The NHL playoffs have started off with a bang with some great games but we have not seen any teams from the North as of yet. We have two series: the Toronto Maple Leafs vs. the Montreal Canadiens and the Edmonton Oilers vs. the Winnipeg Jets. All four of these teams have a chance to bring the Stanley Cup back to Canada for the first time since 1993 when Montreal beat the LA Kings for the cup. However before we even think about who could win the cup we need to wait and see who can win the north. Let’s break this down series by series.
OILERS VS. JETS
On Wednesday night the 3rd seeded Winnipeg Jets will be battling the 2nd seeded Edmonton Oilers. Both of these teams have not had much success in the most recent playoff years. The Oilers have not made it past the 1st round since the 2016 / 2017 season. The Oilers also were very disappointed last year, when they lost to the Blackhawks in the Qualifying Round. This year the Oilers are expected to do much better. They are still going to be relying on their two best players to take them all the way. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. McDavid finished the season with 105 points in just 56 games, hitting the 100 point mark in just 53 games. Draisaitl also had a great season with 84 points in 56 games.
The biggest worry for the Oilers is their secondary scoring. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl combined for 189 points while the rest of the team only combined for 305. This has been an issue for the Oilers for the past 5 years and is still an issue for them this season. A difference maker for the Oilers could end up being Mike Smith. Mike Smith has played one of the best seasons of his career. He finished the year with a 2.31 GGA and a .923 save percentage plus 3 shutouts. Smith has helped the Oilers win low scoring games when their top two players couldn’t light the lamp.
The Winnipeg Jets did not finish the season the way they wanted to, only winning 3 of their last 10 games. They slid from battling for first in the north to barely hanging onto third. The Jets don’t have the star power the Oilers do however they have more depth scoring. For the Jets to have success they need to be able to run three to four lines throughout the game and use their speed to control the Oilers. Although they don’t have superstars like the Oilers, the Jets have some very good players. Mark Scheifele is someone to really watch for Winnipeg. Mark finished the season with 63 points in just 56 games. The Jets also have ten forwards with twenty points or more while the Oilers only have five.
The Jets also rely on goaltending like the Oilers. Connor Hellebuyck started in 45 out of the Jets 56 games this season. He has been a workhorse just like any other year. Hellebuyck has 4 shutouts with a .916 save percentage with a 2.58 GAA. The Jets are going to need Connor to play even better in the playoffs to give his team a chance. The Biggest issue for the Jets could really end up being their defense. The Jets have lost a lot of key players on their back end that they really did not replace.
I do feel the Jets will win this series however it will be very close. These two teams are very evenly matched. I feel the Jets depth will make the difference. As long as the Jets are able to slow down Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl they will win this series. I predict the Jets are taking this series in seven games.
LEAFS VS. HABS
The second series in the north will be the Toronto Maple Leafs vs. the Montreal Canadiens. A lot of people feel this series will be easy for the Leafs however that is not how I see it. The Montreal Canadiens have been banged up towards the end of the season however they seem to have a full lineup back. Weber, Price, Gallagher and Danault should all be back in the lineup. Drouin is still out for personal reasons and no one knows when he will be coming back. For Montreal to have a chance vs. the Leafs they are going to need to play a physical game.
The Canadiens defense is big and strong and likes to punish anyone coming into their zone. They are going to have to play like this to slow down the Leafs high flying offense. The Canadiens have been having a lot of trouble scoring so they need to keep the scoring as low as possible. Goaltending is also going to have to be sharp. Price is expected to start in game one for the Habs however he has hardly played of late. If Price is able to find his game he can make a huge difference for his team. If not Jake Allen has had a great season.
With these two teams playing in back to back games for game three and four we should see both goaltenders. Montreal is going to need strong goaltending, great defense and last but certainly not least to play very physical to have a chance vs. the Maple Leafs.
The Leafs are going to need to play a very fast and skilled game to take down the Habs. The Leafs really need to get past the first round of the playoffs. The Leafs have not made it past the first round since 2004. They have been working on rebuilding this team into a playoff contender for the last 5 years. Kyle Dubas made a lot of moves before the season trying to find the missing pieces to make this team succeed in the playoffs. Toronto still has the top line talent that they have had for the past 4 seasons but they added some much needed toughness.
This team is still led by Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Willam Nylander, John Tavares and last but not least Morgan Rielly. Auston Matthews had a fantastic season with 41 goals in just 52 games. Matthews really came out firing this season playing alongside Mitch Marner. Marner with 47 assists had a huge impact this season as well. The Leafs are going to need Marner and Matthews to keep up their amazing play in the playoffs. Toronto is also going to need bottom six scoring to help them pass Montreal. Jason Speeza is going to need to lead the charge for the bottom six scoring and keep making an impact. They also need the bottom six to play physical to help keep the Habs in check. The final piece the Leafs will need to work to win will be the goaltending. Jack Campbell is going to start game one for his first ever NHL playoff game. Campbell has had an amazing season starting the year 11-0. He finished the year with 17 wins, 3 loses and 3 overtime losses. Jack is going to have to keep up his amazing play to help the Leafs win this series.
There is a very good chance we will see Freddy Andersen in for either game three or game four. He will also need to play well to help the Leafs get past the first round. The biggest worry for Leafs Nation is definitely their power play. Their five on five play has been great and it has made the power play not as big of an issue this season. The power play looked amazing to start the season but it really seemed to lose it’s edge. Sheldon Keefe has been working on the power play a lot of late in practice and it has looked better in their last few games. Let’s hope for the Leafs sake they are able to fix this power play. If not this could really hurt Toronto. If they miss too many chances with the man advantage it could cost them the series.
I feel the Leafs will win this series but it will be closer than others think. This series should end up going six games. Montreal will be able to keep the Leafs somewhat in check but they won’t be able to stop the Leafs scoring power. As long as the Leafs are able to keep playing strong five on five hockey, don’t get pushed around too much and get strong goaltending they should win this series.
At the end of the day we never know how the playoffs will go. We see shocking upsets every year. One thing we do know this will be one of the most exciting playoffs for fans across Canada as we know for sure a Canadian team will make it to the semifinals and have a strong chance to bring the Stanley Cup back to Canada.