The NHL season is well into the most exciting period of any league’s perennial cycle: the playoffs. Thus far, the playoffs have been eventful. The Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota Wild were the same old story: squeak into the playoffs late, bow out early. Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals failed again to make the conference finals, losing this time to Sidney Crosby and the Penguins in the second round. The Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers each had uneventful first-round series losses to teams still competing.
St. Louis, having lost their NFL team to Los Angeles, is rallying around their Blues, taking all seven games in both early rounds to make it to the conference finals. The top-ranked team in the Eastern Conference, the Florida Panthers, were unable to continue their regular-season success, and lost first round to the New York Islanders.
The Eastern Conference matchup is the Pittsburgh Penguins versus the Tampa Bay Lightning, while the Western Conference watches the St. Louis Blues against the San Jose Sharks. At the time of writing, both series are tied 1-1.
The Lightning are fighting injuries, headlined by one to their starting goaltender, Ben Bishop. The netminder went down with a leg injury during Game 1 of the conference finals, but there is hope he will be back at some point in the series. Their captain Steven Stamkos has not appeared yet in the playoffs, but looks to get back soon from a blood clot surgery.
Pittsburgh has found success across the ice, seeing 15 different players scoring. They have had trouble with penalties lately, though, and cannot seem to avoid squabbles this postseason. It is pivotal to them to remain disciplined and avoid cheap fouls that put key players in the penalty box.
For both of the teams remaining in the Western Conference, it is time to make history. The Sharks have never made the Stanley Cup Finals, and the Blues have not been there since 1970. Two power play goals helped solidify a 4-0 victory Tuesday night for the Sharks, and the series looks to remain fast-paced.
I am predicting that the Blues will again win in seven games, while the Lightning will overcome their injury deficits to advance after six games. In the finals, having Bishop back will prove to be the difference, and the Lightning take it in five.
Outside of the NHL, the World Championships are ongoing in Russia. Additionally, national teams are preparing for the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto this coming September, which is being played for the first time since 2004.