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Blues Rants Super 16: Playoff Edition (Part 2)

While some current players like the Boston Bruins’ Brad Marchand have experienced the elation of hoisting the Stanley Cup, forwards like the New York Islanders’ Leo Komarov, San Jose Sharks’ Joe Pavelski and Winnipeg Jets’ Mark Scheifele look to earn the most prestigious trophy in hockey for their team for the first time in their careers.

As any sports fan could tell you, there’s nothing quite like the playoffs.

The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs kick off on April 10th and millions of avid hockey fanatics around the world will be tuning in. Thirteen American and three Canadian teams will represent their city in what has been called the most exhilarating playoff tournament in all of sports.

In the second of this four-part article, we’ll break down some of the biggest hits and misses, NHL’s “Super 16” style, to look for in each playoff team. These assessments could be long-term points or just recently occurring towards the end of the regular season. We’ll cover the second-place finishers of each division in this article in the Boston Bruins, New York Islanders, San Jose Sharks, and Winnipeg Jets.

1. BOSTON BRUINS (49-24-9), Atlantic Division

The Boston Bruins roster is back on the rise after they failed to qualify for the playoffs for two years. While veterans like Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron continue to play better with age, new kids like David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy are lighting the lamp with electrifying play that will sure to benefit one of the league’s most storied franchises for years to come.

Pro – Pain and Gain

The Boston Bruins injury roller-coaster was in full motion this season. As it stands, David Krejci is the lone skater to dress 80+ games this season. No one was safe from the injury or illness bug this year, including Pastrnak and Bergeron, who both missed 16 games. Even Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and leading point-scorer Marchand suffered injuries in late December. Yet for all of the roster blows, the Bruins still held a top 10 spot in most team stats (GA, PP%, SOG, SVPCT).

Let’s analyze it post-All-Star game. From January 29th-March 9th, the Bruins put two players on I.R. (including the 27-13-5 goaltender Tuukka Rask) and listed five players as day-to-day. In that 39-day stretch, the Bruins went 15-0-4 for a 19-game point streak, one of their longest in franchise history. The injuries didn’t stop there, either; the Bruins lost seven of their players from March 9th to the end of the season to injury. Imagining this roster fully healthy and ready for the postseason should have their Eastern Conference matchups shaking in their boots.

Con – The Playoff Bracket

The Boston Bruins, without question, would have the toughest opponents to face in the playoffs right out of the gate. Round one: you’re up against the all-too-familiar Toronto Maple Leafs (cue 2013). Oh, they added John Tavares to make the most lethal top 6 pairings in the league, too. Make it past them, and your next opponent is most likely the Tampa Bay Lightning, who played like a team possessed all year. If you make it to the Conference final though, it’s a piece of cake. All that’s left is the odds-on chance of playing the previous Cup champions for the last three seasons in either Pittsburgh or Washington.

All things considered, if we were to bet on Washington again, the Bruins would have to knock off no. 1, no. 4, and no. 7 in points in the entire league before even getting to the actual Final. It makes you wonder why Bruins president Cam Neely isn’t that found of the current playoff structure. Regardless of those standings, however, we all know the playoffs are a completely different beast compared to the regular season, and the six-time Stanley Cup winning Bruins look ready to face it this season.

2. NEW YORK ISLANDERS (48-27-7), Metropolitan Division

The New York Islanders’ season has been a surprise to everyone in the league. After missing the playoffs for two consecutive seasons and losing their longtime captain John Tavares, the goaltending, new blood, and defending Cup head coach Barry Trotz helped bring the Islanders back into a serious playoff contender.

Pro – Dynamic Duo

The New York Islanders came into the new season with little expectations. They finished last in the Metropolitan and dead-last in Goals Against in 2018. Head coach Doug Weight was fired after his first and only season with New York. They lost their franchise captain John Tavares in a controversial free agency signing. Long story short, things weren’t looking great in Long Island at the end of the summer.

Enter Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner.

The goaltending tandem consistently kept New York in the playoff race from start to finish, and the Islanders never lost more than two games in regulation because of it. Thomas Griess had a career year with the Islanders this year, posting a 23-14-2 record, a 2.28 GAA (4th in the NHL), and a .927 save percentage (4th in the NHL). Robin Lehner had a career year as a qualified goaltender as well, going 25-13-5 with a 2.13 GAA (3rd in the NHL) and a .934 save percentage (2nd in the NHL).

These goaltenders put up a combined .925 save percentage, which earned them the Jennings Trophy for best save percentage in the league. Those numbers have also contributed to the top Goals Against average this year, after being 31st in 2017-18.

Con – Under-Powered

While the goaltenders have stood on their heads in Long Island, the offense for the Islanders hasn’t quite been on par. The Islanders are 22nd in goals-for this season and 29th in both the power play and shots-for. Only four players on the roster have 50+ points, including new captain Anders Lee. The biggest worry is that no Islanders player has 30+ goals this season (Lee is closest with 28) and only three players have 20+ (Brock Nelson and Casey Cizikas have 25 and 20, respectively). Their goals-for percentage is second-last among the playoff teams this season, only ahead of Dallas.

As mentioned in the previous segment, fights and penalties go down and scoring goes up in the playoffs. Considering their first-round opponent Pittsburgh is 6th this season in goals-for and a consistent top-5 in that stat since they won the cup in ’16, the Islanders will need a performance by both the goaltending and their offense in order to stay in the postseason. Thankfully, their new kid Mat Barzal may be up to the challenge: he has 44 assists and 62 points in just his third season in Long Island.

3. SAN JOSE SHARKS (46-27-9), Pacific Division

The San Jose Sharks, while still without their first franchise Stanley Cup, are thirstier than ever after getting to their first Cup Final appearance in 2016. The Sharks have a star-studded roster that only got better with the addition of defenseman Erik Karlsson at the beginning of this season. With most of this current roster holding the franchise records for the Sharks, they will be a tough customer looking to bring the Cup back to their part of the Golden State.

Pro – Smelling Blood in the Water

The San Jose Sharks depth offense has been something supernatural this season. Eleven, count ‘em, eleven players have over 30 points, and eight have 50+. The best part about that number is that nine of those eleven are forwards for the Sharks. That translates to only three lines that have under thirty points, or three of the four forward lines. In addition, Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson are in the top 20 for points by defensemen; Burns at no.1 with 83.

Con – “The Slump”

The Sharks had only lost three straight games in regulation once this entire season. Then March 14th happened. The Sharks dropped seven games in a row and went 1-8-1 shortly after riding a 6-game winning streak to clinch a playoff spot. The way they lost wasn’t pretty, either: losses to their state rivals Los Angeles and Anaheim and six losses to non-playoff teams. The other two were against their first-round opponent Vegas and Nashville.

To make things worse, star forward and captain Joe Pavelski was injured in the 3-7 loss to Vegas. Finally, Erik Karlsson missed 17 games due to a groin injury, only rejoining the roster in the final game of the regular season.

4. WINNIPEG JETS (47-30-5), Central Division

The Jets had their most successful season and playoff run in franchise history last season, falling short to an unexpectedly dominant Vegas Golden Knights. The Jets walked through Minnesota and whited out the Predators, who won the President’s Trophy last year. Under the tenure of Paul Maurice, the Jets look to further the success they’ve had the last 4 years in the postseason.

Pro – Young Guns

Taking a look at the Jets’ roster, there’s no shortage of talent. Finnish superstar Patrik Laine has been tearing up the league in just his 3rd year in the NHL, amassing 30 goals this season and 184 career points. Connor Hellebuyck was runner-up for the Vezina Trophy last year and has an impressive 34-23-3 record. Captain Blake Wheeler, in his 8th straight year with Winnipeg, matched his career-best with 20-71-91 this season.

The best part about the rest of this roster: half of their players are 25 or under and combine for 397 of the team’s 728 points. With expectations set even higher than last year, the future looks bright-white for Manitoba.

Con – Black n’ Blue Line

The Jets went without two of their best defensemen Josh Morrissey and Dustin Byfuglien for over a month. Look into any postgame interview for the Jets and you’ll likely hear something about the “Hard Gap” or how much they miss these two defensemen contributing to it. Byfuglien and Morrissey are two of the top assisters for the Jets, but they also bring a defensive and neutral zone lockdown.

The “Hard Gap” referenced earlier pertains to the Jets’ aggressive gap control and forecheck. That playstyle has attributed to their team’s identity and success. Despite that, while the offense has kept Winnipeg to 24-11-3 in Byfuglien’s absence, the Jets dropped nine games from February to the end of the regular season with 5+ goals scored by the opposition. They only lost three in that fashion prior to that this entire season. The silver lining is Dustin Byfuglien’s return just in time for the playoffs.

While some teams have an unreal roster with tons of firepower, the wins still haven’t always gone their way. Still, all four of these squads had lots of playoff success in previous seasons, and it will be no different this season. Stay tuned to read through the bottom 8 teams, with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Vegas Golden Knights, St. Louis Blues, and Pittsburgh Penguins coming up in part 3.

For more local Blues stories, insights and more, visit bluesrants.com!

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