Here’s my predictions for the Conference Finals, and if you’re wondering, the Eastern Conference Final features the third and fifth–ranked teams in the NHL (according to regular-season standings) while the Western Conference Final will feature the second and sixth-ranked teams.
M1) Washington Capitals vs. A1) Tampa Bay Lightning
Finally. It has been 20 years since the last time the Washington Capitals have made a Conference Final. I mean the last time the Caps made the Eastern Conference Final, their best notable players were Joé Juneau, Adam Oates, Dale Hunter, Peter Bondra, Calle Johansson, and Olaf Kolzig; and they were led by a respected head coach in Ron Wilson. Their opponent, the Tampa Bay Lightning, have been here before — three times in the last four years, to be more specific. The Bolts are looking to make it back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 2015, and most of the players want a second chance at the Stanley Cup after coming up short against the Chicago Blackhawks in a tight, low-scoring series that was decided by one goal in the first five games. In a series like this, sometimes experience counts.
Prediction: TB in 6
P1) Vegas Golden Knights vs. C2) Winnipeg Jets
Like Washington the Eastern Conference Final, this is uncharted territory for the Vegas Golden Knights…but everything is new in your first season in the NHL! The greatest inaugural season in the history of four major North American professional sports leagues continues as the Golden Knights became the first NHL team to win multiple playoff series in their inaugural season since the 1967-1968 St. Louis Blues. That year, the Blues made it out of their own division (which consisted of the five other Expansion Six teams) to make the Stanley Cup Final, only to be swept in four straight games by the Montreal Canadiens. As for whom they’re facing in the Western Conference Final, the Winnipeg Jets got through the their toughest test of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, eliminating the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Nashville Predators in a grueling seven-game series in which the Jets won three of their four games on the road. Now in their first Western Conference Final appearance, they have the task of trying to stop the hottest goalie in the NHL right now — Marc-Andre Fleury. In ten playoff games in 2018, he has four shutouts, a .951 save percentage — the highest of the four remaining starting goaltenders in the playoffs, and a GAA of 1.53 — the lowest of the four remaining starting goaltenders in the playoffs. One of these teams will make the Stanley Cup Final for the first time, and I have to think the best story in the NHL this season will have one more chapter to write.
Prediction: VGK in 6
Starting yesterday, the four finalists for the CHL’s greatest Memorial Cup Team we’re unveiled. In honor of the 100th playing of Canadian Junior Hockey’s championship tournament, fans were given a chance to vote online to see who is the greatest Memorial Cup championship team ever. The rules were simple: The top vote-getter from each league — WHL, OHL, and QMJHL — and the highest vote-getter from the combined other champions comprised the final four. You can vote for your favorite at chlteamofthecentury.ca until May 15, but before you vote, take a look at the cases on why each team deserves to be called the greatest Memorial Cup Championship team ever.
1995 Kamloops Blazers
How they got to the Memorial Cup: Won WHL Championship while they were selected as the host team.
Head Coach: Don Hay
Notable alumni: Jarome Iginla, Shane Doan, Darcy Tucker, Jason Strudwick, Tyson Nash, Ryan Huska, Nolan Baumgartner
Back in the early-mid 1990s, a dynasty in junior hockey was unheard of. The Kamloops Blazers were regarded as the best team in the WHL for over a decade when they started play in the 1994-95 season, a year where they we’re defending Memorial Cup champions and were looking for an unprecedented third Memorial Cup title in the last four years. Under the leadership of second-year head coach Don Hay and propelled by the 64-goal, 137-point season of forward DaecD Tucker, the Blazers had the best regilar-season record in the WHL, winning 52 of 72 games, and winning the West Division title for the tenth year in a twelve-year span. In the WHL Playoffs, a unique format was used — the six teams that qualified in the west played a first-round round-robin eliminator to determine which four teams would play in the best-of-7 semifinal series. The Blazers and the Portland Winterhawks advanced out of their group, and in the divisional semifinals, defeated the Winterhawks in five games to advance to the divisional championship against the Tri-City Americans. The Blazers cruised through Tri-City in six games to take on the East Division champion Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL Championship series. Sure, the Blazers earned their way into the Memorial Cup as the host team, but they also want to enter the tournament as WHL Champions. The did so by defeating Brandon in six games, winning their fifth WHL Championship, and returning to the Memorial Cup for the third time in four years. In the Memorial Cup, the Blazers ran the table in round-robin play, outscoring their opponents, 15-9. In the championship game, the Blazers completely blew out the Detroit Junior Red Wings, 8-2 to win their third Memorial Cup championship in a four-year span, thereby cementing their status as a dynasty. Shane Doan was named tournament MVP, and Tucker, Ryan Huska, and Tyson Nash all won their third Memorial Cup championship rings with the Blazers.
2000 Rimouski Océanic
How they got to the Memorial Cup: Won QMJHL Championship
Head Coach: Doris Labonte
Notable alumni: Brad Richards, Sebastien Caron, Juraj Kolnik, Aaron Johnson
Propelled by Brad Richards’ 71-goal, 186-point season, the Rimouski Océanic finished with rhe QMJHL’s best record — 48 wins; 102 points, won the East Division, and earned a first-round bye into the Conference Semifinals as the top seed in the Dilio (Eastern) Conference. They swept the Halifax Mooseheads, defeated the Moncton Wildcats in five games, and then defeated the Hull (now Gatineau) Olympiques in five games to win their first President’s Cup championship in team history. In Halifax, the Oceanic ran the table, outscoring their opponents, 15-6, and in the championship game, defeated the Barrie Colts, 6-2, to win their first Memorial Cup championship in team history. Brad Richards won tournament MVP honors with four goals and 10 points.
2005 London Knights
How they got to the Memorial Cup: Won OHL Championship while they were selected as the host team
Head Coach: Dale Hunter
Notable alumni: Corey Perry, Dave Bolland, Brandon Prust, Dan Girardi, Marc Methot, Dan Fritsche
With the NHL in a lockout in 2005, most eyes were on the AHL and the CHL for NHL fans to get their hockey fix on. In the OHL, Corey Perry led the league in scoring with 47 goals and 130 points. The London Knights began their season with a CHL-record 31-game streak to start the season without a regulation loss (28-wins, two ties). From there, the Knights continued to dominate the regular eason, winning 59 of 68 games, winning the Midwest Division, and earning the top seed in the OHL Playoffs. From there, they swept the Guelph Storm, swept the Windsor Spitfires, defeated the Kitchener Rangers in five games, and won the OHL Championship by defeating the Ottawa 67s in five games. In the Memorial Cup, the Knights ran the table on home ice, winning all three of their round-robin games by a combined total of 13-7, and in the Championship game, they shut out the Oceanic, 4-0 to win their first Memorial Cup Championship in team history.
2013 Halifax Mooseheads
How they got to the Memorial Cup: Won QMJHL Championship
Head Coach: Dominique Ducharme
Notable alumni: Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin, Martin Frk, Zach Fucale
The 2012-13 Halifax Mooseheads had a historic season. Forward Jonathan Drouin had a team-leading 105 points, goaltender Zach Fucale had a 45-win season that led all QMJHL goaltenders, and in 68 games played, the Mooseheads won 58, had an .882 points percentage, and finished the season winning the Maritimes Division and earning themselves the top seed in the President’s Cup Playoffs. During the President’s Cup Playoffs, the Mooseheads had an unprecedented 16-1 playoff record en route to punching their ticket to the Memorial Cup by sweeping the Saint John Sea Dogs, sweeping the Garineau Olympiques, sweeping the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, and defeating the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in five games to win their first President’s Cup championship in franchise history. In Saskatoon, the Mooseheads went 2-1 in round-robin play, with their lone loss coming at the hands of the host team, Saskatoon Blades. They earned a berth in the championship game by beating the Portland Winterhawks, 7-4, in round-robin play in which Nathan MacKinnon scored a hat trick. In the championship game — a rematch of their round-robin game — MacKinnon was the story yet again, as he scored another hat trick against the Winterhawks, 6-4, to win their first Memorial Cup in team history. MacKinnon earned MVP honors by having a tournament-best 7 goals and 13 points.
Last Friday night on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy presented some more Stanley Cup Playoffs Superlatives. ICYMI, here’s the video: