A Salty Yinzer Fan's Guide to the NHL Playoffs
Unfortunately, the NHL playoffs have been purged of actual talent this year like Sid, Geno, Jake on an empty net, Jarry (sometimes), and Mike Sullivan’s tie collection. You see, I would gladly respond to your valid criticism about the team I shit on so much I could make laxative companies jealous, but I can’t hear you over the two Stanley Cups we won while I was in middle school.
On a mildly more serious note, there’s nothing more fun than giving genuine insight into sports shrouded in copious amounts of sarcasm so when I’m inevitably wrong, you won’t be able to tell if I was joking and there’s no better best-of-seven playoff format running from mid-April to June to talk about than the NHL playoffs. For the record, I’m sticking with the Eastern Conference for now because they’re all responsible for the murder of my dear Penguinos. Some of these teams may have gotten swept off the face of the Earth by the time anyone actually reads this but hey, let’s discuss each and every series you won’t watch these coming weeks.
(A1) Boston Bruins VS. (WC2) Florida Panthers
Why did Boston of all cities deserve the hockey team holding all six Infinity Stones? They’ve got the greatest regular season in NHL history and they haven’t even snapped their fingers yet. Call up David Pasternak and company to see why they have the Scoring Stone, and talk to the two besties in net, Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman, to see how they went from serviceable in the preseason to holders of the Goaltending Stone now. The retirement home, housing the actually respectable Patrice Bergeron and shitposter-on-ice Brad Marchand, looks like it’s hit its prime again. They have absurd depth throughout the lineup where all 20 skaters and even the goddamn goalies can score at will. In a league with immense parity, going 65-17 is nuts, but let’s not forget, the last “greatest team in history” got swept in 2018… by Ohio. The Panthers only got in because the Penguins simply chose not to be a blood sacrifice to the Bruins but truth is, nothing’s for certain. They’re a solid enough team who managed to make the Matthew Tkachuk trade look like a stroke of genius as he still had a killer year despite the change of uniform but the rest of the team? I mean hey, they got here. Their fans will pretend they exist until they get bumped faster than you can say Bobrovsky, but with other highlights like Brandon Montour deciding to be a blue line beast in the shadows and Sasha Barkov still being an underrated hands god, there really is a chance.
(A2) Toronto Maple Leafs VS. (A3) Tampa Bay Lightning
Statistics be damned. Winning a playoff series by accident is easier than losing five-straight first round game 7s and yet here we are. No team in North American sports has choked more than the Maple Leafs throughout the last decade. Toronto put up a fantastic season that went under the radar due to a Boston-sized shadow. Their goalie woes have sorta been solved with an underrated Ilya Samsonov season and that “40% of our salary cap” trio of Auston Matthews’ receding hairline, Mitch Marner’s baby face, and William Nylander’s luscious locks are the stars of the show, reaching new highs of first line production, but they’re kind of the only show here (other than John Tavares). If the rest of the team pulls itself together, maybe, just maybe, they won’t lose another god damn game seven… they’ll lose in a game 6 for mercy. Now let’s talk about the complete opposite. The Lightning have reached 3 straight Stanley Cup Finals and I think it speaks to the power of playoff experience. This is definitely the weakest squad they’ve had in a while even with Nikita Kucherov’s absurd 113 points and Braydon Point’s sneaky 51 goals. The core pieces from each Cup run are still there in all their glory and they’ve proven they’re playoff performers first, good at hockey second. They have a clutch factor you simply cannot measure in the regular season. Vasilevskiy has only given up two, I repeat two, goals in series-clinching games over the past two seasons, totaling seven games and a save percentage that would make Carnegie Mellon overachievers blush at .990. All I can say for certain is I think the team in blue and white will win, argue with a wall.
(M1) Carolina Hurricanes VS. (WC1) New York Islanders
Carolina’s a great team that just hasn’t been able to break the ice. They’re not the fastest, and yet they blow by teams unwilling to skate at their level especially with the vastly superior Sebastian Aho on their side (not kidding, there are somehow two Sebastian Ahos on opposing teams here). They aren’t the toughest and yet their defense steamrolls the opposition with one of the year’s best two way blue lines. Their goaltending isn’t the greatest and yet they tend to come up huge on the rare occasions the offense can’t light the lamp. Their postgame “Storm Surge” cellies may be the strangest tradition since Nashville trademarked chucking catfish from the upper bowl, but clearly it’s been giving them energy and Lord knows that’s an essential piece to any Cup run. The Islanders, on the other hand, were the other winners of the “slightly better than the Penguins” sweepstakes. I think they’ve convinced themselves that boring their opponents to death is a tactical advantage. I score more at frat parties than the Islanders score on a sheet of ice… I’ve never been to a frat party. In a game of speed, the Islanders think skating like a senior citizen on the PA Turnpike and honing their “defense” is a true strategy. Sorry, defense? Did you mean Ilya Sorokin? This team lives and dies by its Russian brick wall because without him standing on his head, that slow burn style of play will do nothing against a quality opponent. When that offense has put up just as many goose eggs as their very own league leader in shutouts, maybe there’s a problem.
(M2) New Jersey Devils VS. (M3) New York Rangers
The Devils are hot as hell, no way around that. They’re one of the youngest teams in the league and it shows. This team has an unbelievable amount of youthful energy and if I had to pick a group that exemplifies the phrase, “high flying,” it’s these guys right here. Jack Hughes is finally looking like the correct number one overall pick, Dawson Mercer is one of the most underrated pure scorers in the league, and even Nico Hischier is destroying his draft bust status. Dougie Hamilton ended up being a fantastic, albeit expensive, addition to the lineup. The problem is they’re like character creation in a video game. They put all their XP points into offense, level 100 Charizard type shit, but against some great teams I think they’ll be wishing they spared some for defense. Now let’s talk about the boys on Broadway. This team desperately needs a cup given their absurd midseason acquisitions. Both Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane may be out of their primes, but both of them are certified Cup champions with incredible career highs and acquiring not just one, but both of them, shows a level of gutsiness I’m honestly glad some GMs still have in them. Igor Shesterkin may not be the Vezina winner he was last year (we scored seven goals on him twice, by the way), but he’s still a great backstop behind a blossoming defense with Adam Fox and Keandre Miller. This offense is also a monster when they feel like it and I’m sure in the playoffs, they’ll absolutely feel like it. Artemi “Breadman” Panarin makes a shit ton of dough and deserves it all having the most consistently quiet 100-point seasons ever. Chris Kreider is an energetic net-front menace that doesn’t stop scoring and behind this booming first line is a truly solid amount of depth. All in all, with the crazy momentum they got in the last leg of the season, this team might put on a show on hockey’s biggest stage.