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If the Playoffs Started Today – NHL Week 18

Capitals vs Sharks: Week 18's prediction for the Stanley Cup.

There’s been plenty of movement over the past week, particularly thanks to a jam-packed Eastern Conference. Teams jumping five spots after one game is becoming a commonplace event, which makes them slide out of the picture just as quickly as they entered it. It’s that tumultuousness that’s the reason for the Bruins, despite their very poor stretch, being only two points out of the race, at #12.

The #13 Islanders are only three out, and meanwhile (in the West) the #13 Blues are only five points out themselves. We’ve seen no signs of the brackets stabilizing any time soon, so with that in mind, let’s look at what would happen if the playoffs started as of Tuesday, February 2 at 11:30pm (sans the late games):

West:

#1 San Jose Sharks vs. #8 Detroit Red Wings

The Sharks are 8-0-2 in their last 10, and have even put some modest distance between themselves and Chicago. Detroit is struggling with Calgary for the last spot, and Dallas is only one point out of that hunt after defeating Minnesota Tuesday. San Jose has shown themselves to be the better team as far as records go, and their 53 to -5 goal differential edge puts even more pressure on Detroit.

#2 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #7 Nashville Predators

Just like the last series, Chicago is the better team with the better goal differential (51 to -2). Nashville could conceivably make things a little interesting in Nashville, but Chicago’s home prowess will be too much to overcome. And Nashville’s been a little shaky as of late, too.

#3 Vancouver Canucks vs. #6 Colorado Avalanche

This should be rather similar to the Blackhawks/Predators series. Vancouver has the 23-7-1 home record, which should be good enough to hold off the Avs, and have a +45 goal differential against Colorado’s +17. And to top it off, Vancouver’s Olympic road trip will mean they’ll have a lot of experience playing at home before the playoffs.

#4 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #5 Los Angeles Kings

This one has the potential to be very close. Phoenix is up by four points, but has played two more games. Los Angeles has a 15 to 10 goal differential edge, and is a higher scoring team. But again, I refer you to Phoenix’s 21-8-2 home record. With so many variables, this series should be dragged out, and could go either way.

East:

#1 Washington Capitals vs. #8 Tampa Bay Lightning

Not only is Washington the NHL’s leading scorer, they have a very good home/away edge, and have won their last 11. Washington should easily dispose of the Lightning, unless Joe Namath comes out of nowhere and guarantees Tampa Bay’s victory.

#2 New Jersey Devils vs. #7 Montreal Canadiens

New Jersey should win easily, but they’ve been running into a lot of trouble lately, including losing 3-0 in Toronto on Tuesday. Isn’t Brodeur supposed to be the one dishing out the shutouts? If New Jersey can’t get it together, this could be the big upset this year, and New Jersey would get knocked out by an inferior team in the 1st round, again.

#3 Buffalo Sabres vs. #6 Philadelphia Flyers

Buffalo is ahead by 12 points, but only has a 21-14 goal differential edge. Buffalo has won four more games, but that also means they’ve lost four more games in overtime. And Philadelphia’s the higher scorer. All this adds up to drawing first blood being very important for Philadelphia to capture and maintain momentum. Otherwise, Buffalo could force Philadelphia to lose their grip on things pretty quickly.

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Ottawa Senators

Pittsburgh won a 5-4 high scoring affair over Buffalo Monday, while Ottawa has won their last nine games. Eight of those games were won in regulation, and six were decided by a multiple goal margin. They’re only five points behind Pittsburgh (and Buffalo), and could definitely use their momentum to dethrone the champs.

What Might Change Next Week:

  • In the crowded East field, Florida stands the best chance of taking a spot, particularly if Tampa runs into problems against the Islanders or Flames.
  • If either Nashville or Detroit stutters, Calgary or Dallas could take over a spot if they’re focused enough.

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