Will the Pittsburgh Penguins create a dynasty with a third straight Stanley Cup, or will Winnipeg or Toronto break Canada’s 25-year championship drought? Can Nashville get the job done after losing in last year’s final, or will the expansion Golden Knights parade the Cup down the Las Vegas strip?
Here are a few of the compelling storylines for the 2017-18 NHL playoffs:
There had not been a repeat Stanley Cup champion since the 1997 and ’98 Detroit Red Wings when the Penguins did it last year. Pittsburgh has the combination of talent and depth to take a serious run at three in a row, unseen since the New York Islanders won four straight from 1980 to ‘1983. This team plays top-10 scorers Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel on separate lines, and has a devastating 26.2-per-cent power play scoring rate. Can Crosby tie Patrick Roy’s record with a third Conn Smythe Trophy?
An expansion team stocked with cast-offs wins 51 games and comes first in the Pacific Division as former Columbus checker William Karlsson scores 43 goals and ex-Pittsburgh goalie Marc-André Fleury shows he’s not done yet. All while being the feel-good story in a city emotionally devastated by a mass shooting that killed 58 people days before the Knights’ first NHL game. Can the improbable run continue in the playoffs? Hard to bet against it.
It’s hard to imagine that Taylor Hall, the star of the 2009 and ‘10 Memorial Cup finals and the 2010 first over all draft pick, has never been in an NHL playoff game. But after six years in Edmonton and now in his second with New Jersey, Hall broke out with a 93-point season – 41 more than his closest teammate. And he brought the speedy young Devils into the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Now that they’re in, what will Hall do next?
Ovie tries again
The Washington Capitals have not gone beyond the second round of playoffs since Alex Ovechkin joined them in 2005, a blemish on the record of the 600-goal scorer who has seen rival Sidney Crosby collect three Cups in the same span. Ovechkin has 46 goals and 90 points in 96 career postseason games, so it’s not all his fault. Perhaps having Philipp Grubauer in goal ahead of playoff bust Braden Holtby will help.
Can the Jets soar?
Winnipeg looks to have everything this season – skill, size, speed and even goaltending. Now they just need to win a playoff game. They were swept by Anaheim in 2015 in their only trip to the postseason since returning to Winnipeg six years ago. In their previous incarnation, before moving to Phoenix in 1996, the Jets got past the first round only twice and never made it to the third round.
Ghosts of the past
There are only a handful of Toronto Maple Leafs left from the team that blew a 4-1 lead and lost 5-4 in overtime to Boston in Game 7 of their first-round series the last time they met in the playoffs in 2013. Toronto had done well to battle back from a 3-1 series deficit to force Game 7, but then it all came apart. Patrice Bergeron tied it at 19:09 of the third frame and won it 6:05 into OT. They are both quite different teams now, but Bergeron’s still in Boston.
The Predators got in as a wild card last spring and went all the way to the Cup final. Now Nashville wants more. The were first over all in the regular season with 117 points. They certainly have the goaltending, defence and depth to make another run. If they win, half of Montreal may lose it, either in joy or angst, when P.K. Subban lifts the Cup.
Nate the great
The Predators first-round opponents are the amazing Avalanche, who rode Nathan MacKinnon’s breakout season to a wild-card spot after finishing last over all last season. The Avs improved by 47 points from last season and much of it had to do with MacKinnon’s 97-point campaign. But of all the underdogs, the Avs may have the toughest playoff test.