NHL playoff preview


Last year, we watched our hometown heroes, the Washington Capitals, win their first ever Stanley Cup after defeating the Las Vegas Golden Knights 4–1 in the final series. The NHL playoffs have a tendency to be filled with surprises—here are our matchups to watch and predictions for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

By Lukas Troost and Bennett Solomon

When the puck dropped in Tampa tonight at 7, kicking off the matchup between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Tampa Bay Lightning, the 2019 NHL Playoffs were officially underway. Last year, we watched our hometown heroes, the Washington Capitals, win their first ever Stanley Cup after defeating the Las Vegas Golden Knights 4–1 in the final series. The NHL playoffs have a tendency to be filled with surprises—here are our matchups to watch and predictions for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Washington Capitals look to repeat as champions

The Capitals won the Metropolitan division for their fourth year in a row and drew one of this year’s most surprising playoff teams—the Carolina Hurricanes—as their first round opponent. The Hurricanes hadn’t made the playoffs since 2009 and looked like they weren’t going to make the cut at all-star weekend. But they got hot after the break, and they now find themselves facing the defending champions in the first round. The Capitals swept the Hurricanes in the season series, and we think the Capitals’ playoff experience will help them defeat the Hurricanes in the first round.

If the Caps advance to the second round, they could possibly face the Pittsburgh Penguins, who will be seeking revenge after the Caps knocked them out in the second round last year. If the two teams meet, it will likely be another great series to watch; but based on the Penguins’ recent shaky play, we see the Capitals beating the Penguins for the second year in a row.

A third-round matchup for the Capitals would likely be against the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team Washington defeated in a hard-fought seven game series last year. This year, Tampa finished with the league’s best record and led the league in scoring by a landslide, with 325 goals; no other team managed to crack 300. The Lightning are led by 2019 Art Ross Trophy winner, Nikita Kucherov, a Russian winger who finished with a league best 128 points. Although this team may seem like the clear Stanley Cup Champion, the Capitals defeated them 6–3 in the teams’ final meeting, and the past three Eastern Conference Champions have all been from the Metropolitan division, home of the Capitals.

If the Caps advance to the Stanley Cup Final, we think they will play the Winnipeg Jets, and we will explain why later in the story.

Intriguing first round matchups

San Jose vs Vegas

After winning the Pacific division and advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals in their first ever season, many expected the Vegas Golden Knights to experience similar success this year; especially after the Knights retained much of their roster and traded for star left winger Max Pacioretty. The team, however, finished third in their division and are locked in a first-round matchup against rival San Jose, the second place finisher in the Pacific division. San Jose’s high powered offense, led by winger Tomas Hertl and defenseman Brent Burns, is tied for the most goals in the Western Conference and is a force to be reckoned with. Nevertheless, Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is a playoff nightmare, and this series should be one of the best of the first round.

New York Islanders vs Pittsburgh

For the first time in years, the Capitals may not face the Penguins should they advance to the second round. This is because of the New York Islanders who have experienced one of the most remarkable turnarounds in NHL history, earning 13 more wins this season than last year. Much of this success has been attributed to Barry Trotz, the Capitals’ former head coach who has turned the Islanders into the league’s best defensive team; they’ve only allowed a mere 196 goals against them this season, which is the lowest in the league. Goaltenders Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss are coming off a William Jennings Trophy for their superb efforts in maintaining the lowest goals against average out of any goaltending pair in the league. Pittsburgh, however, remains dangerous and had a very similar record to the Islanders. Stars Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Jake Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin all finished with over 70 points, and Crosby has been one of the league’s top performers with 100 points. Goaltending, however, is clearly in the Islanders advantage with Penguins starter Matt Murray finishing with a 2.69 GAA, compared to Islanders starter Robin Lehner’s 2.13.

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Boston Bruins

The Bruins were one of the hottest teams at the end of the season and ended up having the second best record in the Eastern Conference. Brad Marchand led the team with 100 total points and David Pastranak led the team with 38 goals scored. The Bruins have one of the best goaltenders in the league in Tuukka Rask, which could give the Maple Leafs some trouble finding the back of the net. For the Maple Leafs, center Auston Matthews leads the offense and is one of the best players in the league. The Leafs acquired center John Tavares from the New York Islanders in the offseason, and he has been huge for the team throughout the season, leading them in scoring with 47 goals. This will be one of the best matchups in the playoffs this year, and fans will hope it will go to a seventh game.

Stanley Cup Final Prediction: Washington Capitals vs. Winnipeg Jets

We are not trying to be biased by picking the Caps to go back to the Stanley Cup Final, but we think they’re the best hockey team in the Eastern conference and they will outlast the Lightning in the Eastern final. The Winnipeg Jets were ousted in the Western conference finals last year, losing to the Golden Knights 4–2 in the series. Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler lead the Jets’ offense and are very dangerous when they play their best. Patrick Laine, who is only 20 years old, is a phenomenal player and can easily hurt teams. We think that the Jets will defeat the Sharks in the Western conference final to make the Stanley Cup final, but we have the Caps winning it all for the second year in a row because of their experience on the big stage.