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Lightning vs. Devils: PHT 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

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The Tampa Bay Lightning locked up a playoff spot before April even began, and the only real drama they faced boiled down to whether or not they’d win their division. The New Jersey Devils, meanwhile, scratched and clawed their way to their last game of the season.

Maybe that lack of urgency and Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s fatigue conspired to make the Bolts’ finish to 2017-18 a little less than inspiring? Tampa Bay went 5-4-1 in its last 10 games, as just one example, with Vasilevskiy and Nikita Kucherov losing significant ground in their respective trophy races.

The Lightning still finished atop the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference, going 54-23-5 for 113 standings points. The Devils finished one point ahead of the Florida Panthers for the East’s final wild card, generating 97 standings points on a 44-29-9 record.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Even with a less-than-spectacular finish to the season, the Lightning are heavy favorites. Tampa Bay ranks among the biggest favorites of any team in the first round on account of its strengths and the Devils’ perceived weaknesses.

Beyond the momentum angle, the Devils might pin their hopes on sweeping the season series against the Lightning. They won once in a shootout and twice in regulation. Maybe New Jersey matches up well with Tampa Bay?

Let’s break this series down.

SCHEDULE

FORWARDS

Lightning: It’s easy to look at the Lightning as just the one-two punch of a successfully returning Steven Stamkos (27 goals, 86 points) and Kucherov, who hit the 100-point mark for the first time in his wildly underrated career. The frightening part is that it’s not even just about them, nor J.T. Miller in Vladislav Namestnikov‘s old spot.

This series might clue in casual hockey fans that Brayden Point is a rising star. He scored 32 goals and 66 points this season, doing so in sometimes spectacular ways:

Yanni Gourde would also receive way more Calder Trophy buzz in a normal season, as he scored 25 goals and 64 points. The Lightning also have some other nice forwards, including Tyler Johnson (21 goals, 50 points), Alex Killorn, and Ondrej Palat. It should be noted that, while Palat only scored 35 points, he was limited to 56 games.

The biggest injury question revolves around Stamkos, who missed some late-season games. Will he be 100 percent either by Game 1 or merely sometime in this series?

Devils: It’s well-publicized but true: the drop off from Taylor Hall (93 points) to the second-best Devils scorer (Nico Hischier, 52 points) is drastic.

Hall deservedly gets Hart Trophy buzz, and he’s the single player who could will the Devils to upset victories against the Bolts in his first-ever visit to the postseason.

It’s unfair to say that he’s the only weapon for New Jersey. Despite being limited to 62 games, Kyle Palmieri continues to be an under-the-radar gem, scoring 24 goals and 44 points. Patrick Maroon has been a boon via the trade deadline, collecting 13 points in 17 games with the Devils. Michael Grabner‘s been quiet, but his speed and skill could be useful in a short series, especially with the motivation of a contract year hanging over his head.

AdvantageLightning. Few teams possess the arsenal that Tampa Bay boasts.

DEFENSEMEN

Lightning: Victor Hedman may very well win the Norris Trophy this season. You can argue until your face turns blue over who deserves that nod, but he certainly earned the right to be in the discussion, generating 63 points in 77 games while playing great defense.

Mikhail Sergachev might be a work in progress, yet his offense is already formidable, as the rookie collected 40 points this season despite modest ice time (15:21 minutes per game). They can enjoy the best of both worlds as they protect him and then deploy him for scoring situations.

Ryan McDonagh is still adjusting to Tampa Bay. This is the time they got him for, as he could be a key piece in matchups. He’s joined by other former Rangers Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi, though the Lightning probably want to limit Girardi’s exposure (even after a relatively decent season).

Devils: New Jersey still looks weak on defense on paper, but credit the Devils with adding some talent in that area.

Sami Vatanen is developing into a workhorse for the Devils, averaging 22:44 per game while scoring 28 points in 57 games. Will Butcher has a ways to go in his own end, but he already generated 44 points in his first NHL season.

Damon Severson, Andy Greene, and John Moore are among those blueliners who can prove that they’re worth more of a look with a strong playoffs.

Advantage: Lightning, by a significant margin.

GOALIES

Lightning: Andrei Vasilevskiy may still be a Vezina finalist, and it’s easy to see why with a 44-17-3 record, .920 save percentage, and eight shutouts. He’s also proven himself in postseason play before, generating that same .920 save percentage in 12 career playoff appearances.

His recent play is the elephant in the room, as he admitted himself to fatigue late in 2017-18. Consider that he generated a brilliant .931 save percentage in 41 games before the All-Star break, only to slide to a bad-backup-level .902 save percentage in 24 games after the break.

Louis Domingue hasn’t really inspired any confidence as his backup.

Devils: With Cory Schneider seemingly at a career crisis, the Devils turned to Keith Kinkaid. Kinkaid proved unexpectedly sturdy for New Jersey, producing a four-game winning streak to help them lock down that playoff spot, and also generating a .913 save percentage over 41 appearances.

AdvantageLightning, even though Vasilevskiy’s energy comes into question.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Lightning: The Bolts’ power play ranks among the NHL’s deadliest, boasting a 23.9-percent success rate on 66 power-play goals and just three shorthanded goals allowed. Their penalty kill struggled, however, with a PK% of just 76.1 percent, fourth-worst in the NHL (64 PPGA, nine shorthanded goals for).

Devils: New Jersey connected on 21.4 percent of its power plays, good for 54 PPG and six SHGA. They excelled on the PK, tying for seventh in the NHL by killing 81.8 percent of their penalties (47 power-play goals allowed, 12 shorthanded goals scored).

Advantage: Devils, as they mix a very nice power play with one of the better PK units, especially when you consider how dangerous they are with 12 shorthanded goals. That said, the Lightning’s power play is so dominant, it might make that balance irrelevant.

X-FACTORS

Lightning: Is Vasilevskiy going to be anywhere close to his best self or his tank truly empty? This Lightning team is balanced and dangerous at the top, but bad goaltending can submarine even the strongest teams.

Devils: Taylor Hall in his first playoff series. It’s a great story, and there’s a solid chance that he’ll be the best player on the ice. Could he be such a force that he tilts this series in New Jersey’s favor?

PREDICTION

Lightning in five games. The Bolts possess the top-heavy talent to nullify Taylor Hall, and even if they lose that battle, they’re likely to dominate from a depth perspective. Vasilevskiy also gives them an advantage in net … at least on paper.

If you’re a Devils fan grumbling right now, consider this: New Jersey seems to thrive on defying the odds. Why not do it in the first round, too?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL trade deadline deals deliver for several playoff teams

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Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman earned accolades for making the boldest moves in improving Tampa Bay’s Stanley Cup aspirations at the NHL’s trade deadline in February.

Evander Kane, however, might have been the biggest beneficiary after being dealt by eventual last-place Buffalo to San Jose on Feb. 26. Kane couldn’t contain his glee on his Twitter account a week ago in posting a message which read: ”#playoffmode it’s about time!”

It took him nine years and four cities – from Atlanta to Winnipeg, Buffalo and now San Jose – since being selected with the No. 4 pick by the then-Thrashers in the 2009 draft to finally prepare for his playoff debut. It will happen Thursday, when the Sharks open their Pacific Division first-round series at Anaheim.

Stanley Cup Playoffs streaming, schedule and more

”It makes it easy to come to the rink. It makes it easy to play with this group of guys,” Kane said. ”I’m having a lot of fun right now.”

The Sharks, who gave up a prospect and two conditional draft picks, including a potential first-rounder, might not be in this position without Kane. The 26-year-old picked up the offensive slack on a team that closed the season minus star Joe Thornton. Kane scored nine goals, including two game-winners, and added five assists in 17 games.

In closing the season at 12-7-1, the Sharks’ 25 points ranked in a tie for 10th among NHL teams since the trade deadline.

”He’s a crucial part of our team,” center Chris Tierney said of Kane. ”Just gives us an extra layer of everything.”

Kane wasn’t the only late-season addition to provide his new team a boost.

Yzerman added offense, defense and leadership to an already elite team by acquiring New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh and forward J.T. Miller in one of the final trades completed. Miller led all players traded on Feb. 26 by scoring 10 goals and piling up 18 points in 19 games.

”When you add two players like that and give up what they did, it’s you know: They’re in it to win it,” former player and NBC hockey analyst Eddie Olczyk said of the Lightning.

Fellow analyst, Pierre McGuire looked to the moves made by Nashville.

The Predators gave up a first-round draft pick in adding size and versatility to acquire forward Ryan Hartman from Chicago. They welcomed back veteran Mike Fisher, who signed out of retirement. They also signed forward Eeli Tolvanen , after the rookie first-round pick’s Kontinental Hockey League season ended last month.

”You look at everything Nashville has done, they never messed with the roster integrity that was created at the beginning of the year by David Poile and Paul Fenton,” McGuire said, referring to Predators management. ”So I think Nashville quietly, whether it’s at the deadline or just before, did some amazing things.”

The Presidents’ Trophy-winning Predators (15-4-2), Winnipeg (15-4-1), Columbus (14-4-2) and Boston (13-5-4) led the NHL in points since Feb. 26.

Columbus jumped from 19th in the overall standings to 14th in a run that coincided with the additions of forward Thomas Vanek and defenseman Ian Cole.

Paul Stastny scored four goals and 13 points with playoff-bound Winnipeg, after being traded by St. Louis for a first-round pick. The Blues, by comparison, closed 10-7-2 and missed the playoffs with a season-ending loss to Colorado. And don’t forget Patrick Maroon, who had three goals and 10 points in 17 games for New Jersey, which acquired him from Edmonton.

The Capitals filled secondary defensive needs by adding Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek just before the trade deadline.

”We had holes to fill this year and we filled them with guys that aren’t as high-profile, but are just steady, and provided the things we needed for our team,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said.

After appearing in just 31 games in Chicago, Kempny played 22 in Washington while securing a role alongside Norris Trophy-candidate John Carlson.

In Philadelphia, goalie Petr Mrazek held the fort in going 6-6-4 in place of injured starter Brian Elliott. Elliott returned in time to win the final two games including a 17-save shutout in a season-ending, playoff-clinching 5-0 win over the Rangers.

Not all the trades paid off down the stretch.

Rick Nash missed Boston’s final 12 games with an upper body injury after being acquired in a trade with the Rangers.

Tomas Plekanec managed just two assists in 17 games with Toronto after being acquired from Montreal.

Tomas Tatar had four goals and six points in 20 games with Vegas, which landed him in a deal with Detroit.

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno, in Washington, and sports writers Josh Dubow, in San Jose, and Teresa M. Walker, in Nashville, contributed to this report.

More NHL hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Biggest contract years for NHL playoff teams

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Technically speaking, NHL players only get paid for the 82-game regular season, aside from the pocket change that comes from certain bonuses for playoff wins.

In reality, a player can make a living off of a magical postseason run or two.

A strong couple of months could end up being costly in contract negotiations, yet greed can also be good in helping a team in the short run. Let’s take a look at the biggest contract year situations for all 16 of the teams that made the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In several cases, it’s not as much about deals that will expire after this season, but instead core players lining up for their first cracks at extensions in July.

It only seems fair to begin with the Presidents’ Trophy winners, even if their concerns are minor …

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

West

Nashville Predators

Biggest contract year: Nashville’s biggest concerns come down to the guys whose contracts end after 2018-19: Ryan Ellis and Pekka Rinne.

Still, there are a couple of RFAs who could mop up. Ryan Hartman needs to prove his value after being traded from the Blackhawks, while Juuse Saros could break the bank if something happens with Rinne and he goes on a big run.

Colorado Avalanche

Biggest contract year: Jonathan Bernier is at quite the fork in the road in his career.

The 29-year-old played a key role in keeping things going for the Avalanche earlier this season when Semyon Varlamov went down with an injury, to the point that he probably did enough to earn another backup role. If he can author a big playoff run, then who knows what sort of offer he might be able to command?

With Varlamov’s own deal expiring after 2018-19, a red-hot run from Bernier could even force questions about a changing of the guard.

Winnipeg Jets

Biggest contract year: Connor Hellebuyck is a pending RFA who just broke the single-season wins record for an American goalie, going 44-11-9(!) with a fantastic .924 save percentage. If the Jets make a long-awaited but easy-to-imagine deep run, Hellebuyck will inspire many “buck”-related headlines.

The Jets also have Jacob Trouba and Paul Stastny to consider, while this playoff run will play a role in Patrik Laine‘s extension. Tough to imagine Winnipeg going through the summer without a new deal for Laine, whose rookie deal ends next season.

Minnesota Wild

Biggest contract year: Jason Zucker blew away career-highs in goals (33) and assists (31) this season, generating 64 points. He doesn’t have a huge body of work of scoring at this level (Zucker’s 47 points from 2016-17 were easily his best before this season), so proving it in the postseason could help him earn even more of a boost.

Matt Dumba generated a sneaky-great season of his own, scoring 14 goals and 50 points. The Wild are very lucky that these two players are RFAs.

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Vegas Golden Knights

Biggest contract year: The Golden Knights cleared up some concerns, such as handing Jonathan Marchessault a team-friendly extension. Even so, the Golden Knights may lead in greed.

William Karlsson is a pending RFA after leading the Golden Knights in scoring. Some of their biggest names are soon to be UFAs, including James Neal and David Perron. This team has a lot to prove and a lot to gain in the postseason.

Los Angeles Kings

Biggest contract year: For better or worse, most of this Kings team is locked in place. Tobias Rieder could be one of those “flavor of the month” types if he rides some high percentages.

Anaheim Ducks

Biggest contract year: Depth youngsters are looking to earn new contracts in Ondrej Kase and Brandon Montour.

Really, John Gibson might be the guy shooting for the most money in Anaheim. His dirt-cheap $2.3 million cap hit expires after 2018-19, so the Ducks will get their first shot at extending the underrated goalie in July. If he can get healthy and lead a surge, Gibson could drive up his price.

San Jose Sharks

Biggest contract year: Evander Kane generated 14 points in 17 games since being traded to the Sharks, and that includes a three-game drought at the end of the season. Few players had as much to gain or lose as Kane did coming into 2017-18, and that remains true entering the postseason.

Tomas Hertl also approaches free agency as an RFA.

[Want to follow the action? Here’s the full schedule, including where to watch.]

East

Tampa Bay Lightning

Biggest contract year: J.T. Miller could really market himself if he can produce alongside Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.

The Lightning stand out as one of the teams with the most interest in how this might grease the wheels for extensions, though. Kucherov’s due for an enormous raise over his almost-insulting $4.767M cap hit, while Ryan McDonagh‘s similar mark also runs out after 2018-19.

New Jersey Devils

Biggest contract year: There are quite a few depth players on expiring deals in New Jersey, yet the most interesting names are imports from the trade deadline in Michael Grabner and Patrick Maroon.

So far, Maroon has been especially useful since being traded to the Devils, as he has 13 points in 17 games with New Jersey. It could really help him to prove that he can score without Connor McDavid‘s help.

(Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Boston Bruins

Biggest contract year: “Ri-Nash needs cash.” Both Rick Nash and Riley Nash are in contract years, with each forward set to be UFAs. Rick Nash probably grades out an “Incomplete” so far in Boston, as he’s only scored six points with the B’s, yet he’s been limited to 11 games played.

Considering how snakebitten Rick Nash has been, it would be pretty funny if he went on a tear in the playoffs. The Bruins wouldn’t mind, even if it would mean that his time would be short with Boston.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Biggest contract year: The Maple Leafs decided to keep rather than trade James van Riemsdyk, even though a lot of signs point to JVR moving on after this season.

For the second time in his career, he passed the 30-goal mark, collecting a career-high 36 goals. Still, this has been far from a fluke, as he’s scored 29 and 27 during other campaigns and has been a reliable 50+ point guy when healthy.

It’s anyone’s guess what kind of deal he’ll command, and that’s doubly true if he helps the Maple Leafs beat the Bruins.

There are other notable names (Tyler Bozak, Tomas Plekanec, and Leo Komarov especially), but JVR is the contract year player to watch for Toronto.

Washington Capitals

Biggest contract year: John Carlson‘s long been a solid scorer for Washington, generating 37 points three times and even hitting 55 once. His contract year’s been one to note, though, as he topped all NHL defensemen with a whopping 68 points, including a career-high of 15 goals.

Carlson is poised for a big raise over his near-$4M cap hit. Piling on big postseason numbers would inflate that even more.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Biggest contract year: Boone Jenner fits the mold of a guy who could blow up for a playoff run, as right now, it’s really tough to truly gauge the value of a one-time 30-goal scorer who only managed 32 points this season.

Thomas Vanek and Jack Johnson both have a lot to play for, even though they’re in supporting roles for CBJ.

The biggest situations to eye are players whose deals run through 2018-19. Sergei Bobrovsky and Zach Werenski both could get extensions during the off-season.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Biggest contract year: Some of the bigger concerns fall after 2018-19, although Jamie Oleksiak might be the latest member of The Justin Schultz Club: players who landed with Pittsburgh and then revitalized their careers (and paychecks). Bryan Rust and Riley Sheahan also need to earn some dough.

Philadelphia Flyers

Biggest contract year: None of the Flyers’ goalies are locked up for all that long. Petr Mrazek‘s deal is expiring this summer, while Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth both see their contracts run out after 2018-19. Philly’s goalies pose plenty of questions, yet you’d think that motivation won’t be lacking.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Power Rankings: Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup

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Winning the Stanley Cup is a daunting task that requires a talented team playing its best hockey at the right time of year, staying reasonably healthy, and perhaps most importantly getting a little bit of luck along the way.

Getting through four best-of-seven series against the best teams in the league over a two-month stretch with all of that going right, and without running into some team that has a ridiculously goalie playing out of his mind for two weeks, is a huge challenge.

Only one team does it every year. That means from a simple mathematical standpoint your team only has a six percent chance of being the one that is standing at the top of the mountain when the playoffs end in mid-June.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Every team in the field has some sort of a flaw or a question mark that will probably be their ultimate undoing.

In this week’s edition of the PHT Power Rankings we get you ready for the playoffs by looking at all of them, ranked in order of the team most likely to overcome their flaws, to the team least likely to do it.

Here we go.

1. Nashville Predators — On paper they are the most complete team in the league and that resulted in the league’s best record. Deep group of forwards? Check. Great defense? Check. Goalie having an amazing season? Check. Speaking of which, Pekka Rinne has been awesome this season, but can he maintain that level of play throughout the playoffs? His performance this season is a bit of an outlier when compared to recent seasons and he’s had some rough postseason showings over the years. He wasn’t great in the Stanley Cup Final a year ago, getting pulled in two of the six games.

2. Winnipeg Jets — This team has been around for 18 years, in two different cities, with two different names, and is playing in the playoffs for just the third time. It is an organization that, as of this posting, has yet to win a single playoff game in its existence. Forget winning a series, their next playoff win will be their first. They should finally get one this year. But will they be able to get 16 of them? They have a scary offense and Connor Hellebuyck has put together a season that should get him some Vezina Trophy votes, but there is also the possibility that he reverts back to being the Hellebuyck he was before this season. There’s also the fact that if they do get through Minnesota in round one their reward is (probably) going to be a series with the Presidents’ Trophy winning Nashville Predators. The playoff format might be their biggest undoing.

3. Boston Bruins — No matter how many injuries they had this season they just kept rolling along and have been incredible since the start of November. So what is a concern? Will Zdeno Chara be able to keep logging the minutes he has been at his age and playing the way he has or will he wear down a bit? Will they be able to stay healthy? Will Brad Marchand do something dumb and get himself suspended?

4. Tampa Bay Lightning — On paper the Lightning don’t have a lot of flaws, and they were one of the best teams in the league for most of the season. But they kind of limped down the stretch by winning just six of their final 13 games and generally not looking great over the past month. There is also this nightmare that Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi are going to end up on the ice at the same time, a scenario that has been dreadful for them in the limited time they’ve been on the team together this year (outscored 6-2 in 120 5-on-5 minutes together). Just as it was during their Rangers days.

5. Vegas Golden Knights — The team nobody expected to be here. It has been a pretty incredible season where almost everything they have put their hands on has turned into a success. Eventually some of that luck has to run out … right? Also worth noting that Marc-Andre Fleury has a .908 career playoff save percentage in 115 games and has finished seven of his 11 playoff appearances with a save percentage below .908, including six under .900.

6. Washington Capitals — Deeper and better Capitals teams than this one failed to win the Stanley Cup in each of the past two years, so why would this one be any different? Plus, there were times this season they didn’t look as good as their record would seem to indicate. We don’t really know who their goalie is and the one that has been a rock the past few years — Braden Holtby — had an uncharacteristically bad year. Seems like a concern.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins — They can be a mess at times defensively, their penalty kill has been lousy for a few weeks, and they are not getting great goaltending. They had the some of the same flaws going into the playoffs a year ago and still managed to win another Stanley Cup because they could outscore everyone and, perhaps most importantly, received sensational goaltending from Fleury and Matt Murray. That is a concern going into the playoffs this season because Fleury is playing in Vegas, Murray has been hit-and-miss at times this year, and they do not really have a reliable backup behind him.

8. Toronto Maple Leafs — They are going to score a lot of goals and they are going to give up a lot of chances. No team in the playoffs gives up more shots on goal than them. If Frederik Andersen is not on top of his game the latter will cause a lot of problems. They also have the misfortune of drawing one of the NHL’s best teams in the first round.

9. Anaheim Ducks — They are the “hot team” heading into the playoffs, but they are also one of the teams dealing with some significant injuries (as they have all year). Cam Fowler is a big loss and John Gibson, for as great as he is, can’t seem to stay on the ice consistently.

10. Columbus Blue Jackets —  Artemi Panarin is the difference-maker they needed in their lineup and they have an outstanding duo on defense with Zach Werenski and Seth Jones, but how many teams win the Stanley Cup without a No. 1 center that topped 50 points? Pierre Luc-Dubois had a great rookie year and looks like he’s going to be a really good player in the NHL, but the lack of depth down the middle is going to be a problem. And that doesn’t even get into the question mark that is the playoff version of Sergei Bobrovsky.

11. San Jose Sharks — They very quietly put together a 100-point season (their best season in four years) and did it after losing Patrick Marleau in free agency and without Joe Thornton for half of the season. They are good, but that seems to be the ceiling. There is nothing really special about them, especially if Thornton isn’t able to return.

12. Philadelphia Flyers — Goaltending is a big question, as it always seems to be with the Flyers, but they also have a big problem when their top line is not on the ice. When Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier were on the ice during 5-on-5 play this season the Flyers outscored teams by a 70-40 margin and controlled 55 percent of the total shot attempts. When neither player was on the ice: They were outscored 76-96 and only controlled 48 percent of the total shot attempts. Their first-round opponent is going to roll out Sidney Crosby on one line, Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist on another line, and Derick Brassard and Phil Kessel on another line.

13. Los Angeles Kings — They have been a different team with Jeff Carter in the lineup and he gives them a great 1-2 punch down the middle with Anze Kopitar, but they still have some issues. They are not the dominant possession team they have been in recent years and it’s still a top-heavy team that doesn’t have a lot of scoring depth beyond its top four or five players.

14. Minnesota Wild — The Pittsburgh Penguins were able to win a championship a year ago without their No. 1 defenseman. That might give the Wild, who will not have Ryan Suter in the postseason due to an ankle injury, a little bit of hope that it can be done. The problem for the Wild is going to be the fact they don’t have the firepower the Penguins had, and probably will not be fortunate enough to get the level of goaltending the Penguins did. Their potential path to the Conference Final would also probably have to include going through the top two teams in the NHL. Literally, the top two teams. No. 1 and 2 in the league in total points. Good luck, everybody.

15. Colorado Avalanche — Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen are great, but it’s not a particularly deep team around and they also have some injury issues with Semyon Varlamov and Erik Johnson on the shelf going into the playoffs. Great success story this season to go from the absolute worst team in hockey to the playoffs in one year. It is a nice stepping stone in the development of the team. It probably ends there this season.

16. New Jersey Devils — Taylor Hall almost single handedly dragged this team to the playoffs, and it was an incredible accomplishment. He probably will not be leading them to 16 more. Like the Avalanche this was a wildly successful year and perhaps the most encouraging thing is the development of some of their young players. But it is not a Stanley Cup team. Yet.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

WATCH LIVE: Boston Bruins at Tampa Bay Lightning

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PROJECTED LINES

Boston Bruins

Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronDavid Pastrnak

Jake DeBruskDavid KrejciRyan Donato

Danton HeinenDavid BackesNoel Acciari

Tim Schaller — Colby Cave — Brian Gionta

Zdeno CharaCharlie McAvoy

Torey KrugNick Holden

Matt GrzelcykKevan Miller

Starting goalie: Tuukka Rask

[Bruins – Bolts preview]

Tampa Bay Lightning

Ondrej PalatBrayden PointNikita Kucherov

J.T. MillerTyler JohnsonCory Conacher

Yanni GourdeAnthony CirelliAlex Killorn

Chris KunitzCedric PaquetteRyan Callahan

Victor HedmanAnton Stralman

Ryan McDonaghDan Girardi

Braydon CoburnMikhail Sergachev

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy