SPNHL, Season 31: Round One Playoff Preview
That’s a wrap on the regular season! After a hard fought 5 weeks (unless you’re the Avalanche, who dominated the West for the whole season), the smoke has cleared and we have eight teams left to battle for the Stanley Cup! These next 3 weeks will push everybody to the limit in the pursuit of championship glory, and it will test the relationships that teammates have cultivated over the past month.
I’d like to extend my thanks to the San Jose Sharks, the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Edmonton Oilers, and the Toronto Maple Leafs for playing this season. Amidst certain obstacles, you all busted your assessment and made sure you fought hard every game in the attempt to make the playoffs. Now it’s back to the drawing board, and time to figure out a new strategy for next season.
For now, let’s focus on the remaining 8 teams and how they match up against each other. We’ll evaluate their regular season numbers, determine their strengths and weaknesses, and then make some bold claims on series predictions. Yes, you can hold me to these. I’ve already locked them in on the Discord server. In the words of Joey Diaz, “I’M GIVING YOU FUCKING LOCKS, PEOPLE”.
Philadelphia Flyers (Seed 1) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (Seed 4)
Philadelphia was predicted to finish second in the conference, while Tampa was projected to finish 3rd. As we can see, things don’t always play out like we expect them to and we are in for a goaltending battle this series. Chad has been phenomenal in net for the Flyers, while Vince and Back have back-stopped (get it?) the offensively underperforming Bolts to a playoff spot.
Philadelphia: goaltending. Chad had an MVP caliber season in net that should put him in talks for the Vezina and Hart trophies. If he keeps it up, the Flyers will be 4 wins closer to the cup.
Tampa Bay: goaltending. With a former Vezina winner in Vince as their starting goalie, and Back as their back-up (another one), the Lightning can have faith in their goalie and play a little riskier.
Philadelphia: expectations. This is the cop out answer, but a lot of people are expecting Philly to flop. We did it two seasons ago, as you ascend to the top of the conference but fail to advance in the playoffs. Plus, Philly didn’t play so we’ll to end the week, while the Bolts kept their momentum.
Tampa Bay: offense. Aali and TrueLegend are both great forwards, but their lack of production this season is a cause for concern in the playoffs. If their offense can’t get off the ground, then Tampa Bay are done for.
Advantage: overall, I give Philadelphia the advantage. The goaltending is about even, but the offensive and defensive edge go to Philadelphia. They’ve got a very deep team and no matter what five they put in front of Chad, they’ve got a very solid team.
Prediction: Flyers in 6.
New Jersey Devils (Seed 2) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (Seed 3)
The Devils return to the playoffs, claiming the second seed in the East while the Penguins scored more goals than the Bolts, thus breaking the tie and staking their claim as the third seed. The scrappy style of the Penguins is a huge clash for the calculated, sharp shooting style of the Devils. Theres gonna be a lot of goals in this series, so keep an eye out.
New Jersey: offense. When the Devils start scoring, it’s hard to stop them. With former Rocket Richard winners on the wings in Grammy and Rich, along with some strong offensive defenders at the point, the Devils have many offensive weapons.
Pittsburgh: grittiness. The Penguins go after the puck like it was a child stolen out from underneath them (watch National Geographic, kids). Their forecheck is among the best in the league, and their turnover capitalization rate is very high.
New Jersey: consistency. The Devils opened up last week with 3 losses in a row, but won all 3 on the last game day of the week. This isn’t new for New Jersey, who has been plagued with this problem all season long.
Pittsburgh: depth. Pittsburgh has a decent core of players, but their back-up options aren’t the strongest. Serg has underperformed this season, while Pliskin and Bundy are solid utility players who may not excel at every spot.
Advantage: I may be a bit biased, but I gotta go with Jersey on this one. If the Devils can rediscover their defense-first style and play a little more conservative against the hard forecheck of Pittsburgh, they’ll open up offensive opportunities and capitalize.
Prediction: Devils in 6.
Colorado Avalanche (Seed 1) vs. Winnipeg Jets (Seed 4)
The race for the final spot in the West was a combative one, but the Jets held off the Oilers and got the chance to challenge Colorado in the first round. This may look like a mismatch on paper (or digital script), but the Jets have beaten Colorado multiple times this season. Can they do it 4 out of 7 times? *Shakes Magic 8 Ball…*
Colorado: system. Colorado has employed a defense-first system for 4 seasons, creating opportunities on breakouts and keeping minimal shots and time on attack against. When you have elite forwards like Go_Marc and Scoop getting great breakout passes from Sedin and Egg, it’s ridiculously hard to stop.
Winnipeg: offense. The top line of Reap, Kidmoney, and Triix is an all-time great one in SP. Reap and Kid’s puck movement combined with Triix’s ability to finish can spell doom for any team, and it may be strong enough to break Colorado’s cup streak.
Colorado: expectations. Another cop out answer, but can you blame me? Colorado continues to build consistently exceptional teams, but how long can they continue to do so? That question has to be on the minds of the Avalanche.
Winnipeg: defense. The Jets have a great starting line, but their defensive depth is questionable. Beaster is a solid defender, while way2goal, Beto one, and NowYoDead are decent defenders. However, they don’t have a top tier blue liner who can pair with Beast to effectively shut down the attack of the Avalanche.
Advantage: the Avalanche are gonna face a tough team in the Jets in the first round. The games played here will be close, but ultimately, the overall skill of Colorado will be too much for the Jets as they progress on their way towards a 4th straight title.
Prediction: Avalanche in 5.
Anaheim Ducks (Seed 2) vs. Vegas Golden Knights (Seed 3)
This is a very interesting matchup, as it features a team projected to miss the playoffs as the higher seed against a team projected to win the conference as the lower seed. The Ducks have scrapped their way into the playoffs, while the Knights have been underachievers. However, we have two strong teams who are in for a very hard fought series.
Anaheim: goaltending. Snipeshotty had one of the best rookie seasons in recent memory, carrying the torch and stealing plenty of games for Anaheim. If he keeps up this level of play, he might be able to steal 4 wins this round.
Vegas: depth. With a top line of Prodigy, Stoner, NJ, GodsPlan, Uber, and Sliyum, the Knights are already starting strong. When you have Cuban, Frenchy, and Doug as your backups though? Sheesh. Top to bottom solid team with a good chance of making it out of the first round.
Anaheim: defense. CaptainCanada is a good defender and Shep is too, but there are not many other natural options at defense. The Ducks will have to play a good team defense in order to compensate for their lack of depth at the position.
Vegas: availability. Maybe they’ll have better availability in the playoffs, but the Knights have been plagued by availability this season. Between Sliyum not being around too much and Prodigy in the same boat, the Knights fell short in a few games that could have used their top guys, and that may be the case in these playoffs.
Advantage: if the Knights can get all their stars on the ice for the majority of this series, they should be able to overpower the Ducks and unfortunately for Snipeshotty, break the Anaheim Wall. This will be entertaining, but ultimately is gonna be won by the Knights in 6.
Prediction: Vegas in 6.
As we prepare for tonight’s festivities, I want to remind teams of this: these are the games that matter. The next potentially 21 games are more important than any other game you played this season. Treat every game like it’s a must-win, cut the fancy shit, and for the love of God, don’t dive (I’m looking at you, Grammy). But remember, you know, no pressure.
I apologize for my absence this past week, but I’m hoping to be present for an episode of SPNHL: Off the Ice this coming Saturday! Join Koz, Reap, Pliskin and I as we talk about how our teams did in round 1 and get our skewed perspectives on how round 2 will play out. In the meantime, best of luck to everybody tonight, tomorrow, and to the poor souls who may have to play on Friday!