Which team will head home with an extra 35.5 pounds of silver? Here's how we see things playing out in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Thirty-one NHL teams have whittled themselves down after an 82-game bonanza of goal-scoring, goalie interference mysteries and a still-raging MVP debate. Now, the fun starts. Sixteen teams begin the quest to beat the 15 other squads to a 16th win for the right to hoist the Stanley Cup above their heads.
Which team will head home with an extra 35.5 pounds of silver? Here's how we see things playing out.
PICK: Predators A season after surging to their first Stanley Cup finals appearance, the Predators one-upped themselves by capturing the franchise's first division title and Presidents' Trophy. Midyear trade additions like Kyle Turris and Ryan Hartman have strengthened Nashville's depth up front, while no team boasts a stronger blue line (sorry, Anaheim). If 35-year-old goalie Pekka Rinne maintains his Vezina-worthy form (42-13-4, .927, 2.31), then there is going to be a hell of a parade planned along Broadway.
PICK: Predators Why Nashville? It’s simple: Best defense? Check. Experienced goalie who is capable of carrying the team? Check. Four lines, four legit centers and plenty of playoff experience? Check, check and check. Add it all up and you’ve got a playoff winner.
PICK: Predators I refuse to be the guy who gives the Predators bulletin board material. They don't need it—they have enough depth up and and down the roster to go toe-to-toe with any and all of the NHL's heavyweights, and they'll do it in order to win the whole damn thing. Nashville will out-score, out-grind and out-play any team that dares get in its way.
PICK: Capitals Barry Trotz will be vindicated for riding Philipp Grubauer’s hot streak, and pundits everywhere will be vindicated for making this pick five years ago. Whereas the Preds seem like the clear class of the West, the East could go any one of five different ways. Without the burden of outsize expectation, something clicks in that infamous second round and the Caps never look back.
PICK: Lightning The Ducks have a lot of questions to answer this postseason. Is John Gibson healthy enough to play at his usual caliber? Can they outlast the Sharks in the first round and get Cam Fowler back for the later rounds? Could Kevin Bieksa return to help on the back end? Can those experienced forwards contribute clutch goals? If the answer to all of these questions is "yes", Anaheim will be very tough to beat. Now, one final question: can the Ducks beat the Lightning, which have, even with a far-from-perfect Steven Stamkos, excellent forward depth, top-tier defense, a burgeoning star in goal, and plenty of confidence after they outslug heavyweights Boston and Pittsburgh in the previous two rounds? The answer here will be no.