By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs are finally here.
And if you're in, as the Vegas Golden Knights proved last year, you have a shot. But you'll have to dethrone the Washington Capitals, the defending champions and No. 1 seed in the Metropolitan Division bracket, first. And perhaps no team is better built to do exactly that than the team they thumped out of postseason play than the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Presidents' Trophy winners this season and a team that matched the mid-90s Red Wings for the most wins in a single season (62).
The West is perhaps as wide open as it's ever been, too, with a Central Division that was separated by mere points, while the Pacific Division boasts perhaps the three deepest teams in the entire postseason picture from Skater 1 through 20.
So without further ado, here's a complete ranking of this year's postseason competitors and their chances of capturing Lord Stanley.
16. Colorado Avalanche (38-30-14, No. 2 wild card Western Conference)
If we include loser points, the Avalanche are the only team in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs to have more losses than wins this season. They weren't a great road team, either, and their status as the worst team in the postseason means that they're beginning every series on the road. It's tough to buy in on a team like that, even if they pushed themselves into the postseason with victories in seven of their final 10 games of the regular season.
15. Columbus Blue Jackets (47-31-4, No. 2 wild card Eastern Conference)
I actually like the Blue Jackets, like, as a roster and system. But they drew the shortest straw possible this spring by way of their first-round date with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Jackets added and added big at the deadline, acquiring Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel from the Ottawa Senators in separate transactions (they also added Adam McQuaid in a deal with New York), and putting it together in round one would be one hell of an accomplishment. But Columbus is going against a Bolts squad that took all three head-to-heads this season, and outscored them 17-to-3 in that three-game stretch.
14. Carolina Hurricanes (46-29-7, No. 1 wild card Eastern Conference)
The Hurricanes are a nice, fun story. But I think expecting this team to Storm Surge their way by the Capitals in their first playoff series since 2009 is wishful thinking. That said, you have some numbers that certainly favor the Hurricanes' hopes to pull off a first-round upset; Carolina finished as the league's top five-on-five possession club, and averaged the most shots per game in all of hockey (34.4), while surrendering the third-fewest per night (28.6). And now for a stat that hurts your favorite Caniac: The Hurricanes are in a bracket with the Caps, Islanders, and Penguins. They had just three wins in 12 games against those three teams, including a 0-3-1 record against their round one opponent and defending champion Capitals.
13. Dallas Stars (43-32-7, No. 1 wild card Western Conference)
Since Mar. 1, the Stars' 11-5-2 record gave them the sixth-most points in the NHL, their 25.5 percent mark on the man advantage ranked as the league's fifth-best, and their 88.9 percent success rate on the penalty kill was the NHL's fourth-best. This is a team that might be hitting its stride at the right time. There's also some serious high-end skill on this club.
12. New York Islanders (48-27-7, No. 2 seed Metropolitan Division)
The Islanders are your classic effort team. It's worked to this point, yes, but I just wonder if it's enough when going against a team with as much skill and experience as the Penguins. The Isles were also playing just a little bit over .500 hockey down the stretch, their special teams went out the window, and they had a negative goal differential.
Then again, Barry Trotz is coming off a Cup win...
11. Toronto Maple Leafs (46-28-8, No. 3 seed Atlantic Division)
The Maple Leafs have the center depth of a Stanley Cup threat; Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Nazem Kadri might honestly be the best 1-2-3 in the entire field. But their defense -- even with Jake Muzzin added to the picture at the deadline -- is a disaster, and Frederik Andersen is entering the postseason having faced the second-most shots in all of hockey this year. It's entirely possible that he dies of exhaustion at some point in the second round if the Leafs get by Boston.
10. Winnipeg Jets (47-30-5, No. 2 seed Metropolitan Division)
It's just plain impossible for me to ignore Winnipeg's fade down the stretch. The Jets were a .500 team from Feb. 25 through the conclusion of the regular season (10-9-1), and they looked even worse. They've also yet to face their first-round opponent (the St. Louis Blues) since the Blues turned their season around with one of the hottest finishes in recent memory. Nevertheless, the Jets have the talent to put it all together should they piece it all together using their home-ice advantage.
9. Nashville Predators (47-29-6, No. 1 seed Central Division)
I'd like to think that the Preds have at least one more deep run in them under head coach Peter Laviolette. They have the roster to pull it off, too, with a deep forward group and even better defense corps.
8. Pittsburgh Penguins (44-26-12, No. 3 seed Metropolitan Division)
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel are still on the Penguins. Same for Kris Letang. Oh, and two-time Cup champion Matt Murray is still in net. Until those guys are gone, there's no way I can rule out the Penguins. Pittsburgh has also turned it on of late, too, with the second-most points in hockey after the deadline.
7. St. Louis Blues (45-28-9, No. 3 seed Central Division)
The Blues fired head coach Mike Yeo and replaced him with Craig Berube on Nov. 20. Since then, the Blues are a ridiculous 38-19-6. Only the Calgary Flames (best team in the West) and Tampa Bay Lightning (best team in the East) were better than the Blues over that stretch. St. Louis also enters the postseason led by rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington. Binnington is 24-5-1 on the year, and was downright unbeatable at even-strength, with a .936 at evens.
This team could be finding its stride at the exact moment.
6. Calgary Flames (50-25-7, No. 1 seed Pacific Division)
The Flames come into the postseason with 50 victories and the second-best goal differential in all of hockey. But they're also expected to platoon Mike Smith and David Rittich in net out of the gate. It could work for a series, sure, but I'm not sure that's the best plan for a deep run, especially in the Pacific Division bracket.
5. San Jose Sharks (46-27-9, No. 2 seed Pacific Division)
My feelings on this opening round Sharks-Golden Knights series are pretty much my feelings on a potential Bruins-Lightning series in round. I think that the winner of this series could by all means go all the way to the Stanley Cup. The Sharks, mind you, are just a few years removed from their fourth-round showdown with the Penguins. Oh, and they added Erik Karlsson to their point before the start of the season, and though Karlsson has been hobbled at times, lest we forget that he almost singlehandedly carried the Senators to the Finals in 2017. This roster is a whole lot better, and the weight of the world is not on Karlsson's shoulders, which is good news for everybody involved (except to those in Ottawa).
The big question mark for the Sharks: Goaltender Martin Jones, who comes into the postseason with an .896 save percentage on the year, and a 5-6-0 record and .896 save percentage in 11 games against the Golden Knights. (Jones was a downright nightmare against the Golden Knights in round two last spring, with at least four goals surrendered in three of six games.)
4. Boston Bruins (49-24-9, No. 2 seed Atlantic Division)
The Bruins may very well be the second or third-best team in all of hockey.
They also have what might be one of the hardest roads imaginable if the odds hold, as a win in round one would likely mean a round two showdown with the league-best Tampa Bay Lightning.
But here's what you have to love about the Bruins: They've survived everything a regular season can throw at you. Injuries to Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Pastrnak, and Charlie McAvoy all at various points this season -- and at one point at the same time -- did not derail Bruce Cassidy's club. They have serviceable depth and backups at almost every position, including in net, as Jaroslav Halak is the best backup option the B's have had since the days of Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask dominating the Boston crease from 2009 to 2012. Their power play remains an effective weapon, and the Jake DeBrusk-David Krejci combination has only gotten better down the stretch no matter who's been on their right.
3. Vegas Golden Knights (43-32-7, No. 3 seed Pacific Division)
The Golden Knights were the surprise of the year (maybe even the decade) last season when they made it to the Stanley Cup Final in just their first season. The Knights have since built on this by adding Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty, and Mark Stone either via trade or free agency in the last calendar year. I mean, they legitimately upgraded at each forward position without losing anything from their NHL group. I think their first-round series with the San Jose Sharks is honestly the perfect way for them to start the postseason, too, as it would seemingly give them a leg-up on the Flames or Avalanche should they advance.
2. Washington Capitals (48-26-6, No. 1 seed Metropolitan Division)
I must admit: The Capitals are totally getting the Champs 'Til They're Not treatment here. But it's totally earned, I think. The Capitals didn't really strip their team down following last year's Stanley Cup win, and Braden Holtby may very well be the game's top goaltender this time of year. Since 2012, Holtby ranks second in playoff wins (45), and is tops in save percentage (.929) and goals against average (2.04). You know Alex Ovechkin would love another boatless booze cruise summer, too.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (62-16-4, No. 1 seed Atlantic Division)
This Tampa Bay team is probably the best team I've seen since the '90s Red Wings. They are just incredible. Loaded up and down the roster, and built to play any style of playoff hockey. They can beat you with their skill, they can muck it up for a grind-it-out series, and their coach is as experienced as they come with what's been a multi-year build to this moment. I know picking them to go all the way is perhaps the easiest thing one can do, but can 'ya really blame me?
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. He has also been a voting member of the Boston Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association since 2013. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.