The 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs kick off on Wednesday, and all 16 teams have a shot at winning it all. Here's why each of them won't make it.
When the playoffs kick off on Wednesday, 16 NHL teams will have a shot at raising the Stanley Cup, but only one of them will. Here’s a look at why each one could be one of the 15 teams that miss out on postseason glory.
Playoff Seed: W1 | First Round Matchup: Colorado Avalanche
While the Predators have excelled in just about every facet of the game this season, they’re also the NHL’s most penalized team. Keeping out ut of the box will be a point of emphasis for Nashville, as will be getting the most out of a surprisingly middling power play. Special teams will be a big factor as the Preds make their way through a stacked Western Conference bracket with several teams ready and waiting to play spoiler.
Playoff Seed: C2 | First Round Matchup: Minnesota Wild
While the stats are there, this team thing on playoff experience, including in goal. Connor Hellebuyck has been fantastic in taking over the Jets' net this season and is coming off his busiest pro season yet. He'll be playing behind a banged-up defense that is getting shutdown blueliner Jacob Trouba back in the lineup, but is missing Dmitry Kulikov and Tobis Enstrom to start the postseason. Can Dustin Byfuglien be the anchor?
Playoff Seed: C3 | First Round Matchup: Winnipeg Jets
Can the Wild somehow stop the Jets from scoring? Few teams have been able to—only the Lightning scored more goals than Winnipeg this year. Ryan Suter’s season-ending injury is a crushing loss to Minnesota’s back end, and Devan Dubnyk, who has had two great years for the Wild, has not been quite as up to the task this season in tending the Wild nets. Mikko Koivu is a great defensive center and the Wild have plenty of other solid d-men to help offset the loss of Suter, but that defense will be tested early and often.
Playoff Seed: WC2 | First Round Matchup: Nashville Predators
Once you get past the trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, the Avalanche don’t have a whole lot of depth on the forward lines. Hitting the playoffs sans defenseman Erik Johnson isn’t helpful to the cause, especially with the goaltending responsibilities being entrusted to Jonathan Bernier in Seymon Varlamov’s absence. If the depth doesn't come, it won't be a long run for Colorado.
Vegas Golden Knights
Playoff Seed: P1 | First Round Matchup: Los Angeles Kings
We won't waste anyone's time with carriage-turning-into-pumpkin jokes. Vegas is clearly one of the best teams in the NHL. But the Knights face a brutal road to the Cup Final. A potential Kings–Sharks–Predators draw is a gauntlet of physical, experienced playoff teams. Marc-Andre Fleury has had a stellar season, but his career playoff numbers—including a .908 save percentage—could spell trouble.
Playoff Seed: P2 | First Round Matchup: San Jose Sharks
No team is immune to the injury bug, but the Ducks have been afflicted quite often. Most pressingly, Cam Fowler doesn’t appear likely to get back any time soon. Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson form a good top pair, but it’s fair to be concerned about the group after them with no Fowler or Kevin Bieksa. With Gibson ailing, the Ducks turn to Ryan Miller. While he’s the very definition of capable, experienced backup, Gibson is among the league’s best, and Anaheim's chances to go far in these playoffs are low without him and Fowler in the lineup.
San Jose Sharks
Playoff Seed: P3 | First Round Matchup: Anaheim Ducks
Better versions of this team have already fallen short. Joe Thornton is still out with a knee injury that forced him to miss 35 games and stud deadline acquisition Evander Kane is playing banged-up. A middle-of-the-road power play could use a boost, but probably won't find one against the Ducks' fifth-ranked penalty kill. Dropping five of six isn't a great way to head into the postseason, especially for a matchup with rival Anaheim.
Los Angeles Kings
Playoff Seed: WC1 | First Round Matchup: Vegas Golden Knights
Outside of Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick, this Kings team seems fairly thin. Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli and Trevor Lewis, guys that made an impact on L.A.’s last Cup win, are still there, but none scored more than 47 points this seaosn. The team is reportedly hoping to get d-man Jake Muzzin back for the first round, but if the Kings don’t have him or shot-blocker Derek Forbort on the blue line, the defensive corps looks worryingly thin as well.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Playoff Seed: E1 | First Round Matchup: New Jersey Devils
After a long first season as a starter, Andrei Vasilevskiy is tired. The Vezina frontrunner for much of the season faded down the stretch, and so did his team’s Presidents’ Trophy chances. He complained in the press that he hit a wall after 50 games. A Stanley Cup run would bring him to around 80 total starts.
Playoff Seed: A2 | First Round Matchup: Toronto Maple Leafs
Will the Bruins’ health be an issue in the postseason? Losing Brandon Carlo is a huge hit to the defensive corps, and trade deadline prize Rick Nash is still working his way back from a concussion. Depth forwards Riley Nash and Sean Kuraly are healing up as well. Even as the team gets back to full strength, there have been some glaring issues in recent weeks, most notably Boston giving the the first goal in its last six games, a trend that won’t serve them well in the playoffs.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Playoff Seed: A3 | First Round Matchup: Boston Bruins
Does Frederik Andersen have enough gas in the tank to backstop a two-month playoff run? He posted a .896 save percentage over his final 12 appearances, and while the future is bright for Toronto’s young blueliners, Andersen is still likely in for an onerous workload backstopping a team content to fly up and down the ice.
New Jersey Devils
Playoff Seed: WC2 | First Round Matchup: Tampa Bay Lightning
Having wrested the starting job from Corey Schneider, who wasn’t the same after a January groin injury, Keith Kinkaid is one of this year’s prime picks to be the hot goalie who becomes a household name while carrying a plucky underdog on his back. He is also one of this year’s prime picks to see his breakout second half exposed in the harsh light of playoff hockey (of which he has never played a minute) by the offensive onslaught of a superior team, as the Devils’ first-round opponent Tampa Bay is.
Playoff Seed: M1 | First Round Matchup: Columbus Blue Jackets
The Capitals claim they’re feeling more free without the lofty expectations this season, but the narratives exist for a reason. This is a much shallower team on paper than its predecessor from the 2017. Philipp Grubauer’s rise has been a great story over the last few weeks of the regular season, but having to go with him over a struggling Braden Holtby is troubling. Add in the fact that to get out of the Metro portion of the bracket, Washington has to get through a hot Blue Jackets team and then a potential matchup with the Penguins.
Playoff Seed: M2 | First Round Matchup: Philadelphia Flyers
The biggest issue with the Penguins lies in their crease: Matt Murray is coming off his worst pro season yet, and he’s entering the postseason without a decent backup netminder. Pittsburgh’s deep offense can help carry the weight in front of a suspicious defense and inconsistent Murray, but if he can’t find his game, a shot at a Cup three-peat is in serious doubt.
Playoff Seed: M3 | First Round Matchup: Pittsburgh Penguins
Goalie Brian Elliott was brought in over the summer to help stabilize a volatile situation in net and instead had himself a roller coaster of a season. He’s played just two games since February 10. Behind him, Petr Mrazek hasn’t been any more sound since coming over at the trade deadline. Things won’t get any easier in the opening with Philly facing a Pittsburgh team that swept their season series, posting 20 goals in those four games.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Playoff Seed: WC2 | First Round Matchup: Washington Capitals
Last season, the Blue Jackets bought wholesale into John Tortorella’s system, ripped off 16 straight wins, got another Vezina Trophy-winning season out of Sergei Bobrovsky and ... ran out of gas in April, folding in the face of the eventual champion Pens in a five-game series that was, for all intents and purposes, over before the first game in Columbus. For a franchise still searching for its first playoff series win 17 years on, that abrupt end to a dream run can have multi-year aftershocks, and getting over the hump against the desperate Capitals is an ambitious ask. Tortorella’s no-shortcuts style got his teams into late May at roughly this point in his Lightning and Rangers tenures (never mind about that season in Vancouver), but the Blue Jackets would need a lot of very young players to rise to the task—and their woeful special teams to take advantage of some of those shortcuts—to make any headway.