Ed. here. The National Hockey League regular season ends in a couple of weeks. We haven't heard a whole lot from our National Hockey Analyst, Poor Len Canayen, presumably because "his" team (the Montréal Canadiens) have been atop the Atlantic division most of the year, so we call on him now to explain why Les Glorieux will win the Stanley Cup... or not. Len?
Thank you, Ed. Here is the view from Ste-Thérèse, or Centre Ice, as she is known en anglais. Although the final standings are yet to be finalized, the picture of which teams will make the playoffs is pretty clear. I'll run it down for you, so you'll know which way to bet. First, the four contenders in each division.
A much stronger division than could have been expected at the beginning of the year, thanks to an amazing run by the Columbus Bluejackets, backstopped by Sergei Bobrovsky, who looks to have a lock on the Vezina Trophy.
Washington Capitals finish in first, followed by Columbus, Pittsburgh Penguins and, just to make up the numbers, Tampa Bay Lightning.
After the first 11 games of the season, I figured the Montréal Canadiens would run away with the division, the Eastern Conference, and maybe the entire NHL. I didn't think they'd have to struggle to finish first. But they did and they will, provided Carey Price stays healthy and happy under Claude Julien. The Toronto Maple Leafs, with three great rookies, look to be in the playoffs, as do the Ottawa Senators, making possible a three-cornered battle to advance.
Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto and New York Rangers should be the final four, but I'm hedging my bet with a little money on Boston Bruins.
The Chicago Blackhawks dominate the division and the Western Conference, with all-star forwards and fine coaching from Joel Quenneville. The Minnesota Wild (stupid name -- what's wrong with "Moose" or some other animal?) deserve to finish second.
Chicago, Minnesota, Nashville Predators, and St. Louis Blues. Only the first two matter.
Two more Canadian teams look like going to the playoffs. Well, one, anyway -- the Edmonton Oilers. The Anaheim Ducks (formerly Mighty Ducks) and San Jose Sharks are the ones to beat. Bet on the Calgary Flames to squeak into the playoffs, only just.
Anaheim, San Jose, Edmonton, Calgary.
Now for my fearless predictions.
In the Metropolitan Division, I see the Caps choking, as usual. You can have a great goaltender (Braden Holtby) but you need more than one guaranteed ace scorer. If you have one, you're got a chance, which lets Columbus out. Winner: Pittsburgh Penguins.
If they do make it into the playoffs, Rangers won't go beyond the first round in the Atlantic Division. "King Henry" Lundqvist is past his best-by date. I'd love to see Montréal and Toronto clash, for the first time in many years. The Maple Laffs have been unable to beat the Habs since, errr, 2014, so that's a no-brainer. If it's Montréal vs Ottawa, you pick 'em. Winner: Montréal Canadiens.
Calling the Central Division is easy. The only question is how many games it will take Chicago to dispose of Minnesota. Winner: Chicago Blackhawks.
When it comes to the Pacific Division, I'm going to forget the analytics, and perhaps common sense too. Calgary will be lucky to be in the playoffs at all, but could be spoilers. My hope is for the Oilers to face off against the Sharks or the Ducks and surprise them, with the series-winning goal to be scored by... wait for it... little David Desharnais! Winner: Edmonton Oilers. [I'll take that bet. Ed.]
Eastern Conference - I can only avoid statistics, analytics and common sense for so long. The Canadiens have the Greatest Goaltender in the World (TM) in Carey Price, but not one single forward that you can count on to score. The Penguins' goaltending is suspect, but with Sid the Kid and at least two other certified scorers, I don't see how they can lose. Pittsburgh over Montréal in 5 games, or 6, tops. Sorry.
Western Conference - Following the same reasoning, I don't think it matters much who wins the Pacific Division. The Blackhawks have the size and the speed, plus adequate goaltending and a bunch of guys who can find the back of their opponents' nets. Chicago beats Oilers in 5, or (if I was dreaming back there) Sharks in 7.
Stanley Cup Finals
That sets us up for another Chicago-Pittsburgh match-up, which would be a terrific contest between two evenly-matched teams, both of whom have hoisted Lord Stanley's silverware recently. My bet would be Chicago, in 7 close games. Lifetime pct .985.