25 years ago the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup. Since then no Canadian team has brought home the most sought-after trophy in hockey. The 2018 season is shaping up to feature just two Canadian teams (Toronto and Winnipeg). Both sides are hoping to bring the Stanley Cup back to Canada.
Two cities, 1,386 miles apart, are both fighting to become legends in Canada. Neither franchise has ever won a cup before, but it is clear that hockey fans across Canada want the cup to come back north of the border.
Sitting in second place in the Central Division with 100 points, the Jets have a unique combination of youth and veteran leadership. Currently, Winnipeg has the third best offense goals per game wise and the fifth best defense goals against wise to go along with it. They have a goaltender that will be a top Vezina Trophy Candidate and a team that refuses to quit. Going into the postseason no team wants to have to play Winnipeg and rightfully so.
Winnipeg’s offense this season has been fueled by their power play that ranks fourth in the NHL. Patrik Laine is the face of the Winnipeg offense and rightfully so. The 19-year old forward is very much in play for the NHL goal leading race and a lot of it is due to his fantastic play on the power play. Laine has 19 power play goals which is good for first in the NHL. Patrik is the heart of what will be a scary power play unit in the playoffs.
But in the playoffs, teams cannot bank on their power play to win games. A balanced attack is what separates Winnipeg from the rest of the pack. Winnipeg is one of two teams in the entire NHL that has over 50 power play goals and over 160 even strength goals.
Jets’ captain Blake Wheeler is the glue that holds the team together. The Veteran forward is having his best career season at 31-years old and could be a potential Hart Trophy winner. Wheeler is legging the 13th most minutes per game and is making the most out of every second. His 85 points and counting have the Jets ready to make a deep run.
Hellebuyck On Fire
Connor Hellebuyck has been terrific for the Winnipeg Jets in 2018. In the Stanley Cup Playoffs having a hot goaltender makes all the difference between winning and losing. Right now he is one of the hottest goaltenders in the NHL, and he will be looking to keep the momentum rolling.
Since February 1st Hellebuyck is 12-5-2 with a .924 save percentage and a 2.31 goals against average. Hellebuyck has been forcing himself into Vezina Trophy conversations, and with his play this season he deserves some consideration.
Can They Do It?
The Jets have proven through their play this season that they can beat any team on any given night. They are a tremendous team that causes substantial mismatches to teams all around the league. As it stands right now the only team standing in the way of a Stanley Cup Finals appearance for the Jets, is the Nashville Predators.
Obviously, the team could break down at any time, but if the team as a whole keeps playing like they are right now, they will be incredibly tough to beat. This team is poised to do great things in the 2018 postseason it is just a matter of execution.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs are an exciting team to watch heading into the playoffs. They just recently got star forward Auston Matthews back, and things look like they are starting to click again. What makes Toronto scary is their ability to score from anywhere. They have an ample amount of players that can score, and because of that, they have nine players with more than 40 points this season.
Marching in with a superpower play
In March the power play for the Toronto Maple Leafs has been on a god-like level. The team is sporting an outstanding 45.8 percent success rate on power play opportunities, and a lot of that is because of the play of James van Riemsdyk.
Van Riemsdyk has seen a recent surge in his last six games where he has posted 11 points on eight goals and three assists. With Auston Matthews now returning it is crucial for JVR to continue to play at a high level.
The Leafs’ offense is already one of the best in the NHL, and now with a red-hot power play, it seems just to be getting stronger as the season trudges on. Matthews will undoubtedly be the talk of Toronto for the next few weeks. He missed nearly a month due to injury, but already in his first two games back has a goal and an assist.
Finding Their Defense
Over the last month, the Leafs are doing a fantastic job of keeping Frederik Anderson dry. Since March 1st they have allowed the second-fewest shot against total in the NHL and rank sixth in goals-against average.
Rookie defensemen Travis Dermott has stepped up big for his team at a crucial time. Not only has he shined on the offensive end this month with five points, but his defense has been terrific. He is fourth on the team in blocked shots, and he has begun to embrace the physical side of the game. When Travis is on the ice the Maple Leafs are playing better, he has a plus-minus rating of 8, and his play continues to improve.
Can They Do It?
The Eastern Conference is very top-heavy with talent. Lots of teams are starting to peak at just the right time. For the Maple Leafs to make a run at the Stanley Cup Finals, they are going to have to get some significant production from their stars. The one thing the Leafs do have going for them is that they are outstanding and experienced in close games. They lead the NHL with 23 wins in one-goal games and in the playoffs this experience will help. It will be a tough road for Toronto, but they can get there.
Featured image by NHL.com
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