Hockey playoff picks

NHL playoff predictions 2019: Who’ll be left standing with Stanley Cup?

The best postseason tournament in all of professional sports is about to begin.

The NHL regular season is over and done with. The playoffs matchups are set.

This year has the potential to be one of the wilder playoffs in recent memory. On one side of the bracket — the East — there’s a select group of teams in a tier unto themselves. One of those teams — the Lightning — just tied the NHL record for most wins in a season, and posted a plus-103 goal differential. No other team finished better than plus-62.

They’re your prohibitive favorites, but face arguably the toughest path to the Cup Final of any division winner.

In the Western Conference, well, it’s anybody’s guess who will make it out alive. Can the upstart Flames finish off an already successful season with a dream finish? Which heavyweight makes it out of the Central? Can the Sharks finally get over the hump?

Here’s how I see it all playing out:

First-round predictions

Western Conference

Flames over Avalanche in six
Golden Knights over Sharks in six
Predators over Stars in five
Jets over Blues in seven

Eastern Conference

Lightning over Blue Jackets in four
Bruins over Maple Leafs in six
Capitals over Hurricanes in seven
Penguins over Islanders in six

That’s right, I expect seven of the eight semifinalists from a year ago to make it back to that round once again. The only team that fails to do so? San Jose.

The Sharks are playing their worst hockey of the season. They’re banged up — who knows what to expect out of Erik Karlsson, and Timo Meier’s recent injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. Oh, and they can’t make it out of the first few minutes of a game without being scored on.

The Knights have had San Jose’s number since coming into the league. It pains me to say it, but I don’t see reason why that will change.

Second-round predictions

Western Conference

Knights over Flames in seven
Predators over Jets in seven

Eastern Conference

Bruins over Lightning in seven
Penguins over Capitals in seven

Revenge is a dish best served cold, and each of these winners, minus the Knights, has had an entire year to chill.

As great as the Lightning have been — and I mean great — I’m going out on a limb and predicting the Bruins avenge their second-round elimination at the hands of Tampa Bay last year. I like whichever team emerges from this series to go all the way.

Same goes for the Penguins and Predators — the vengeance part, that is.

Calgary’s somewhat surprising season ends in a dramatic Game 7 loss to a team that has played in far more big games in recent memory.

Conference finals predictions

Western Conference:

Predators over Knights in six

Eastern Conference:

Bruins over Penguins in six

Vegas’ luck finally runs out. Marc-Andre Fleury, still not at full strength, fails to provide the kind of staunch goaltending that proved so vital to the Golden Knights’ dramatic run a year ago. Pekka Rinne, meanwhile, steals a couple games and gets some of the critics off his back. Nashville makes it back to the Cup Final for the first time since losing to the Penguins two years ago.

Pittsburgh won’t meet them there, though. Worn down from an extremely physical series with the Capitals, the Penguins don’t have the requisite energy to keep up with the Bruins’ multi-layered attack. Boston’s depth proves to be the deciding factor this late in the postseason grind.

Stanley Cup Final prediction

Bruins over Predators in six

I know, I know. Hasn’t the city of Boston won enough lately?

When it rains, it pours.

In a battle of attrition, the Bruins do just enough to become champions. Nashville’s defense has their hands full with Boston’s top line, and the Bruins’ 3rd-ranked power play vastly outperforms that of the Predators, which ranked dead last in the league during the regular season.

David Pastrnak scores the series-winner in Nashville in overtime of Game 6. The Cup eludes P.K. Subban at least one more year.

AHL, San Jose Barracuda cancel 2019-20 season amid coronavirus pandemic

AHL, San Jose Barracuda cancel 2019-20 season amid coronavirus pandemic

While the NHL hopes to resume its season at some point amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the American Hockey League announced Monday that they have canceled the regular season and playoffs.

The AHL Board of Governors has voted to cancel the remainder of the 2019-20 AHL regular season and the 2020 Calder Cup Playoffs due to the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis.

The AHL’s announcement puts an end to the San Jose Barracuda’s 2019-20 season. And like the San Jose Sharks, the Barracuda struggled this season.

The Barracuda finished the season tied the Bakersfield Condors for the worst record in the league at 21-27-5-2. Their 49 points were the lowest in the entire AHL.

San Jose did go out on a high note, though. In what wound up being their final games of the season, the Barracuda beat the Stockton Heat, 7-4, on March 10.

Kevin Labanc believes Sharks have tools to be best NHL team in 2020-21

Kevin Labanc believes Sharks have tools to be best NHL team in 2020-21

On paper, the Sharks have one of the best rosters in the NHL.

But on the ice, San Jose fell well below expectations during the 2019-20 season.

Coming off back-to-back 100-plus point seasons, the Sharks have just 63 points with 12 games remaining in the suspended season.

With the standings frozen due to the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Sharks have the worst record in the Western Conference.

But Sharks forward Kevin Labanc is confident they can turn things around next season.

“I think experience of us being together, it helps a lot,” Labanc told NBC Sports California’s Brodie Brazil last week. “And we know each of us can bring something to the table. We all know we can step up our game, be the best team in the league. We obviously didn’t show it this past season, but I think we all know we can.

“It’s obviously going to take a lot of hard work and dedication but we have the tools, we have the players to do so. It’s just a mindset, coming to the rink every day, doing your workout.”

Once the 2020 NHL offseason begins, Labanc will be a restricted free agent. Through 70 games, Labanc has scored 14 goals and dished out 19 assists.

The Sharks are better than their 29-36-5 record. No one knows if they’ll get a chance to prove it over the last 12 games of the current season. But whenever the 2020-21 season begins, they will be motivated to get back to the playoffs and make a run at Lord Stanley’s Cup.

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