Why each playoff team will win the Stanley Cup—and why it won't

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Monday April 10th, 2017

There’s 16 NHL teams at the start of the postseason but only one of them will be left standing when the dust clears to raise the Stanley Cup.

Every team has a legitimate reason to think they’ll be the first to 16 wins—a high-scoring offense or an elite goaltender, for instance. But there’s also a flip-side to that: each squad has a hole in their game, be it suspect defense or subpar special teams, that will throw a wrench into their Cup parade plans along the way.

Here’s a quick look at why each playoff team has a shot at hockey's biggest prize, and why they don't have a chance at winning it.

ANAHEIM DUCKS

Why They’ll Win

The Ducks defied expectations after swapping Bruce Boudreau for old friend Randy Carlyle behind their bench, stringing together their fourth straight 100-point season and fifth straight divisional title. No Western Conference club allowed fewer goals per game than Anaheim (2.40), and only Chicago also employs multiple goalies with 30-plus appearances and a .915 save percentage or better. Indeed, the further the Ducks fly this postseason, the more they’ll appreciate the flexibility offered by John Gibson and Jonathan Bernier’s two-headed tandem. And even after missing most of October while negotiating his shiny new contract, forward Rickard Rakell ranks fifth league-wide with 28 even-strength goals this season, ahead of names like Marchand, Kane and Laine. The path seems favorable, too; Anaheim went 4-1-0 against Calgary, its first round opponent, during the regular season, and 5-1-4 combined against Edmonton and San Jose, the No. 2 and 3 seeds.

Why They Won’t

For all of their defensive prowess, the Ducks have been a run-of-the-mill flock in offensive production under Carlyle, matching San Jose for 17th in goals per game (2.67) and ranking 19th in 5-on-5 shot attempt differential (49.65%). The one-two punch will always exist up the middle between the Ryans, Getzlaf and Kesler, but wingers like Corey Perry and Jakob Silfverberg will need to deliver more than their zero combined goals during last spring’s seven-game, first-round disappointment against Nashville. And say the Ducks advance past Calgary. What happens if they meet Edmonton in the conference semifinal and need to defend Connor McDavid (seven points in five games vs. Anaheim in ‘16-17) for 25-plus minutes of total ice time each night?

— Alex Prewitt

NHL
2017 NHL playoff schedule

BOSTON BRUINS

Why they'll win

When Bruce Cassidy took over for Claude Julien behind the bench, he made a couple of simple tweaks that really paid off for the Bruins down the stretch. There was a little extra offensive vigor on a team that excels at possession (54.7 CF%, best among playoff teams), cranking a league-high 33.2 shots per game and adding some depth scoring behind breakout stars Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. In net, Tuukka Rask is among the NHL's elite netminders and can be the difference when it comes to stealing a series. 

​Why they won't win

There's a host of issues plaguing this team. Perhaps the biggest heading in are the injuries to defensemen Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo, two of Boston's top minute-eating blueliners. If they're out for an extended period of time beyond the start of the Round One series vs. Ottawa, the Bruins' top-10 power play and penalty kill will pay the price. Also not helping matters? The team is 5-14 against the rest of the Eastern playoff squads, meaning that even when healthy, the Bruins have their work cut out for them to advance out of the conference.

—Michael Blinn

CALGARY FLAMES

Why They'll Win

From February 21 through the end of the regular season, the Flames were playing as well as any team. In that timeframe, only five clubs around the league scored more than they did, and among those teams, only Boston (+20) had a better goal differential than Calgary (+18). While the Flames skidded ever-so-slightly over the final week, entering the postseason on a 1-3 slide, it’s hard not to see Calgary making some noise with how hot it was over the final month and a half. It also doesn’t hurt that the Flames have one of the most productive trios in Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund—all of whom are in the top 30 in scoring among the Western Conference. They spearhead a power play unit that ranks fourth in the West (20.2%) and second among total goals on the man-advantage (55). When it comes to the postseason, special teams (cliché aside) tend to become even more important in games that are oftentimes decided by one goal. Fortunately for the Flames, they have a formidable power play group and a penalty kill that quietly squandered 81.6% of their opponent’s chance, good for fifth in the West.

Why They Won’t

History certainly isn’t on their side. The franchise has won just one series since 2009-10, a first round matchup two years ago. Asking them to string along not one, nor two, but four separate best-of-seven series to win the Cup is a tall task for a team with such little postseason experience. Making matters worse for the Flames is their first-round opponent. Anaheim is a tough team for them to go toe-to-toe with as evidenced by a 1-4 mark against them this season. Looking down the road, Calgary went 0-3-1 against Edmonton and 1-2 versus Chicago—all three of those teams are among the Cup favorites. While they have looked invincible at times (see: their 10-game winning streak), this is still a team whose core players are in their early-to-mid 20s, a sign that suggests this franchise will compete for the title eventually, just not this season.

— Kyle Phillippi

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CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

Why They’ll Win

Outside of Edmonton’s pair of Connor McDavid  and Leon Draisaitl, no duo has combined for more points this season than that of Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin (163). It doesn’t stop there, though. Chicago touts four of the top 30 scorers in the Western Conference, including Jonathan Toews (58) and defenseman Duncan Keith (53). Those four are then followed by two more high-profile players who all at least 22 goals and 44 points in Artem Anisimov, Marian Hossa and Richard Panik. In other words, this is a Blackhawks team capable of beating an opponent in many ways, making them a tough out in any series. There’s also the fact that this is a squad that’s been there and done that multiple times and features a goalie in Corey Crawford who has backstopped a pair of Cup runs. Edmonton can score with the best of them, but when it comes down to a seven-game series, Chicago is hard to pick against.

Why They Won’t Win

Special teams are always play a big role in the postseason, and oddly enough, Chicago had only the 19th-best power play in the league (18.0%) and a penalty kill that sat near the bottom at 24th (77.7%). It seems hard to imagine a unit that includes the bevy of superstars in Chicago’s lineup could only muster 42 goals on the man-advantage—that’s 22nd among all NHL teams. If the Blackhawks are going to come out victorious when the season concludes, they’ll have to be able to not only score on the power play, but be able to shut down the opposition’s attack. Mind you, this is a Western Conference that features four of the top 10 power play units in the NHL. The only playoff team in the West that has a worse power play is San Jose. Looking ahead, the East is likely to send one of the league’s top power play units to the finals in Washington or Pittsburgh. 

—Kyle Phillippi

Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

Why They’ll Win

Only five teams in the East averaged more than three goals a game and all of those squads are in the postseason. Among those teams, Washington (2.16) and Columbus (2.35) rank No. 1 and No. 2 in goals allowed. The Capitals will be a hot pick to win the Cup, and deservedly so, but that doesn’t mean the Blue Jackets should be slept on. In their five matchups this season, four of the games were decided by one-goal with the teams splitting those matchups. In other words, the Blue Jackets are more than capable of winning a seven-game tilt against Washington, and that’s saying something since the East more than likely will run through the nation’s capital. Any team that touts a former Vezina winner and a potential two-time recipient of that award—Sergei Bobrovsky boasts 41 wins and a ridiculous 2.06 GAA—has a chance to go the entire way, too.

Why They Won’t Win

Quite honestly, it’s tough to find a specific flaw on this Columbus team. If there is something to point to, though, it’s what happened down the stretch: a six-game losing streak that eventually ended with a 3-2 win over Toronto in the finale. Since March 22, the Blue Jackets have a 3-8 record and went 1-5 in games against playoff teams. They only scored more than three goals once in that span, too.  Perhaps the most concerning tidbit, though, is that they go into the playoffs with a power play that ended the year on a 1 for 25 run dating back to March 16. Before their skid, they were 21.9% when playing with a man-up; they now sit at 19.9% and eighth in the East. If the Blue Jackets are going to reach their potential and make a Stanley Cup run, they’ll have to find a solution for what’s going wrong on the power play between now and their first round game or else their 50-win season will be for naught.

— Kyle Phillippi

EDMONTON OILERS

Why they'll win

Connor McDavid. All due respect to Sidney Crosby, but McDavid is the most talented hockey player in the world now. He may not be as well rounded as Crosby just yet, but nobody, not even No. 87, can do the things McDavid does at such high speeds. He’s the biggest reason the Oilers are where they are, and they’ll go as far as he takes them. That’s not to say Edmonton is completely helpless without him; after all, Leon Draisaitl had a 75-point campaign, and there are other weapons at their disposal. And, not to be forgotten, Cam Talbot has been real solid between the pipes.

Why they won't win

A lack of defensive depth will prove costly. Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson are nice pieces, but beyond them, there’s just not enough talent on that Oiler blue line. Experience will also be a factor. Just like Crosby learned during his first taste of playoff hockey, there are things that need to be shored up and adjustments that have to be made in the postseason; things that the best players take to heart and prepare for the next time around. The Oilers will be back, but they’re not ready for a deep run just yet.

—Daniel J. Friedman

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MINNESOTA WILD

Why They'll Win

They finished their season with four games against the likes of the Avalanche, the Hurricanes and the Coyotes so, yeah, they're pretty well rested. Also, a team can't win without goaltending and the Wild have that in spades: Devan Dubnyk had the second best 5-on-5 save percentage in the Western Conference this season among goalies that logged 2000 minutes. They can score too, leading the West in goals this season. Sure, they had an ugly March but with a beatable first round opponent in St. Louis, no one should write this team off.

Why They Won't 

Head coach Bruce Boudreau has never won a Stanley Cup, even with much more talented teams. Getting out of the Central division will be tough: the Blackhawks, who eliminated them in the second round of the 2014 and 2015 playoffs, could be waiting. 

—Joshua Kloke

MONTREAL CANADIENS

Why they'll win

They've got the best goaltender in the world in Carey Price, and a balanced attack when it's clicking on all cylinders. Max Pacioretty scored 35 goals and signing Alexander Radulov, who notched 54 points in his first full NHL season since 2007-08, turned out to be a stroke of genius. Shea Weber is built for playoff hockey and, along with Andrei Markov, will lead the Habs' defense accordingly.

Why they won't win

It’s tempting to simply write “Chris Kreider” and leave it at that, but unfortunately for Montreal, there’s a lot more to it. The Habs have the right pieces, but haven’t gotten nearly enough production from them. Alex Galchenyuk hasn’t been consistent enough, and players like Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Plekanec have essentially been nonexistent. Paul Byron is a real nice player to have, but if he’s second on your team in goals and fourth in points, you’re in trouble.

—Daniel J. Friedman

David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

Why they'll win

This is the best defense in the NHL. Between P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm, Nashville’s blue line can play with efficiency and productivity at both ends of the ice. The Preds’ offense also might be the best they’ve ever had in the franchise’s history, with a formidable core led by Ryan Johansen, and a pair of 31-goal scorers in Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson.

Why they won't win

You still get the sense they're one more piece away from truly contending for a Stanley Cup. Their forward depth is solid, but ideally, they could use at least one more forward in addition to James Neal in the secondary scoring department that is a legitimate threat with the puck. Goaltending has also been a bit of a question mark, which was a surprise. Juuse Saros showed that he can fill in quite admirably when Pekka Rinne has faltered, but that’s not a situation anyone wants come playoff time.

—Daniel J. Friedman

NEW YORK RANGERS

Why they'll win

The Rangers don’t have big names up front, but they’ve got lots of scoring depth. Mats Zuccarello, J.T. Miller, Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider each had between 53 and 59 points, while Kevin Hayes was right behind them with 49. Michael Grabner was a nice surprise, finishing with 27 goals. Lest we forget, New York also has Henrik Lundqvist, still one of the best goaltenders in hockey when he’s at the top of his game. That hasn’t always been the case this season, but the expectation is that he’ll step it up a notch in the playoffs.

Why they won't win

For all their depth, the Rangers lack a pure finisher. Rick Nash is supposed to be that guy, but even at his best, he has underperformed. Ultimately, the better teams in the field just have more potency in their respective arsenals. New York’s defense has also taken multiple steps back over the past few seasons, and it showed in 2016-17. Beyond Ryan McDonagh and Brady Skjei, there’s just not much there. Lundqvist has proven that he can hold back much of the water when the dam bursts, but that’s never a recipe for success.

—Daniel J. Friedman

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OTTAWA SENATORS

Why They'll Win:

For the Senators, it all starts in net. Craig Anderson has been the backbone of this team all season long, both with his usual on-ice play and in an emotional sense. He's given Ottawa something to rally around this season. Of course, it's always a positive to have a guy like Erik Karlsson quarterbacking the offense. The annual Norris Trophy candidate posted a team-leading 71 points in 77 games on the season, though here's some offensive depth, too: nine players tallied double-digit goal totals, including Bobby Ryan, who returned to the lineup just in time for the playoffs. Helping matters a bit more? They play the Bruins in the first round a team they frustrated to no end in the regular, going 4-0 against.

Why They Won't Win

Beyond Karlsson, there's not a whole lot of 'wow factor' on this team. The Sens aren't especially great at 5-on-5, and they don't match up well with the Bruins when it comes to special teams. There's a lot of young talent on Ottawa's roster, but the majority of team's success will fall to Anderson, who may be physically and emotionally drained following a very long regular season. He'll have to do more than steal games; he'll have to commit larceny on an entire series.  

—Michael Blinn

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

Why They'll Win:

It starts with Sidney Crosby and ends with Matt Cullen: The Penguins have unmatched depth down the middle, giving them four formidable lines that can do just about anything. It certainly helps that Sid had put pucks in the net at the second-highest rate of his career, and getting Evegni Malkin back for a run makes Pittsburgh that much more dangerous. Another place coach Mike Sullivan won't have to worry much? His net, with a tandem of Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury, both capable of carry a team all the way.

Why They Won't Win

The Pens have been struck by the injury bug throughout 2016-17, and losing defenseman Kris Letang for the remainder of the season hurts in a big way. Having a marquee defenseman has been a hallmark of recent Cup-winning teams, so someone will have to step into that role in his absence, but who? Justin Schultz, fresh off a career season, will get the first crack at it, but he'll need help from veterans Trevor Daley and Ron Hainsey, back from their own stints on the DL. It's not insurmountable, but it's something to keep an eye on.

—Michael Blinn

Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

SAN JOSE SHARKS

Why They’ll Win

Start with the beards. Hockey’s most hirsute club follows the lead of its bushiest members, Norris Trophy-favorite Brent Burns and No. 1 center Joe Thornton. The former assembled numbers more outlandish than his Leprechaun-inspired wardrobe collection this season, leading the league with 320 shots on goal and falling just one short of becoming the first 30-goal blueliner since 2008-09 (Mike Green). At 37 years old, meanwhile, Thornton averaged only 0.63 points per game, his fewest in almost two decades, but Jumbo never forgets—the Sharks came oh-so-close to nabbing their first Stanley Cup last spring, and knows what it takes to get back.

Why They Won’t Win

After a long playoff run, an offseason shortened by the World Cup of Hockey, and a roster that regularly dresses four 35-year-olds, coach Pete DeBoer was most concerned about burnout affecting his team. “Obviously we all know the history of teams that have gone to the Final and have Stanley Cup hangover,” he told SI.com recently. “I think we wanted to make sure that we didn’t fall into that trap.” The worries now seem justified. Since March 1, San Jose lost its grip on first place in the Pacific Division and has just nine wins in its past 20 games. Thanks to Milan Lucic’s third-period hat trick, last Thursday’s playoff preview against Edmonton ended in a 4-2 loss, the Sharks’ third in five meetings with the Oilers this season. Goalie Martin Jones was stellar in backstopping San Jose to its first-ever Cup Final appearance, but he’ll need to perform better than an .882 save percentage in his last eight outings.

— Alex Prewitt

ST. LOUIS BLUES

Why They'll Win

The Blues ratcheted up the offense down the stretch, especially Vladimir Tarasenko, who potted 23 goals after the calendar hit 2017, and Jaden Schwartz, who notched 11 points in the final 11 games of the season. While the goals were a welcome change of pace after a slow start to the season, goalie Jake Allen also shook off a rough patch and posted a 16-7-2 record to go with a 1.85 GAA and .938 save percentage. His uptick in play came after St. Louis swapped in Mike Yeo Ken Hitchcock as head coach on Feb. 2, due in part to improved defensive play. There's a whole lot of confidence and swagger on this team, and it could help it finally get over the hump in its quest for the Cup.

Why They Won't Win

The Blues will have their depth tested, with forward Robby Fabbri and Paul Stastny out of the lineup, forcing them to put younger players like Ivan Barbashev into bigger roles. The same goes for the defense, which has seen an increased burden fall on Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester after the team dealt Kevin Shattenkirk at the trade deadline. Complicating matters is that any run through the West starts with getting out of a tough Central bracket that includes Minnesota, Chicago and Nashville.

—Michael Blinn

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TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

Why They'll Win

Well, after the Cubs won the World Series in November, it's pretty easy to believe anything can happen. It's the Leafs centennial season, so it would make one hell of a story. It's a bit tough to find actual on-ice reasons why they'd win though. They're a fast, dynamic young team who will play with very little to lose. The Leafs likely didn't expect to be here and are playing with house money, a dangerous proposition in the playoffs.

Why They Won't

They play the Capitals in the first round and their already spotty defense may have taken a hit with an injury sustained by Nikita Zaitsev on Sunday night. Simply put, the rookie-laden Leafs don't have nearly enough playoff experience to contend this time around. But they'll take their licks and be even more dangerous in the coming seasons.

—Joshua Kloke

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

Why They'll Win

Good things come to those who wait. Year after year, the Capitals remain the vogue pick to win it all and they made the necessary upgrades at the deadline to put this team over the top. They drew an easy first-round matchup and will likely see the Penguins and Blue Jackets go seven games, making the winner tired and beatable for the second round. The Jennings-winning team had the lowest even-strength GA/60 and we almost always see more even-strength, low scoring hockey in the playoffs. And yet they can score: Backstrom is having a career year. They're coming into the playoffs hot, winning 10 of their last 12, and with no clear favorite otherwise, it's finally their year, right? (Right!?!)

Why They Won't:

The longer a contender goes without winning that elusive first Cup, the bigger that mental hurdle becomes. All the talk about the Capitals not being able to get it done in the playoffs could be beginning to wear on their core. It will just be a mental war of attrition for the Caps because they have all the tools to get it done otherwise. 

—Joshua Kloke

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