The annual 16-team battle for the Stanley Cup is officially underway with the first slew of teams kicking things off Monday night, and for the next month, the field will get slowly whittled down one brutal best-of-seven series at a time.
It’s been quite a season in the NHL, but I’m guessing that 95% of Sea of Blue readers were kind of checked out the entire regular season and have no idea who’s good, who the big names are, and, most importantly, who’s going to win?
Here are some of the big stories to know as the first round rolls on:
The Boston Bruins had perhaps the greatest season of all time
65 wins, 17 losses. Sixty-five. No NHL team has ever won that many games before—in fact only four have ever hit the sixty mark. No NHL team has ever accumulated as many points as the Bruins have either, with 135 for the black and gold (in hockey standings, you get two points for a win, one for an overtime loss, and zero for all other losses). If there’s ever a year to bring home a title, it’s this one, but teams running circles around their competition in the regular season have failed to come through in the postseason before, in hockey and in all other sports.
The Edmonton Oilers have the best player in the league
Connor McDavid at center has smashed records this season as he’s led the Oilers to another strong season and playoff seed, leading the league with 153 points and 64 goals. What’s making the Oilers even more dangerous is they also boast the league’s second-highest scorer: Leon Draisaitl with 128 points. Could they topple the Bruins? They’ve got to get out of a tough first-round matchup with the Kings first...
The Panthers followed up last year’s 1-seed with slipping into the last Eastern Conference spot this year, but get to face Boston in the first round. The Jets are back after missing last year, but Pittsburgh finds themselves in the unusual position of being on the outside looking in—something they haven’t done in 16 years. The Flames also, well, flamed out at the end and took horrible losses to Chicago and Vancouver late that doomed them.
It’s going to be a grueling, intense, explosive month on the ice, as unlike the regular season all games that go to overtime continue 5-on-5 as normal until a team scores, even if it takes all night. Few sports get more intense than a Stanley Cup playoff game in OT, and the first couple of them are already going down just a few days in. Will the Bruins run away with it? Or will fans be wondering what could’ve been? We’ll find out...