The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

NHL Playoff Preview: Who Will Hoist the Stanley Cup?

AP Photo / John Munson

In June 2023, Mark Stone, captain of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, triumphantly lifted the Stanley Cup. In just their sixth season, the Golden Knights were champions of the NHL. Will they be able to retain their place on top of the league, or can the rest of the field knock them off their perch?

Title Defense 

The Las Vegas Golden Knights pulled off an unbelievable run to the cup last year, knocking off Connor McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers along with a talented Dallas Stars team in their path to the final. In the Stanley Cup Final, they faced the eighth-seeded Florida Panthers. While Florida gave it their all, it was not enough, as Vegas won the series in five games, taking the clincher with a score of 9-3. Now as the playoffs are a week away, the two teams find themselves on opposite sides of the standings. As of now, Florida is second in the Atlantic Division, while Vegas occupies the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference. Both teams are currently projected to start off against familiar opponents, with Florida slated to play Toronto in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals and Vegas slated to play Dallas in a Western Conference Final rematch. It is never easy to make it back to a Stanley Cup Final. Every defending champion from 2018 to 2023 has lost in the first round of the playoffs, except for the Tampa Bay Lightning, who won twice in a row in 2020 and 2021 before losing during the Stanley Cup Final in 2022. That being said, both Las Vegas and Florida have the talent, depth and coaching needed to return to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Redemption Season

Following last year’s historic regular season and disappointing first round loss, the Boston Bruins are back at the top of the Atlantic division. Losing longtime captain Patrice Begergon and forward David Krejci to retirement has not stopped the Bruins from having another dominant regular season. The team has been led by longtime Bostonians Brad Marchand and David Pastranak all season. With one of the best goaltending tandems in the league in Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark, the Bruins will hope to avenge their premature exit last season. Will the Bruins have the ability to repeat the recent success of the Lightning, who they are projected to play in the first round? That is what we will have to wait and see.

The New York Rangers, who entered their 30th year without a cup and only one cup in the last 84 years, are having their best regular season since 2015. Bringing in Peter Laviolette as their head coach has been the wakeup call this team has clearly needed. The Rangers also have an excellent goaltender duo in superstar Igor Shesterkin and veteran Jonathan Quick. Aside from the goaltending, Artemi Panarin has had another excellent season, with 46 goals as of April 15. Key contributors Jacob Truba, Adam Fox, Mika Zibanejad and Chris Krider give the Rangers a very solid foundation. Krieder is the last player remaining from the 2014 squad that lost to Jonathan Quick’s Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final. The Rangers youth has also been strong this year, with former first overall pick Alexis Lafrenière having a breakout season and young enforcer Matt Rempe bringing a much needed physical presence to this squad.

Is This Their Year? 

The Toronto Maple Leafs are having another good year. Forward Auston Matthews is on pace to score 70 goals, with 69 as of April 15. If he can score one more goal over his last two games, he would become the first 70-goal scorer since Teemu Selanne and Alexander Moginly in the 1992-93 season. The Maple Leafs’ quest to end the longest title drought in NHL history will not be easy, as the Eastern Conference is looking strong as ever this year. While the Maple Leafs boast a high octane offense, there are some questions about their defense and goaltending.

A month into the season, the Edmonton Oilers looked pathetic, but a midseason coaching change saved their season. Under Kris Knoblach, the Oilers went on a historic 17 game win streak and are now second in the Pacific division. The elite play of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisatil is yet again the driving force behind Edmonton’s success, but they face similar questions on the other side of the ice, just as Matthews and the Maple Leafs do.

Remaining Spots up for Grabs 

Only one matchup is currently set in stone, as the Colorado Avalanche and Winnipeg Jets will face off as the second and third seeds in the Central Division. That will be an interesting matchup to watch, as Nathan Mckinnon and the Avalanche would like to get back to the Stanley Cup, but the Jets are no opponent to take lightly. Elite goaltending by Connor Hellebuyck and a retooled roster make the Jets a force to be reckoned with.

All eight playoff teams in the Western Conference have been set, while two spots are up for grabs in the Eastern Conference. With a win on April 15, the New York Islanders can clinch their spot in what has been a rollercoaster of a season. This core has the ability to shock some pundits and make another run in the playoffs.

Detroit, Washington, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are fighting for the other spot in the East. Detroit and Philadelphia started the season strong, but recent skids have taken them out of playoff spots. Meanwhile, the Capitals have been in and around the playoffs all season, while Pittsburgh and veteran superstar Sidney Crosby’s stellar play has made a late-season push into playoff contention. Overall, the last two days of the regular season will be must-watch television as these teams have everything to play for.

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