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Once again, the NHL playoffs are one of the most difficult things to predict in all of sports. Even though there have only been five different Stanley Cup winners since 2009, the parody and the excitement of the sport is totally there. There have been way more upsets and a lot of people don't see them coming.
Speaking of upsets, the Washington Capitals finally dethroned the Pittsburgh Penguins in a six-game series. The Capitals, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Vegas Golden Knights, and the Winnipeg Jets are the teams that are left in the 2018 postseason. All of those teams have a combined one Stanley Cup victory and it belongs to the Tampa Bay Lightning and they haven't won since 2004.
If Tampa Bay is knocked out in the conference finals by Washington, it would be the first Stanley Cup Finals since 1999 (Buffalo Sabres vs Dallas Stars) that two teams would meet who haven't won a Stanley Cup title before.
Eastern Conference: (M1) Washington Capitals vs (A1) Tampa Bay Lightning: If some people predicted a Washington vs Tampa Bay Eastern Conference Finals before the regular season began, you deserve a pat on the back. Both of these teams have the talent to hoist the cup. The Capitals are playing a different game than they have been in the past. Instead of being selfish, they are playing for one another and paying attention to detail very closely. That's why they were able to dethrone the defending back-to-back champions on a fast-break game-winning overtime goal by Evgeny Kuznetsov in Game 6 on a pass by Alex Ovechkin. He has been leading by example for the Washington Capitals in these playoffs. The Kuznetsov-Ovechkin-Wilson line is going to have to make plays in this series. The challenge for them is facing a pesky Lightning defense. It is far better than what the Penguins defense had to offer. Tom Wilson needs to be the energizer bunny for the Capitals and he is coming off a three-game suspension. Washington must have Nicklas Backstrom healthy in this series. They have decent scoring depth like Alex Chiasson, Chandler Stephenson, and Jakub Vrana. The Lightning's top line in Nikita Kucherov-Steven Stamkos-J.T. Miller will be a handful for John Carlson and Michal Kempny. Braden Holtby and Andrei Vasilevskiy will be a fantastic goaltending matchup. The difference in this series will be which team can give up the fewest amount of odd man rushes. The pick: Lightning in 6.
Western Conference: (P1) Vegas Golden Knights vs (C2) Winnipeg Jets: Raise your hand if you had the Vegas Golden Knights and the Winnipeg Jets in the Western Conference Finals before the season began. Yeah, that's what I thought. Even though the Vegas Golden Knights won their division with 109 points, Winnipeg will get home ice because they had 114 points even though they didn't win their division. The Winnipeg Jets came off a tough seven-game series against the Nashville Predators and they won on the road in that series three times. Winnipeg is a rare breed of speed and physicality. The have very tall players at forward and at defense. It is very possible the Golden Knights are about to run into a buzz saw. It isn't disrespecting what Vegas has done. Marc-Andre Fleury has recorded four shutouts in 10 games, but he is about to be battled tested and face five to ten times better snipers in this round compared to the first two rounds combined like Patrik Laine, Paul Stastny, Mark Scheifele, and Dustin Byfuglien. Winnipeg's depth is also going to cause problems. William Karlsson and Johnathan Marchessault can't do it all by themselves in this series. Connor Hellebuyck's demeanor between the pipes for Winnipeg is the reason why they are still playing. The pick: Jets in 5.