Western Courier

NHL playoffs underway

Christopher Bean, Sports Writer

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It’s April and that means its layoffs time. The NHL and NBA have both started their respective postseasons. This adds to an already jammed packed month of April in the sports world. You have the NCAA National Championship, the start of the MLB season, the Masters and the NFL Draft to end the month.

Yes, the NBA playoffs are fantastic and entertaining to watch, but you can’t forget about the NHL playoffs. Just like the NBA, the NHL has 16 teams battling it out a best out of seven series to determine the champion. During the playoffs you see a little bit of everything as the pressure boils up. You see big hits, ejections and triple overtime games. Those all are great things that make them entertaining to watch, but not my favorite. Whether your team wins or loses, the best thing to see is both teams shaking hands at the end of the series.

After each series ends, it gives me chills every time I see both teams line up and see how they show respect to one another. Especially, just moments after they were trying to beat each other. It’s one of the best traditions in all of sports.

There are many headlines in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Let’s start with the newest team in the league, the Las Vegas Golden Knights. In their first year as an expansion team, the Golden Knights had a 51-24-7 record with 109 points, winning the Pacific Division. With the expansion draft last offseason, the Knights were able to put together a respectable team, drafting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and left winger James Neal. Both players reached the Finals, but Fleury and the Penguins edged out Neal and the Predators. Fleury brings three Stanley Cups to the table and is looking to bring a cup to Vegas.

Vegas has already moved on to the second round of the playoffs. They swept the LA Kings on Tuesday night. Fleury only allowing three goals in four games with two shootouts. He was the first star in three of those games. James Neal assisted in the game winning a goal in game two, and a goal in game three earning the second star behind Fleury. As long as those two keep playing the way they are, it will be tough for other teams to win against them in the playoffs. An expansion team has never won in its first year in the league. The closet being the St. Louis Blues in 1968 making it all the way to the finals. The Knights try to make history with being the first ever expansion team to win it all in its first year.

My second headline has to be the team that came out of the Western Conference last year and the President Trophy winners, the Nashville Predators. They had a great run last year, falling two games short of lifting the cup over their heads. They have proven why they are an even better team this year, leading the league with 117 points, and second in wins with 53. They were the story of the playoffs last year being a wild card team that made the finals. Not only have they been one of the best teams since last spring, but they have the best crowd, who pushed them all the way to the Finals. \The Predators arguable have one of the best goalies in the league with Pekka Rinne. At the age of 35, he had 42 wins during the regular season. He is finalist for the Vezina Trophy for the third time in his career. This trophy is awarded to the best goalie in the regular season. Rinne hopes he can be the best this postseason and lead Nashville to its first ever championship.

Another go to guy Nashville looks to is P.K. Subban, who is one of the best defenseman in the league. The Predators traded their captain at the time, Shea Weber to the Montreal Canadians for him before the 2016-2017 season. It wasn’t the easiest decision to trade Weber, but it has paid off. Subban brings that fire and edginess to his locker room. Behind these two great players, and the best crowd in hockey, the Predators try and bring their first cup to Nashville.

My third headline is the defending back-to-back champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Pittsburgh has created the new dynasty in hockey with the best player in this generation, Sidney Crosby. Since Crosby came into the league, he has led the Penguins to four Stanley Cup appearances, and won three of them. The captain has them back in the playoffs yet again. With the help from Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, they put themselves in a great position to win another one. The Penguins look to become the first team to win it three times in-a-row, since the New York Islanders won it four times in-a-row from 1980-83.

Lastly, will Alexander Ovechkin make it past the second round of the playoffs? There is no question that he is one of the best goal scorers the league has ever seen. But since Ovechkin has been in the league, he has never made it to the Conference Finals. The lasts two years Washington has had the league’s best record and fell short in game seven in the second round losing to Pittsburgh both times.

This year they didn’t have the most points, but they won the Metropolitan Division for the third straight year. I understand that Ovechkin has played well in the playoffs, but when you have a great team like he’s had the last three years, you need to find a way to get to the Conference Finals. Everyone bashes LeBron for having a horrible finals record. But at least throughout his career he got his teams to the finals even with very weak teams.

The Capitals are currently losing 2-1 in a great first round matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Every game has been decided in overtime, and the away team has scored the final goal to win. It’s time for Ovechkin to prove why he’s such a great goal scorer and get his team past the second round!

The NHL playoffs are off to a quick start with a lot of big names. There is a lot of expectations for the many teams left standing. But only one team will be holding the cup over their head skating on the ice for the world to see.

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NHL playoffs underway