On March 17th, TSN analyst and fancy-stats guru Travis Yost tweeted this:
Who wins? pic.twitter.com/bZB0xkVajT— Travis Yost (@travisyost) March 17, 2016
With the big dance of college basketball taking off just days ago, it seems like a highly relevant question: what would happen if the NHL playoffs were played out in a similar straight-bracket format? The top 16 teams, regardless of conference or division, make the playoffs and get paired up with literally any possible opponent for a best-of-seven showdown.
And perhaps the greatest part: literally any two teams could face off for the Stanley Cup. Canadiens-Bruins? Yep. Caps-Penguins? Yes, indeed. Rangers-Islanders? Oh, give it to me. Kings-Ducks? I can already feel California ripping apart and NBC sports sobbing into their piles of money. Oilers-Flames? You do realize the Stanley Cup isn't awarded to the AHL champ, right?
So, naturally, I filled out my bracket, copying Travis' tweet for team placement. Were the playoffs to start today, here's how I see it unfolding.
Round of 16
(1) Washington Capitals vs. (16) Detroit Red Wings: Oh, look at you, Detroit, scraping your way in by the skin of your teeth. Congrats! Your streak is still alive! Now have fun being the first victims of the most terrifying Capitals team in history! Capitals in 4.
(2) Dallas Stars vs. (15) Philadelphia Flyers: It might seem weird for me to say this but I honestly had the hardest time predicting the winner of this one. Philadelphia is hot and Dallas is struggling heavily to keep pucks out of their net; it has the recipe for that sweet low-seed March Madness-style upset written all over it. But ultimately, Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Patrick Sharp are just too much for a defense led by a rookie to overcome. Stars in 7.
(3) St. Louis Blues vs. (14) Pittsburgh Penguins: Opposite conferences, one hour time difference. Not too bad, right? See, this could work! The Blues are playing very well, and Jake Allen has been huge as of late. However, knowing Ken Hitchcock he'll still start Brian Elliot and the Penguins will steal one of the first two in St. Louis and then win both on home ice. Hitchcock is the first coach of the summer to be fired, and it happens before the second round even begins. Penguins in 6.
(4) Los Angeles Kings vs. (13) Nashville Predators: This would be the matchup if the playoffs were to start today under normal rules. No matter. Los Angeles has home ice, where they rarely lose come playoff time, and no matter how hot your goalie is, they'll still find ways to beat him three times per game. Drew Doughty plays 35 minutes a night, Jeff Carter scores five goals in the series, and Pekka Rinne makes an average of 33 saves per game, only to still lose. Kings in 5.
(5) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (12) San Jose Sharks: This one will sting for San Jose. Chicago on home ice is a tall task to face, and the Sharks may be as ready to take on the challenge this year as they've ever been. In fact, they win in Chicago. Twice. However, the Hawks win twice in San Jose as well, including a multi-overtime classic in game six, then find a way to gut it out on home ice despite a furious push from the Sharks in the end. Blackhawks in 7.
(6) New York Rangers vs. (11) Tampa Bay Lightning: Last season the Bolts did what many thought to be downright impossible--they beat the Rangers at Madison Square Garden in a game seven. This season, they do it again in what proves to be the last year of the prime of Henrik Lundqvist's career. Lightning in 7.
(7) Florida Panthers vs. (10) Anaheim Ducks: Ah, yes. The series with a terrible travel schedule that literally nobody watches and NBC doesn't even bother to broadcast at all. Brandon Pirri scores two pivotal goals, including one game winner. Anaheim ultimately wins on the road with a shockingly-good second period. Sorry, Kevin Spacey. Ducks in 6.
(8) Boston Bruins vs. (9) New York Islanders: The Boston Bruins put up two terrible performances in games one and two in Boston, but counter with a win in game three. They manage to stave off elimination in game five with a late Brad Marchand tally and 40 saves from Tuukka Rask, but ultimately lose on the road in game six to a hat trick capped off by an empty netter from John Tavares. Islanders in 6.
Washington Capitals vs. New York Islanders: The Isles give the Caps everything they have yet again, and yet again it comes down to a tightly-played game seven. But the Caps improved significantly over the summer, and I don't know that I can say the same for the Isles. T.J. Oshie scores the series-winner early in the third period. Capitals in 7.
Los Angeles Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks: The success or failure of the Chicago Blackhawks will once again hinge on the ability of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson to stay healthy. The Sharks threw everything they had physically at these three players, but they saw it through. This time, the Hawks aren't so lucky, as they lose one of them to injury. That's all the Kings' immense forward depth needs to take care of business in Chicago again. Drew Doughty plays 35 minutes a night, and Milan Lucic scores the series winner on the road in overtime. Kings in 6.
Dallas Stars vs. Anaheim Ducks: Anaheim does not have a friendly travel schedule in this new setup. At all. Nonetheless, Anaheim steps up in a big way defensively and chokes out the speedy Stars offense just enough for the offense to keep rolling. Dallas takes a 2-0 lead within ten minutes of game six, but Rickard Rakell and Ryan Kesler score late in the third period, and Jakob Silfverberg wins the series less than a minute into overtime. Ducks in 6.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts, who would actually have home ice in this series, slam the brakes on Sidney Crosby's tear. Patrick Hornqvist, Phil Kessel, and Nick Bonino all end the series without a goal. Evgeni Malkin returns from injury but has little bearing on the series, and Marc-Andre Fleury becomes playoff Marc-Andre Fleury (pronounced "a sieve"). Lightning in 5.
Washington Capitals vs. Los Angeles Kings: The home team wins every game and three of them go to overtime. Ovechkin manages only one goal, a powerplay marker, thanks to the tireless work of Anze Kopitar. Ultimately Drew Doughty logging over 35 minutes of ice time per game alongside possession boat-anchor Rob Scuderi proves to be just too much and they are on the ice when Dmitry Orlov slams home the series winner midway through the third period in Washington. Capitals in 7.
Anaheim Ducks vs. Tampa Bay Lightning: The large number of frequent-flyer miles the Ducks racked up through the previous two rounds take their toll. The Bolts, who the Ducks have not beaten since November 2013, once again have home ice advantage and proceed to choke Anaheim out with their superior foot-speed, rigorous discipline, and lights-out trap system. Ben Bishop completely shuts down Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Steven Stamkos rifles three power play goals in the series as Anaheim's penalty kill falls apart. The Bolts seal it with a blowout win in Tampa Bay. Lightning in 5.
Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning: It's an all-former-Southeast-Division final, and boy is it ever a barn-burner of excellently-played hockey. However, the Capitals prove to be just too much for the Bolts to handle. Evgeny Kuznetsov scores in every single game, Daniel Winnik nets an OT winner in game four, and Braden Holtby puts on a clinic and allows only six goals, winning him the Conn Smythe. The Capitals cruise to a comfortable win and the franchise's first Stanley Cup, though everyone agrees the series score is not a good indicator of how close the series actually was. Capitals in 5.
So what do you think? Agree? Disagree? How does your bracket come out? Again, keep in mind this whole thing was just for fun. Leave your responses in the comments below. Let the debate begin!