Vegas run? Penguins’ 3-peat? Breaking down the Stanley Cup playoffs

Vegas run? Penguins’ 3-peat? Breaking down the Stanley Cup playoffs

We know now that a successful regular-season team can be built on the backs of everyone else’s third- and fourth-liners and fourth, fifth and sixth defensemen. That’s what we saw in Vegas, where overlooked and/or undervalued assets such as William Karlsson and Erik Haula turned into desert dessert dishes.

Now the lab experiment continues in a playoff tournament that opens without chalk or a powerhouse in the logical extension of the league’s unique philosophy of a low tide grounding all yachts. Now the Golden Knights, a delightful story and all, become another team trying to create a special history by winning it all without a league pillar in place, never mind winning it all in Year 1.

If Vegas is able to continue to beat the house, what’s next, Buffalo owner Terry Pegula offering to pay the league $500 million to start with a fresh slate and get in on an expansion draft, himself? Or do we hear $650 million?

The road to the Cup goes through Pittsburgh, where the Penguins managed the season perfectly in order to be in position to take aim at the first NHL three-peat since the Islanders won four straight to begin the ’80s.

Note to the Rangers: if Mike Sullivan could go without an NHL head job from 2006 to 2015, there is a championship coach out there waiting to be discovered. Note to Barry Trotz and Bruce Boudreau: Alain Vigneault was fired with much better postseason success than either of you.

A look at the field:

Top shelf

The PENGUINS, healthier than when they won it last year without Kris Letang and with Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino severely compromised, are replete with big-game gunners, but this time they don’t have Marc-Andre Fleury in place in case something goes wrong with Matt Murray. Trotz goes into the playoffs without a contract for next year with the division-winning CAPITALS even as his assistant, Todd Reirden, long ago got an extension and so did his GM, Brian MacLellan. What if the Caps win it — well, at least get to the third round — and Trotz pulls a 1964 Johnny Keane and walks out the door to New York?

Sidney CrosbyGetty Images

The LIGHTNING came out of the gate as Cup favorites, maintained a high level of play throughout the season, added Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller, and somehow seem less imposing than they did at the start. The BRUINS wobbled down the stretch, too, leaving a crack in the door to be exploited by a MAPLE LEAFS team whose management resisted the urge to accelerate its timetable at the expense at the deadline.

The PREDATORS built off their charge from the 15-hole to the Cup final, and is there a soul who doesn’t recognize who won the P.K. Subban trade? The JETS, dynamic and as entertaining as anyone, are in position to give the good folks of Winnipeg their first playoff series victory since 1987. And then there are the GOLDEN KNIGHTS, which is where we came in.

Middle shelf

The BLUE JACKETS, who still have never won a round, don’t have Sidney Crosby staring them in the face this time. The SHARKS and DUCKS, perennially just a bit short, mount up, as does the WILD, who likely won’t be able to overcome Ryan Suter’s injury.

Keith Kinkaid is the Devils’ starting goalie now.AP

The DEVILS, meanwhile, are playing with house money as they enter the tournament for the first time in six years, but are deep and dangerous enough to be taken seriously. The backup goalie, by the way, didn’t win a game after Dec. 27. The backup goalie is Cory Schneider.

Bottom shelf

Yes, the KINGS won it one time as the West’s eight-seed, but that was then when Darryl Sutter was fresh and all the rage. The FLYERS have come about as long a way as Nolan Patrick from Day 1, but appear out of their depth here. And maybe the Rangers’ opening night loss to the AVALANCHE shouldn’t have created as much concern as it did, given Colorado’s Cinderella act. On second thought, yes, it should have created exactly that much concern.

Playoff predictions

Larry Brooks

East

Quarterfinals

Capitals over Blue Jackets in 6
Penguins over Flyers in 5
Lightning over Devils in 6
Maple Leafs over Red Sox in 7

Semifinals

Capitals over Penguins in 7
Lightning over Maple Leafs in 6

Conference final

Capitals over Lightning in 6

Coach Peter Laviolette will lead the Predators to a Stanley Cup title, Larry Brooks predicts.AP

West

Quarterfinals

Predators over Avalanche in 5
Jets over Wild in 5
Golden Knights over Kings in 6
Sharks over Mighty Ducks in 7

Semifinals

Predators over Jets in 7
Golden Knights over Sharks in 6

Conference final

Predators over Golden Knights in 5

Cup Final

Predators over Capitals in 6

Conn Smythe:

P.K. Subban

Brett Cyrgalis

East

Quarterfinals

Lightning over Devils in 5
Leafs over Bruins in 7
Caps over Blue Jackets in 5
Penguins over Flyers in 4

Semifinals

Lightning over Leafs in 6
Caps over Penguins in 7

Conference final

Lightning over Caps in 6

West

Quarterfinals

Predators over Avalanche in 6
Jets over Wild in 5
Knights over Kings in 7
Sharks over Ducks in 4

Semifinals

Predators over Jets in 7
Knights over Sharks in 7

Conference final

Predators over Knights in 6

Cup final

Lightning over Predators in 7

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