By DEVON CONWAY
The NHL playoffs are back and began on April 12. Sixteen teams will qualify for the playoffs, the top three teams in each division will make up the first 12 spots while the remaining four spots will be filled by the next two highest-placed finishers in each conference, based on the regular season record regardless of the division. In the first round, the division winner with the best record in each conference plays the wild-card team with the lesser record, whereas the wild-card team with the better record will play the other division winner. The teams that finish second and third in each division meet in the first round. First round winners within each bracket play one another in the second round to determine the four teams to play in the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Finals.
In the Eastern Conference Atlantic Division, the top three seeded teams are No.1 Montreal Canadiens, No.2 Ottawa Senators, and No. 3 Boston Bruins, with the wild card team being the Toronto Maple Leafs. In the first round of the playoffs, the Canadiens are matched up against the Rangers and the Senators are set to take on the Boston Bruins.
In the Eastern Conference Metropolitan Division, the top three seeded teams are the No.1 Washington Capitals, No. 2 Pittsburgh Penguins, No. 3 Columbus Blue Jackets, with the wild card team being the New York Rangers. In the first round of the playoffs, the Capitals are set to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Penguins are matched up against the Blue Jackets.
In the Western Conference Pacific Division, the top three seeded teams are the No.1 Anaheim Ducks, no.2 Edmonton Oilers, No. 3 San Jose Sharks, with the wild card team being the Calgary Flames. In the first round of the playoffs, the Ducks are set to take on the Flames while the Oilers take on the Sharks.
In the Western Conference Central Division, the top three seeded teams are the No. 1 Chicago Blackhawks, No.2 Minnesota Wild, No. 3 St. Louis Blues, with the wild card Nashville Predators. In the first round of the playoffs, the Blackhawks take on the Predators and the Wild play the Blues.
The playoff bracket from the 2016-2017 NHL season is full of surprises. At the beginning of the season, nobody would have predicted that the Toronto Maple Leafs would make it to the playoffs. With a team full of inexperienced rookies, they clinched a berth by defeating the defending Stanley Cup champs in the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Maple Leafs were able to improve their offense by scoring an average of three goals per game. They are currently ranked fifth in the league in goals scored per game, behind NHL powerhouses such as the Penguins and the Capitals, a big improvement for being ranked 28th in the NHL last season. The Maple Leafs are a dark horse in the 2017 playoffs.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will begin their quest for a second straight Stanley Cup Championship. With heavy hitters in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, they are serious contenders. Despite this, I believe the Washington Capitals will claim the cup this year. The Capitals, first in the Eastern Metropolitan Division and President Trophy winners are hungry for the cup. They haven’t reached the Eastern Conference Final since they made their lone trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 1998. With players like Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby, the Capitals are bound to win the cup this season.
With the 2017 NHL playoff season full of positive surprises for the Maple Leafs, the playoffs are also filled with disappointment for teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning. Last season, the Lightning were a powerhouse in the playoffs. Despite losing in the Eastern Conference finals to the Penguins, the Lightning were a force to be reckoned with. This season, they were without their captain Steven Stamkos and their assistant captain Ryan Callahan due to serious injuries. The Lightning had a strong start to the season but injuries caught up to them, which led to a disappointing middle of the season. But, towards the end of the season a storm started to brew and the Lightning went on a run, ultimately keeping their playoff chances barely alive. In the end, they lost the battle for the final wild card spot by just one point. With heavy hitters in Nikita Kucherov, second in the league for goals scored this season with 44, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, forth in the league in assist with 56, and Jonathan Drouin with 21 goals and 32 assists, the Lightning are bound to make a playoff run next season.