Corey Crawford–Devan Dubnyk matchup would certainly be among the best you could set up in the Western Conference. Patrick Kane has had his wild successes against Minnesota in the past, while guys like Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula always seem to threaten against the Blackhawks.
Beyond the Wild working toward this series, the styles of play would make for a wild playoff series. The Wild like to play fast and loose, hoping their goaltender can bail them out more often that not on the defensive end. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks aren’t the fastest team, but they have a fast-strike offense that can keep up with any in the league.
This looks like a Western Conference semifinal bout rout now, assuming both teams make it through the first round. So we could see this sooner rather than later.
Minnesota Wild vs. Edmonton Oilers
Blackhawks fans would not like to see this matchup, as it could only happen in the conference final if the standings remained as they are now. But there’s tons left to shake out, especially in a Pacific Division that has its three top teams each holding 91 points.
But if you like offense, this would be the Western Conference matchup for you. Neither of these teams is entirely adept at defense, and both play a high-tempo game and can fill up the nets. We’re aware of what the Wild bring, while the Oilers have the likes of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, among others.
Opposing Dubnyk in net for this matchup would be Cam Talbot, and while he’s not a household name, he’s quietly been having a fine year up north. The face Edmonton has not yet allowed 200 goals this season can be attributed more to Talbot than any defensive efforts.
A lot of these games would probably be 6-5 thrillers, but both goaltenders could be capable of stealing a game as well. It’d be a really interesting matchup of teams that have been building up to trying to take over the Western Conference — albeit in very different ways.
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. New York Rangers
This matchup likely couldn’t happen until the Eastern Conference final, thanks to the Metropolitan Division having wild success this season. And while some might think this would be a lesser conference final, considering other possibilities, I think this would be a fun bout.
Both of these teams have shown really potent offensive attacks, with Columbus averaging 3.14 goals per game and New York averaging 3.17. Additionally, both of these teams are really good on the road, being the last two NHL squads with fewer than 10 regulation losses away from their home venues (they both have nine).
And while both teams can fill up the nets, they’re also both led by goaltenders who have patiently waited for their respective teams to offer them enough help to win big.
Oil On Whyte
Henrik Lundqvist has had his postseason letdowns, but he’s also been let down more often by his Rangers teammates. After a poor start to this season, he’s been on fire down the stretch. And Blackhawks fans are very familiar with Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky, and bona fide game-stealer and occasionally the only bright spot in previous seasons.
I feel like this series would be a guaranteed seven games, and it’d also be a guaranteed blast.
Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
It’s too bad this matchup would have to occur in the conference semifinals, but boy would it be a treat regardless. The defending Cup champions in Pittsburgh against a team that was tearing up the NHL for large stretches of the regular season in Washington.
Beyond Sidney Crosby against Alexander Ovechkin, the Penguins offer Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Chris Kunitz, while the Caps carry Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom and past playoff hero Justin Williams.
Both of these teams go four lines deep and have defensive units to be envious of (Pittsburgh’s needs to worry about its health). And the Caps can offer the reigning Vezina Trophy winner in Braden Holtby, while up-and-coming Matt Murray can hold his own in net for Pittsburgh, as he showed during last season’s Cup run.
Both of these teams are built to win now. There is no waiting. And that’s the interesting part, because Pittsburgh is trying to be the first repeat champ since the 1990s, while the Caps are trying to put behind them a history of playoff disappointments.
It’d be a psychologically thrilling matchup equaled by the talent and ability on the ice. This is “the” matchup of the Eastern Conference postseason.
Edmonton Oilers vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
I could’ve gone any number of ways for my one Stanley Cup Final matchup to pick. I’m going with one that’s not terribly likely to happen now, but could occur in the future — and would be fun to see in either time.
These teams have been built up the same way: through failure and tanking. It’s resulted in fast, exciting teams led by McDavid in Edmonton and Auston Matthews in Toronto. Of course, that’s not all either team has. We’ve already talked about what the Oilers bring, while the Maple Leafs boast Mitch Marner, William Nylander and James van Riemsdyk.
Neither team’s defense is very good, so this would be somewhat like the Oilers/Wild matchup mentioned above. And Frederik Andersen, if healthy, would be a solid matchup in net for the Oilers’ Talbot.
But it’d be all about the youth, the skills and a possible early look at the future with this matchup. Not to mention the Canadian crowds that would be thrilled to see their teams in a Final for the first time since 2006 (Edmonton) and 1967 (Toronto).