NHL playoffs preview, Stanley Cup predictions and players to watch - Metro US

NHL playoffs preview, Stanley Cup predictions and players to watch

The marathon becomes a spring when the Stanley Cup Playoffs kickoff later this week.
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What a finish.

The final week, days and even hours were drama-filled as teams jockeyed for playoff positioning, division titles and their postseason lives in a thrilling completion to the NHL regular season.

The league can only hope the playoffs will provide as much, or more, excitement over the next two months as the Stanley Cup Playoffs open this week.

As first-round games begin on Wednesday, there is only one sure thing to expect – there will be a new champion. The L.A. Kings, the defending champs, failed to qualify and left the door wide open for a team to take the throne.

So without further adieu, here is Metro’s guide to the NHL playoffs.

Team likely to pull off an upset

In the Eastern Conference, it’s the Ottawa Senators, who have gone 22-4-4 since Feb. 10 and gained entry on the final day of the season on Saturday. Behind goalie Andrew “The Hamburglar” Hammond, the Senators are the hottest team entering the playoffs and the one that no team in either league would elect to face in the opening round. The Canadians will no doubt have their hands full.

In the Western Conference, it’s the Minnesota Wild, who have also ridden their goalie to sizzling finish. Devan Dubnyk, who was acquired in January, went 27-9-2 with the Wild, who recorded a first-round upset last year, and the team has gone 13 -6-1 since the start of March to sky-rocket up the standings to the first wild card. They face the Blues.

Keep an eye on

Vladmir Tarasenko:The St. Louis Blues rugged right winger had a break-out season with 37 goals and 36 points and is immensely talented. He could be the reason the Blues, who are deep at forward and on defense, finally advance deep in the Western Conference side of the bracket.

Carey Price:The Canadians netminder had a career year and led the NHL in wins, goals against and save percentage, and finished tied in shutouts – and not surprisingly is the favorite to win the Vezina Trophy. He will be tough to beat in a seven-game series.

Team consistent

It wouldn’t be the NHL playoffs without the Detroit Red Wings, who have earned a berth for the 24thstraight season. The last time they failed to make the postseason George H. Bush was president.

Western Conference champion

The Blackhawks, who will get a major boost when Patrick Kane returns from a broken clavicle likely during the first round, take down the surprising Wild in six games. Chicago’s depth up top will be too much for the Minnesota in a long series.

Eastern Conference champion

The Canadians outlast the Rangers in seven games as Price outduels Henrik Lundqvist in a low-scoring series and Montreal represents an entire country in the finals. It will avenge the Rangers series win over the Canadians last year in the conferences finals when Montreal played mostly without Price, who was injured in Game One.

Stanley Cup champion

Captain Jonathan Toews will lift Lord’s Stanley Cup as the Blackhawks beat the Canadians in seven games and win their third title in the last six years.

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