The 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs get underway on Wednesday, and if you’re not already excited, you need to get excited right now. This is the greatest competition in professional sports we’re talking about here. And no, that’s not just my opinion. It’s actually a scientific fact proven by mathematical research and sport blog listicles, and if you don’t believe it YOU’RE AN IDIOT.
Okay, that was harsh. I’m sorry. I’ve had about four cups of coffee today. You are not an idiot if you don’t believe the NHL postseason is the greatest competition in pro sports.
In all seriousness, though, you should still be excited for the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They’re going to be f***ing great, and in the list that follows I’m going to tell you why.
Cool? Okay then, let’s get started…
Over the last few years, the Stanley Cup Playoffs have gotten a little repetitive. The Blackhawks won in 2010, the Bruins in 2011, the Kings in 2012, the Blackhawks in 2013, the Kings in 2014...wash, rinse, repeat, ugh.
This year things are different. The Kings and Bruins, last year's Stanley Cup and Presidents Trophy winners respectively, didn't even make the playoffs. Meanwhile, seven teams who missed the playoffs last year (Canucks, Flames, Islanders, Jets, Lightning, Predators, Senators) are in this year, which is the biggest postseason turnover in NHL history.
So there are a lot of fresh faces in the playoffs this year. Unless the Blackhawks win it all again—and they might—we'll have some new storylines.
12. Fresh Faces
Thanks to the NHL's realignment, the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs will be full of excellent rivalries.
Personally, I'm most excited about Islanders-Capitals in the first round. The last time these former Patrick Division met in the playoffs back in 1993, Capitals great Dale Hunter earned a record 21 game suspension for a dirty hit that knocked Islanders superstar Pierre Turgeon out of the playoffs. Current Caps and Isles players may not care about that, but the fans do. It should be a fun series to watch.
Here are some other highlights:
Canadiens-Senators: In 2013, the seventh-seeded Senators eliminated the Canadiens in a vicious series that featured a nasty line brawl in Game 3.
Battle for the Central: The best division in the NHL (five teams in playoffs, four with 100 points) should produce some epic playoff battles. In Round 1 it's Blues-Wild and Blackhawks-Predators, and we could even wind up with a central vs. central matchup in the Western Conference Finals.
Battle for New York: In the second round we could get Rangers-Islanders, pitting New York's golden boys against the guys are will be moving in next door (to Brooklyn) next season. That would be intense.
Flames-Canucks: And while not the most interesting matchup statistically, it's always fun when Canadian teams meet in the playoffs, because the fans go insane. And whoever wins this one could meet another Canadian team in Round 2 if the Jets pull off an upset of the Ducks.
Oh, and speaking of the Jets...
11. Great Rivalries
Winnipeg is absolutely hockey mad, just like every other city in Canada. However, the city has not seen playoff hockey since the old Jets ditched them for Phoenix in 1996. So to say that Winnipeggers are pumped for the playoffs is a huge understatement.
Just look at the above photo. That's how Jets fans celebrated their team making the playoffs. If the Jets pull off the first-round upset over the Ducks–and they can—Winnipeg will explode. In a good way. And it will be awesome.
10. Playoff Hockey in Winnipeg
Mike Babcock's contract expires at the end of this season, but he and the Red Wings have not reached a deal for a new one. This has fuelled intense speculation that he is considering a move, and that teams like the Maple Leafs are going to offer him cajillions of dollars to take on their rebuilding projects.
Frankly, the idea that a coach would want to leave one of if not the best organization in the NHL to coach for the Leafs sounds utterly ridiculous to me. However, the rumors certainly makes the Red Wings' 24th consecutive trip to the playoffs a little more interesting, don't you think?
9. Babcock's Last Dance in Motown?
The Ottawa Senators were nowhere near the playoffs in January. In fact, they were downright mediocre. Then they lost their starting goalie to injury. Then they lost their backup goalie to injury. So they should have been screwed. Except then the hockey gods intervened.
Out of desperation, the Senators promoted up 27-year-old undrafted AHLer Andrew Hammond in February, and all he did was lead Ottawa on a mind-boggling rampage over the final months of the season, earning the best nickname in hockey by compiling a record of 20-1-2 with a .941 save percentage and 1.79 goals-against average.
Combine that hot streak with a potent offense led by Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson and super-rookies Matt Stone and Mike Hoffman, and the Senators look poised for a Cinderella run to the Finals.
8. The Cinderella Sens
No discussion of the NHL playoffs is complete without a reference to the majestic beards. The good ones are awesome, and the bad ones are even better.
Who will grow the most glorious beard this year? Only time will tell.
With the Kings and Bruins missing the postseason, we won't get to watch Jonathan Quick and Tuuka Rask steal games. However, there are still plenty of talent in the nets. Guys like Pekka Rinne (Predators), Henrik Lunqvist (Rangers), and Jaroslav Halak (Islanders) are totally capable of putting their teams on their backs.
Then, head and shoulders above the rest, there's Montreal's Carey Price. He led the league in GAA (1.96), Save Percentage (.933), and wins (44) this year, and is probably going to become only the seventh goalie ever to win the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player. You should tune in to Canadiens game just to watch him play. It could be downright historic.
6. Insane Goaltending
Five Canadian teams reached the postseason this year, producing two all-Canadian first round series. So why should you care if you're not Canadian? Because Canadians are INSANE about hockey. With so many players playing on home soil for their home fans, the all-Canadian series are going to be intense, and thus crazy fun to watch. That's why you should care.
5. O Canada
You won't see this season's Art Ross winner, Jamie Benn, in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, nor will you see his high-scoring teammate Tyler Seguin. However, there will still be plenty of hockey superstars.
You've got Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in Chicago. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf in Anaheim. Carey Price and PK Subban in Montreal. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in Minnesota. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in Detroit. John Tavares and Rick Nash in New York—albeit on different teams. The Sedins in Vancouver. Alex Ovechkin in Washington. And of course Steven Stamkos in Tampa.
The game's best players on the game's biggest stage? What more could you ask for?
Actually, I know what more you could ask for...
4. Lots of Established Superstars
As if the established superstars weren't enough, this year's NHL postseason will also feature a number of emerging youngsters who are just a playoff run away from becoming genuine superstars themselves. It could be guys who are already on our radar like Vladimir Tarasenko (Blues), Max Pacioretty (Canadiens), Erik Karlsson (Senators), Kevin Shattenkirk (Blues), or Filip Forsberg (Predators). However, it could also be lesser knowns like Blake Wheeler (Jets), Nino Niederreiter (Wild), Mikael Backlund (Flames), Tyler Johnson (Lightning), Matt Stone (Senators), or Mike Hoffman (Senators). But chances are, some young gun's stock is going to rise big time over the next three months.
3. Lots of Emerging Superstars
I mean no disrespect to MLB or the NBA, but nothing in pro sports tops the tension and drama of Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs. And the good news is that, unlike those other sports, hockey produces at least a few of them every year. In fact, the last time there were no Game 7s in the Stanley Cup Playoffs was 1977.
More recently, as a result of league-wide parity created by the salary cap and other elements of the collective bargaining agreement, the number of Game 7s each year has risen dramatically. Last year alone there were seven of them, which tied 2011 and 1994 (i.e. the greatest Stanley Cup Playoffs in modern history) for the most ever. And I wouldn't be surprised if we got close to that number or surpassed it this year, given how evenly matched the teams are.
Speaking of which...
2. Game Seven
Seriously, almost anyone can win this thing. This year, only 16 points separates the 16 teams that qualified for the postseason. That's the smallest differential in the 16-team postseason era.
Sure, the Rangers, Blues, Canadiens, and Blackhawks are probably the statistical "favorites." But it would not be surprising at all if the Ducks, Lightning, Wild, or Predators wound up hoisting hockey's Holy Grail. And can you ever really count out teams led by Datsyuk and Zetterberg, or Crosby and Malkin?
Hell, the Jets finished with 99 points in the gruelling Central Division. Even they could win it all.
So yeah, you should be excited about the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It's going to be a wild ride.
1. Almost Anyone Can Win This Thing
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