"Pucks with Haggs" publishes columns twice a week and a morning skate links column daily during the week. Subscribe here and get Pucks with Haggs straight to your email! Please feel free to comment, share, like, etc. And become a premium subscriber for more perks and exclusive content! Thanks and see you at the rinks!
What’s the one thing we know about the Stanley Cup playoffs this time around as things get started this week?
It’s that thankfully everything is completely back to normal with the best postseason going in all of pro sports. There are no bubble cities where the games are going to have to be played due to COVID, NHL arenas are back to being packed with wall-to-wall berserker fans going nuts for their teams and last season’s crazy realignment that saw an All-Canada division has thankfully gone by the wayside as well.
For the first time in three postseasons, it feels like the genuine article of the Stanley Cup playoffs is finally back and it’s something even the players are joyfully admitting.
“A complete change from everything, pretty much, with how frustrating it was at the end of last year. Obviously, I wasn’t happy with anything that was going on [and happening] on the ice. And it’s definitely a different moment right now,” said Boston Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk last week while looking forward to the Stanley Cup playoffs. “It’s kind of interesting to play 82 games again. It’s a matter of life being normal again. There are fans in the stands and in [one of the final few regular season] games against Montreal, the crowd was pretty intense. It was pretty cool, obviously. There are just different types of things that make you remember what it was like to play in the National Hockey League, and that’s what we all love.”
That was amplified even further once the NHL’s postseason got going on Monday night with a handful of games. There will be more action on Tuesday and pretty much every night for the next two months as the best postseason in all of the different pro sports offerings takes center stage.
There will be storylines across the NHL whether it’s wondering how many postseasons remain for older NHL veterans like Patrice Bergeron and Sidney Crosby, wondering how young hockey bucks like Igor Shesterkin will do in their first postseason or trying to forecast whether this is indeed the postseason when Auston Matthews finally puts it together after a 60-goal regular season.
Will the Tampa Bay Lightning have enough in the tank to engineer back-to-back-to-back Stanley Cup championships after winning the last two, or have they played too much hockey over the previous two postseasons to dig down deep again?
Will Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers once again crap out in the playoffs as a monumental postseason disappointment?
Is anybody going to come out of the Atlantic Division playoff bracket where the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs could just beat the heck out of each other as we saw in Game 1 between the Bolts and Leafs on Monday night?
Are the Calgary Flames going to bully and bash their way to the Stanley Cup Final in the West, or are the Colorado Avalanche ready to finally live up to their vast potential after a number of playoff disappointments in recent years?
The questions are endless when it comes to the Stanley Cup playoffs and truly only the games will decide the ultimate answers. We’ll leave you with the wise words of 36-year-old Patrice Bergeron as the Stanley Cup playoffs get moving in earnest.
"Stay comfortable in the uncomfortable, I think that is the biggest thing, and enjoy the ride. It goes by fast, and I think that’s one of the things as an older player you want to let guys know,” said Bergeron, entering his 13th career NHL postseason with the Boston Bruins with 161 playoff games on his resume. “It's a privilege to be here and to make the most of it"
But with all of this in mind, here are the “Pucks with Haggs” predictions as things get rolling this week:
Florida Panthers vs. the Washington Capitals – Panthers in 5 games
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning – Maple Leafs in 6 games
Carolina Hurricanes vs. the Boston Bruins – Hurricanes in 6 games
New York Rangers vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins – Rangers in 7 games
Panthers vs. the Maple Leafs – Leafs in 7 games
Hurricanes vs. the Rangers – Hurricanes in 5 games
Eastern Conference Final
Leafs vs. Hurricanes – Hurricanes in 6 games
Colorado Avalanche vs. the Nashville Predators – Avalanche in 4 games
Minnesota Wild vs. the St. Louis Blues – Blues in 7 games
Calgary Flames vs. the Dallas Stars – Flames in 5 games
Edmonton Oilers vs. the LA Kings – Kings in 6 games
Avalanche vs. Blues – Avalanche in 7 games
Flames vs. Kings – Flames in 4 games
Western Conference Final
Avalanche vs. Flames – Flames in 7 games
Stanley Cup Final
Flames vs. Hurricanes – Flames in 6 games
Conn Smythe Winner – Johnny Gaudreau