The puck drops for NHL playoffs

The quest for hockey's Holy Grail
Posted Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - 8:20pm

The 2016-17 NHL regular season has drawn to a close, and mid-April marks the beginning of the playoffs and the quest for hockey’s Holy Grail, the Stanley Cup, begins. After the long and arduous season, the playing field has been dwindled down to 16 teams who all have the illustrious 34-pound trophy dead in their sights. In what is known as the NHL’s “second season,” the Stanley Cup Playoffs promise to be an adrenaline-filled roller coaster ride of a tournament.

The playoffs in the NHL have a March Madness-esque feel each year, and the top-seeded favorites are susceptible to an early round upset. It’s not unheard of for an eighth-seeded “underdog” to make a deep run, as the LA Kings did in their 2012 championship run. Will this year produce another modern-day Cinderella story?

Here are a few storylines to watch out for:

Can Pittsburgh win back-to-back?

Among the top contenders this season, the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins look to pull off a repeat, something that no team has pulled off in 19 years. This won’t be an easy task, however, as the team struggled at the end of the season and will have to make do without a few key players who are sidelined with injuries. But when you’ve got superstar Sidney Crosby on your team, you can never be counted out.

Will the #1 seeds go the distance?

The Chicago Blackhawks, another perennial top dog, will look to thwart the Penguins’ aspirations and win their fourth Stanley Cup title in seven years. Chicago also stumbled to the finish line before the season’s end, but have the depth and experience to flip the switch when their first-round series begins.

For the Washington Capitals, who finished with the league’s best record, this postseason will be an opportunity to “put up or shut up” before their window of opportunity closes.

Led by Alexander Ovechkin, the Capitals have had several dominant seasons but fell short of Stanley Cup glory time after time. Ovechkin, in his 12th season, is seeing the clock tick on his championship dreams as is the rest of the team’s aging core.

O Canada!

Last season, there was a rare no-show by all seven of Canada’s hockey clubs, an oddity which was reversed this season with five teams punching their tickets to the big dance. Of the five teams, the Edmonton Oilers look poised for an impressive playoff push after a decade-long rebuild. An MVP performance from Oilers’ star Connor McDavid, and the end to a 10-year playoff drought has instilled hope back into Canada’s “City of Champions” at long last.

As a side note, it is worth mentioning one of the teams absent from this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs: the Detroit Red Wings.

Detroit saw their 25-year playoff streak come to an end this season; a streak that was the longest active in all pro sports. Once known as “the Yankees of hockey,” the Red Wings were a perennial powerhouse in the ‘90s and 2000s and produced countless Hall of Famers in the process.

From 1995 to 2009, the Red Wings made six Stanley Cup appearances, winning four, including back-to-back titles in 1997 and ’98. They have since seen a sharp decline in their success, but their years of dominance will forever be etched into the trophy they were so fond of winning.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are an exhilarating event in sports that turns boys into men and mortals into legends. Whether you are a casual fan of hockey, or a seasoned fanatic, the NHL playoffs will keep you out of your seat and your heart pounding out of your chest.

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