San Jose Sharks – Matt Harrington
The San Jose Sharks trailed 3-1 in their first round series against the Vegas Golden Knights, but rallied back to force a game seven on home ice. Down 3-0 with 11 minutes to play in that game, the Sharks carried out an incredible comeback to win 5-4 in overtime and advance to the second round.
It’s a complete turnaround for a franchise that has endured years of playoff choking. In the 2008-09 season, the Sharks had the top record of any team, only to lose in the first round of the playoffs to the Anaheim Ducks. In 2013-14, San Jose blew a 3-0 series lead against the Los Angeles Kings in the first round.
This playoff series was the first in Sharks franchise history in which they came back to win after trailing 3-1. Add in the crazy comeback in game seven, and it seems like the Sharks are destined to make a run to the Stanley Cup Final.
San Jose also has one of the league’s future Hall of Fame players on its team: 39-year-old Joe Thornton. Thornton has totaled 1,478 career points, which is the 14th most in NHL history.
Thornton has made the All-Star Game six times and even won the league’s MVP, but the Stanley Cup has always been the one thing missing from his lengthy career. This season may be Thornton’s last chance to win hockey’s ultimate prize and it certainly is a big motivatior for the Sharks.
Another motivational factor for San Jose is the injury to captain Joe Pavelski in game seven of the first round. Pavelski landed head first on the ice after an awkward collision with Vegas’ Cody Eakin and hasn’t played since. Eakin was ejected from the game, and that propelled San Jose’s impressive comeback in game seven.
This year’s playoffs have certainly been unpredictable, therefore I believe the Sharks will win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, and will defeat the Boston Bruins in seven games to claim the physical Stanley Cup.
Boston Bruins – Marshall Macaluso
If you made a bracket predicting this year’s NHL playoffs, then you’re either very lucky or just dead wrong. According to BetOnline entering the playoffs, the top five teams with the best odds to win the Stanley Cup were the Tampa Bay Lightning, Calgary Flames, Boston Bruins, Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals.
Four of those five teams are now sitting at home after an upset-packed first round. The only team from that list that still has something to play for are the Boston Bruins, who I predict will win the Stanley Cup.
The Bruins finished the regular season tied with the Calgary Flames for the second-best record in the NHL. With the first place Lightning and Flames both knocked out, home ice will be on Boston’s side for the rest of the playoffs.
Boston’s roster is built for the postseason, with a strong defensive structure but plenty of firepower, not to mention a championship caliber goaltender in Tuukka Rask. The team has many veterans, and showed that this isn’t their first dance by overcoming series deficits of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs for the third time this decade.
Captained by 42-year-old Zdeno Chára, not only is this team extremely deep, but the top two lines have been magnificent this season. Their top line, featuring Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, dominated opponents in goal differential, with almost 100 more scoring chances than their counterparts.
The youth of David Pastrnak and David Krejci are stellar on the second line, outscoring opponents 21 to 17. Against Toronto they combined to net four goals and record seven assists. The Bruins have home ice, defensive leadership, weapons on offense, a hot goaltender and plenty of playoff experience. They are the perfect package