Columnists, Sports

Dropping the Gloves: First in division not necessarily a bid for a Stanley Cup playoffs run

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov is first in points right now with 69. PHOTO COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The Stanley Cup playoffs are approaching fast, and this is the time in the season it matters to have a hot streak. The teams that are hot going into the playoffs always have success through several series of play.

The first place team of each division is at an advantage, with home-ice in the first two series. And knowing that you’re the top team is an added bonus to your confidence. Will the current first place teams be the final four in the conference semifinals round? History tells us no, especially with the lack of playoff experience from these four teams.

Washington Capitals
Washington is known for choking in the playoffs, and this season probably won’t be much different for Alex Ovechkin and company. They’ve been doing well all season, but it’s nearly impossible to trust that they’ll be the team hoisting the Stanley Cup at the end. 

In an age of two-way players, Ovechkin isn’t the answer for the Capitals. He’s a goal scorer and a showman, and that’s about it. Yes, he scores a lot of goals, but he can’t and doesn’t play defense. When you’re the star of the team and you can only perform one way, it’s not likely that you’ll make it far. 

Washington just resigned center Lars Eller to a five-year contract extension. Eller plays a significant role on the ice, and knowing that he’ll be around for a while longer could help boost the team’s stamina through the playoffs. 

No matter where the Capitals are in the standings going into playoffs, they’re always in their heads about the idea of possibly choking at the end. 
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning last saw a Stanley Cup Finals in 2015, but they’re the only current first place team that have ever won a cup. They were close to claiming a second title in 2015, but fell to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Nikita Kucherov is dominant on the ice and on the stat sheet. He’s first in points right now with 69, and he’s been fighting with Ovechkin and Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin all season for the most goals. Kucherov is a fearsome player, and Tampa Bay’s playoff success will stem from him.

If any first place team on this list has a chance to win the Stanley Cup, it’s the Lightning. They’ve slowly made their way back to the top without a lot of spotlights on them. With Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Tyler Johnson on the roster as well, Tampa Bay is going to be hard to out skate in the playoffs.
Nashville Predators

Nashville is the most recent team to lose in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Predators have been fighting for the No. 1 spot in the Central Division all season with the Winnipeg Jets. 

After a devastating Stanley Cup Finals loss last season, the Predators also lost their captain. Mike Fisher announced his retirement over the summer, but it was short lived. Fisher recently announced he will be coming out of retirement and back to Nashville. Fans were excited, but this change up in leadership could affect how the team works.

Roman Josi is now the captain and Fisher’s return could upset the balance that the Predators have maintained all season. Fisher won’t be coming back for a while because he needs to get back into hockey shape, but if he comes back for the playoffs, the stark change in roles could set Nashville off balance.
Las Vegas Golden Knights

Now talk about an underdog, the Golden Knights weren’t expected to perform at any high level, especially by me. But they’ve been performing at a high level since day one. 

The team could be in peril though, with alternate goaltender Malcolm Subban out indefinitely. 

Las Vegas is still going strong with Marc-Andre Fleury, but if an injury arises during the playoffs, it will severely affect its chances. Fleury is performing at the peak of his career with the Golden Knights, but I still don’t believe they’ll be able to take it all.

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