Sixteen teams out of 30 make the playoffs, but only one can win. Now that we know those 16 teams, we’re making our Stanley Cup picks again. Has anything changed our minds from the preseason?
Jason Brough: Washington Capitals
I’ve been on the Caps’ bandwagon since October, when I was the only PHT staffer to pick them to win it all. Six months later, after they ran away with the Presidents’ Trophy, I don’t suppose I should jump off now. I still really like all the ways this team can win. It’s good offensively, it’s good defensively, the special teams are good, and so is the goaltending and coaching. Basically, it’s hard to find a glaring weakness in the lineup. The Caps are also healthy, and that’s huge. The one thing I don’t like is how they finished the season, winning just three of their last nine games. But I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt there, since they clinched the NHL’s best record with seven games left. This could really be the year, Caps fans. Be excited. (And be a bit terrified, too.)
(Preseason pick: Capitals over Blues)
Mike Halford: Chicago Blackhawks
I’d feel better about my original pick, Tampa Bay, if Steven Stamkos hadn’t needed a rib removed to fix his blood-clotting issue. And, also, if Anton Stralman hadn’t fractured his leg with eight games left in the season. But see, that stuff happened, man. Theoretically, my new pick should be the team I predicted would lose to the Bolts in the final — Anaheim. Right? WRONG. In a classic Halfordian twist, I’m going with Chicago. (“Halfordian” is Latin for “when all else fails, take the team that won it last year.”) For all the hand-wringing about how the ‘Hawks finished the season, remember this: Artemi Panarin had 13 points in his final five games of the year. Patrick Kane had 12. Marian Hossa, Andrew Shaw, Artem Anisimov and Corey Crawford all appear healthy and ready for the playoff opener. And Duncan Keith is back for Game 2. The Stanley Cup, like it has three times in the last six years, goes through the Windy City.
(Preseason pick: Lightning over Ducks)
Ryan Dadoun: Anaheim Ducks
I was very optimistic heading into the season about the Ducks’ ability to overcome their playoff heartbreaks, and I’m more upbeat about them now. They had a horrible October, but were able to work through it to become one of the best teams in the second half. When I picked them in the preseason, I brought up their scoring depth, and that’s proved to be a big part of their turnaround. Ryan Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg in particular had really bad starts, but they’ve done a complete 180. That’s especially true of Kesler, who has 41 points in his last 43 games. And then you have goalies John Gibson and Frederik Andersen, who combined to win the Jennings Trophy. Ultimately, the Ducks still need to prove they can win the big series, or for that matter, the big game. I think they can.
(Preseason pick: Ducks over Rangers)
James O’Brien: Los Angeles Kings
The West could go any number of ways (ideal scenario: the Dallas Stars bless us with absurdly fun hockey and make the grass greener/sky bluer), but sometimes I default to the “If a gun was to my head” test. And, deep down, in that scenario, my answer would be the Los Angeles Kings. As always, the Kings remain possession monsters and check all the appropriate boxes (elite center, supporting scoring, all-world defenseman, goalie who can get hot). This may be the most versatile team in the NHL: able to win low-scoring games and also trade hay-makers with the most dangerous offenses in the league. Again, this gut choice comes with indigestion, as it wouldn’t be shocking if the Kings fell to the Sharks. That’s playoff hockey for you.
(Preseason pick: Ducks over Penguins)
Cam Tucker: Anaheim Ducks
I didn’t have an official, on-the-record preseason pick, but I can assure all of you, I was firmly on the Anaheim Ducks bandwagon at the start of the year. Obviously, that pick wasn’t looking so good by December, when the Ducks entered the holiday break at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. But they didn’t fire their coach and they eventually surged up the standings into top spot in the Pacific Division at season’s end. Getting through the West in these playoffs is going to seem like a nightmare at times, and facing the Predators in the opening round won’t be easy at all. But the Ducks have been red-hot since the holiday break and are coming off a loss in the Western Conference final a year ago. They take the next step this spring.
(Preseason pick: N/A)
Joey Alfieri: Anaheim Ducks
I didn’t make an official preseason pick either, but like most of my PHT colleagues, I felt a team from California would hoist the Cup. I thought the Ducks had the best chance and I’ll stick with them. Like most everyone, I was shocked with the way Anaheim opened the season. I couldn’t believe that a team with that much size and skill could get off to such a bad start. Not only did the Ducks turn things around, they also managed to swoop in and grab the Pacific Division crown, which is huge in my eyes. Winning the division allows the Ducks to avoid playing the Sharks and Kings in the opening round. Another reason I like the Ducks so much? Special teams. Anaheim is the first team since the ’85 Islanders to finish the regular season with the best power play and penalty kill. In a tight series, a big penalty kill here or a timely PP goal there could make the difference.
(Preason pick: N/A)