Spring time in Canada is best marked by the annual quest for Lord Stanley, where for the first time in 4.6 decades players from all Canadian teams will be chasing golf balls instead of pucks when the Stanley Cup Playoffs commence today.
The Washington Capitals being the exception; a team that separated itself from the pack finishing with 120 points, 14 better than the second place Penguins. So despite Pittsburgh’s and Philadelphia’s resurgence since the turn of the calendar year, or the Florida Panther’s surprising season with former Canuck outcast Roberto Luongo having, as predicted, the last and best laugh at Vancouver’s expense, the Capitals will win the East. Not because of OV, who finished second in team scoring to his young protege Evgeny Kuznetsov, but more because of the presence of veteran character guys like Justin Williams, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, and Jason Chimera, and the recent addition of defencemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik who gave the Caps more depth than they’ve had since Rod Langway patrolled the blueline back in the 80s.
But the biggest reason the Capitals are the odds-on-favourite to win is goalie Braden Holtby. He has the most wins, 48, of any goalie, was spectacular this season with a 2.20 goals-against average, and his playoff stats are through the roof, finishing the 2015 playoffs with a .944 save percentage and a 1.70 goals against.
Out west, just seven points separate the top five teams. Odds-makers have the Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, and Chicago Blackhawks at almost identical odds. The St. Louis Blues are a little higher, likely due to its recent playoff meltdowns, and San Jose and Nashville a little less favoured but both strong potential contenders to come out of the west. I expect up to four series will go seven games and it will not be pretty. The survivor will enjoy a brief Pyrric victory as Western Conference champs, but with a line up decimated by injury and exhaustion, ultimately succumb to the Eastern Conference champions.
The Capitals road to the promised land and their first Stanley Cup will bring them through Pittsburgh and Florida before facing the Los Angeles Kings in the final. Like Holtby, LA goalie Jonathon Quick will be key, but the Times’ bold prediction has Capitals over Kings in six games.