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Beginner’s Guide to Stanley Cup Playoffs


UP graphic by April Marble
UP graphic by April Marble

Move aside March Madness, it’s time for the Stanley Cup Playoffs — said to be the most thrilling playoff run in all of sport.

Before dismissing hockey as “that Canadian thing,” know that while it may be the national sport to our friends in the north, a Canadian franchise hasn’t won the Stanley Cup since 1993 — so hockey belongs to the United States now.

More than that, playoff hockey is intense and outrageously unpredictable — consider that the last 20 Stanley Cups have come from 11 different teams, and only one team has won back-to-back.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are like jumping out of an airplane and directly into a minefield.

The playoffs are an elimination-style tournament consisting of four rounds, each a best-of-seven series. Eight teams from each conference qualifies.

The final round sees the two conference champions play and all signs point to a matchup between the Calgary Flames and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

There is no denying that the Lightning are the most dominant team in the NHL and one of the top-ten hockey teams of all time.

While most divisions were tight, Tampa Bay reigned with 128 points while no other team in the NHL reached 110.

They also tied the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for the most wins in the regular season at 62.

They are without a doubt the favorite to win the Eastern Conference with 11/10 odds.

The key to their success cannot be pinpointed to one thing, but their standout player is winger Nikita Kucherov.

Kucherov became the fastest player in NHL history to reach the 100-point plateau, racking up 41 goals and 86 assists in the regular season, which also made him the first player in Lightning history to have back-to-back 100 point seasons. He set the NHL record for most points by a Russian-born player at 128, and smashed nearly every other franchise record.

However, this isn’t a team carried by one player, this is a team that can strike from anywhere.

With the addition of Steven Stamkos (45 goals, 53 assists) and Brayden Point (41 goals, 51 assists),  they not only have three 40-point players, but also depth in scoring, which increases their chances.

Tampa Bay scores an average of 3.89 goals a game while ranking first in the NHL for power-play goals, so any team facing them needs strong defensive power.

Another weapon Tampa Bay possesses is the man between the pipes — goaltender Andrei Vasilveskiy.

Vasilveskiy has a shot-saved percentage of .925 and only 2.40 goals against average. He’s also managed to rack up a franchise record of his own by making 54 saves in a regulation game against the Washington Capitals — the most saves in the team’s history — and was one of six shutouts he earned this season.  

Beyond this, the best thing about this team is simply how confident they are on the ice. They are a team that can win the game in the first 10 minutes by mentally and physically wearing down their opponent.

They don’t play to win, they play as if they will win.

The only thing of concern is superstition.

The best way to explain this is by describing the President’s Trophy — awarded to the NHL team who receives the most points during the regular season — as the videotape from the “Ring” films. Once a team gets it, the team with it only has seven days — or in this case, games — to live.

Three of the last four teams to obtain the silverware got eliminated from the playoffs, and those three teams also never made it past round two. The exception being the 2014-15 New York Rangers, who were eliminated in the conference finals.

To those that believe in superstition, this is a big deal. But can the greatest hockey team in the world right now be stopped by superstition? Unlikely.

In the western conference, the Calgary Flames went from missing the playoffs a year ago to clinching their division, and they might be the most picture perfect competitor for the Lightning.

Calgary currently has 7/2 odds to win the Western Conference.

The best parts of Calgary is how they play as a team — their chemistry is palpable and the numbers reflect that.

They’re currently the only team in the NHL to have five players with 70 points or more, and average 3.52 points a game, which shows that they have depth in scoring.

The key member of the Flames’ offensive unit is forward Johnny Gaudreau — the only member of the Flames squad to play all 82 games. He leads the squad with 36 goals, 63 assists, 99 points — including eight game-winning goals.

While he’s the catalyst for this team, Calgary has equal amounts of depth that Tampa Bay.

One of the offensive advantages that the Flames might have is that their players can be moved around more creatively due to that chemistry. 

Therefore, they might be able to keep Tampa Bay guessing by switching their lines.

However, despite their offensive work, the key for the Flames is in their defensive power. Calgary leads the NHL in fewest shots a game (28.1), and on average allow 2.72 goals a game — just 0.02 more than Tampa Bay.

Flames captain Mark Giordano is the best defensemen in the league, and alongside the rest of the Calgary defense, there’s a chance to put pressure on the Lightning and keep them from making easy goals.

However, it remains to be seen if the Flames can succeed because their goaltending is not on par with the Lightning.

Mike Smith and David Rittich have generally shared the net all season and neither have been anything to write home about.

Rittich played 45 games in the regular season and only had a .911 SV percent and averaged 2.61 GAA.

  Smith doesn’t perform spectacularly either ,with a .898 SV percent and 2.73 GAA.

This is where Tampa will likely challenge the most as they can score from anywhere.

Additionally, Calgary’s lack of playoff experience can lead to playoff disappointment. Since this team is new to the playoffs, the Lightning — who made it to the conference finals last season — have an edge.

Regardless of who wins, what is certain is that history will be made either way.

Calgary has the potential to break a 26-year-long drought and bring the Stanley Cup to it’s home. If Tampa Bay wins, they solidify their place as one of the most successful hockey teams of all time.

One other important fact is that are 16 teams in this playoff run and the playoffs are no stranger to heightened drama — there’s no forgetting that an expansion team went all the way to the Stanley Cup finals in their inaugural season.

That’s why everyone should tune in to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

While the numbers may point in a certain direction, the best part of hockey is that impossible happens, and at the end of it all, a team will be forever etched into the silver chalice that is Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Category: Sports