Storylines for the Stanley Cup playoffs


(Zhao Hanrong/Xinhua/Sipa USA/TNS)

The Los Angeles Kings’ Anze Kopitar, right, controls the puck against Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland on February 26, 2017, at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The two teams clash again on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, in Las Vegas.

Brian Carpenter, Staff Writer

The Stanley Cup playoffs have arrived. Starting Wednesday night, 16 teams will battle for Lord Stanley, a trophy that dates back all the way to 1893. With a compelling regular season of hockey wrapped up, let’s take a look at the five biggest storylines heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Golden Knights qualify in franchise’s first season

When the NHL announced that a new expansion team was coming to the league in Nov. 2016 with the team starting play in 2017-2018, a lot of predictions had the Golden Knights finishing in last place in the entire NHL before the season began.

Little did people know the season they were about to have. Vegas got off to a hot start, winning eight out of its first nine games in October. They would continue that impressive play all the way to the Pacific Division crown and finish with the third-most points in the Western Conference and fifth-most points in the entire league.

With a roster filled with players from an expansion draft held last June, the Golden Knights have become the most successful expansion team in NHL history. Before the Knights, the Florida Panthers of the 1993-94 season finished with a total of 83 points in 84 games.

The ’94 Panthers were the only team in expansion team in NHL history to finish with more than 80 points in a season before the Golden Knights. With a tough series ahead with the Los Angeles Kings, it is hard to predict how far Vegas can go in these playoffs.

But nobody can deny the impact this team has made in their first season in the NHL.

Can the Pittsburgh Penguins three-peat?

The Pittsburgh Penguins have established themselves as one of the most successful franchises in all of sports in the past ten years. Since the 2008-09 season, the Penguins have been to four Stanley Cup Finals, winning three of them. In the last two seasons, the Penguins have beaten the San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators, respectively, with each series ending in six games.

Led by players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, the Penguins will once again be a team that will be a tough out for any team. Pittsburgh is looking to become the first team since the 1980-83 New York Islanders, to win at least three straight Stanley Cups. The Penguins will open up with their in-state rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, in what should be one of the most exciting and physical first round matchups.

Can the Toronto Maple Leafs or Winnipeg Jets finally bring the Stanley Cup Back to Canadian soil?

In what has been a typical storyline heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs for a Canada-based team, the Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs will have to deal with similar questions.

The last time that the Stanley Cup was won by a team in Canada was the Montreal Canadiens in 1993, when they defeated the Los Angeles Kings in five games. Since then, four Canadian teams have been able to make it to the final but would fall short (Vancouver Canucks (twice), Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Ottawa Senators).

Not only are the Jets and Leafs looking to bring a Stanley Cup back to Canada, but they also are looking to pull off achievements for their specific franchises. The Winnipeg Jets have never won a championship in their history and the Toronto Maple Leafs are looking to win their first championship since 1967. The Jets will open up with the Minnesota Wild while the Maple Leafs will open with one of their biggest rivals and fellow Original Six member, the Boston Bruins.

Can the Washington Capitals overcome their playoff demons?

The Capitals drafted Alex Ovechkin in the first round of the 2004 NHL Draft. Since Ovechkin joined the team in the 2005-06 season, the Capitals have been able to qualify for the playoffs nine of those seasons (with this year being the 10th). However, the team has never been able to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals.

This is despite the team winning the President’s trophy (the trophy awarded to the team that finishes with the most points in the NHL regular season standings) three times. Another season has passed, and it sees the Capitals finishing a top of the Metropolitan Division. Washington will open up with the Columbus Blue Jackets in the hopes that this will be the season they can finally bring a Stanley Cup to Washington and finally get a cup for one of the best players in the game Alex Ovechkin.

Will this be the last season we see the current playoff format?

Since the 2013-14 season, the NHL created a playoff format that is their equivalent to the NCAA March Madness bracket. Each division would have the top three teams making it, with the teams finishing second and third playing each other. The team finishing first in each division would get to play one of the two remaining wildcards (in each conference). The team that finishes with the most points plays the second wild card and the other first-place team faces the first wild card.

While some people love this format because it increases divisional rivalries and brings about more compelling first round matchups, this format gets just as many criticisms. One of the major ones is that strong teams are forced to play in tougher first-round matchups and can be eliminated earlier than expected.

The playoffs and its format have seen a ton of changes over its long history so never rule anything out when it comes to next season. But as of now, we can look forward to some really intriguing first-round matchups and possibly second-round matchups like Pittsburgh and Washington, Boston and Tampa Bay, Anaheim and Los Angeles and Winnipeg and Nashville.