The NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs are the modern-day version of an ancient Greek epic.
It’s a long, narrative story filled with heroes, most of the time bearded ones – who fight grueling battle upon grueling battle to reach the peak of hockey immortality that is Lord Stanley’s Cup. Wednesday adds another chapter to this athletic epic as 16 teams set forth to win the honor of seeing their names engraved on one of the most famous trophies in the world.
For the casual viewer or for the fan just being introduced to this version of poetry in motion, below provides a quick crash course into this year’s NHL postseason:
Best first-round series
In terms of rivalries, this matchup does not jump off the page despite these two finishing just four points apart in the Western Conference’s Pacific Division. In fact, these two teams have played each other just once in the postseason and that was 11 years ago. Edmonton prevailed in the Western Conference semifinals in six games on their way to a Stanley Cup Final appearance, which they lost to the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Oilers have been irrelevant ever since, failing to make the playoffs at all. That was, until the savior came.
Edmonton captain and young gun Connor McDavid, playing in just his second NHL season, has led the Oilers to a 103-point year, their best mark since recording 106 during the 1986-87 season.
It was the third of five Cups won over a seven-year stretch.
Back to 2016-17 and McDavid has Oilers fans reminiscing about Wayne Gretzky as he led the league with 70 assists and 100 points. But he is just one of a multitude of talented stars on both sides of the ice.
In fact, the star power is off the charts in this series.
McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Patrick Maroon combined for 86 goals this season while veteran Milan Lucic brings a wealth of playoff experience to this series.
Edmonton will need every bit of it as it will meet the defending Western Conference champion Sharks. Much more seasoned compared to the Oilers, the Sharks boast one of the greatest passers of this generation in future Hall of Famer Joe Thornton, the best scoring defenseman in the league in Brent Burns and grizzled All-Stars like Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau. That talent and skill set up a dream for highlight seekers everywhere. Now just wait until the blood starts to boil like in any other playoff series.
Dark horse to win the Cup
Is it fair to label a team that recorded 108 points this season a dark horse?
Well, when you finish third in your division and 10 points behind the first-place Washington Capitals, have only made two postseason appearances and never won a playoff series in your first 15 years, then yes.
That’s exactly what the Columbus Blue Jackets are, especially in a first-round series against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Blue Jackets are as well-rounded a team as you can find in the NHL, though, and it all starts from the back.
Columbus allowed the second-least amount of goals behind the Capitals with just 195. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovksy should be the frontrunner for the Vezina this season with a 41-17-5 record and a goals against average of just 2.06.
The defense in front of him is even more solid. Remarkably, not one of the 10 blue liners that dressed for the Blue Jackets this season had a plus/minus rating in the red.
On the offensive end, Cam Atkinson continues to develop into a premier scorer with a career-high 35 goals this year while Nick Foligno (26) and Brandon Saad (24) provide solid secondary scoring.
Predictions by round
Montreal Canadiens def. New York Rangers
Boston Bruins def. Ottawa Senators
Washington Capitals def. Toronto Maple Leafs
Columbus Blue Jackets def. Pittsburgh Penguins
Chicago Blackhawks def. Nashville Predators
Minnesota Wild def. St. Louis Blues
Anaheim Ducks def. Calgary Flames
San Jose Sharks def. Edmonton Oilers
Montreal def. Boston
Washington def. Columbus
Minnesota def. Chicago
San Jose def. Anaheim
Washington def. Montreal
Minnesota def. Anaheim
Stanley Cup Final
Washington def. Minnesota