It’s my preseason Stanley Cup pick against the team I actually think will win. I went with Nashville in a Subban-fueled “wouldn’t it be hilarious if this backfired on the Canadiens so wholly” kind of way, which ran counter to my OTHER standard NHL predictions narrative of “pick either the Blackhawks or Kings until they prove their contention window is closed.” While the Kings’ era is firmly over, Chicago is still running hot.
* Wild over Blues in six
One of these two long-suffering teams will eat another first-round exit, and I’m sure St. Louis fans right now are reading this and thinking “THEY’RE long-suffering?! We have over 30 years of heartbreak on those expansion clowns!” Still, when you factor in Minnesota losing their first team and the North Stars never winning anything anyway, plus the state of Minnesota’s general sports malaise, the Wild and Blues are certainly comparable. I’m going with the Wild since c’mon, throw Minnesota a bone, universe.
* Oilers over Sharks in seven
And really, both the Wild and the Blues are much worse off than the Oilers, who at least still have all the Gretzky/Messier-era Cups to fall back on, plus winning all those lotteries and having Connor McDavid fall into their laps. Still, it’s been a lean decade for Edmonton fans. I remember watching the Oil’s last playoff game, Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup finals, with various university friends, including my die-hard Oilers fan pal Ravi. I literally had to send Ravi a congratulatory message after the Oilers finally returned to the postseason since, yikes, “lean” doesn’t really cover how bad this last decade has been. Okay fine, Edmonton fans are also pretty tortured. Let’s keep the good times rolling over the Sharks, who probably used up their rare bit of playoff luck by actually reaching the finals last year.
* Ducks over Flames in six
So the moral of the story is that Randy Carlyle is apparently a coaching savant in Anaheim but not anywhere else? The thought of Carlyle returning to prominence is the dark lining around this silver cloud of a Maple Leafs season, so if Calgary wanted to pull off the upset, I wouldn’t mind at all. That would also set up a potential Battle Of Alberta in the second round, which send Canadian fans into even more of a tizzy than they’re already in about these playoffs. Five of seven teams in the running! Way to drop the ball, Jets and Canucks.
* Rangers over Canadiens in seven
Original Six matchup, baby! Some fun facts about the somewhat unheralded Montreal/New York rivalry: this is the fifth-most frequent matchup in NHL playoff history, so it’s probably not really “unheralded.” They’ve met 15 times in the postseason with the Rangers holding a winning record (8-7), which is a bit surprising given how the Rangers had long stretches of mediocrity while the Habs won everything in sight. With this in mind, and my pro-Subban stance from my preseason picks still in mind, I’ll go with New York to upset the Canadiens. The Rangers really did catch a break in getting slotted into the much easier Atlantic Division bracket so they can avoid all the big dogs in the Metro.
* Bruins over Senators in seven
If I had to rank all 16 teams in order of how much I’d like to see them win the Cup, these would be my bottom two. As fun as it will be to see one of them lose in the first round, it will be horrid watching one of them advance! I’m so torn! On a coin flip, I’ll go with the Bruins since it really hasn’t paid off picking against Boston sports teams these last couple of decades.
* Penguins over Blue Jackets in six
Both teams seem pretty comparable in talent but c’mon, there’s really no way one can pick a longtime mediocrity over the defending Stanley Cup champions. “Jackets over Pens” just seems weird in any context, unless you’re gauging which is more useful to have on a cool autumn day.
* Capitals over Maple Leafs in six
A Maple Leafs playoff paragraph is just about the last thing I figured I’d be writing back in October, but like many, I simply wasn’t prepared for Toronto’s onslaught of fantastic rookies. I am wholly looking forward to rooting for MNM for the next 15-20 years. Who would’ve thought that the revolutionary strategy of drafting actual talented players instead of “good Ontario boy” grinders would actually pay off with wins?! Now, while the Capitals have a long tradition of playoff chokes, it’s worth noting that they usually don’t choke until the second round (good news for Penguins fans) and that they are clearly a few steps beyond the Leafs in talent and experience. Still, I’m more than pleased with the young Buds getting some playoff time under their belts for the next step in their rebuild, which is maybe thinking about actual legitimate no-foolin’ Cup contention in….maybe two years? That’s crazy to even think about. In a year that has seen wild upsets and long title droughts being broken all over the sports world, a Maple Leafs Stanley Cup would be the most unlikely event of them all.
* Blackhawks over Wild in five
* Ducks over Oilers in six
* Rangers over Bruins in five
* Penguins over Capitals in seven
* Blackhawks over Ducks in six
* Penguins over Rangers in seven
* Blackhawks over Penguins in seven. As a reminder, my preseason finals pick was Nashville over Tampa Bay, so I clearly know what I'm talking about.