The Stanley Cup Qualifiers are coming to a close with several teams on the brink of elimination, including the Nashville Predators later today.
This is all new to hockey fans to see teams actually competing for a chance to make it into the tradition Stanley Cup Playoffs format. It’s been truly entertaining to watch, and most of the matchups haven’t disappointed.
One of the best things about the Stanley Cup Qualifiers is that the underdogs aren’t backing down. We’re naturally focused on the seeding, much like March Madness in college basketball, but upsets are going to happen.
There remains a good chance that a team that was fully expected to make the playoffs won’t survive the qualifying round, leaving open a spot for a team that was hanging on by thread in the regular season.
For your entertainment pleasure, there’s six games today between both conferences that will feature teams trying to force a Game 5 and extend their seasons. It will make for an awesome day of hockey, so let’s get you caught up on every Stanley Cup Qualifier and what’s stood out.
(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks
Blackhawks are leading this series 2-1 and will try to get the upset later today at 5:45 P.M. CDT. But just how big of an upset will it really be?
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This series hasn’t disappointed. I had it circled as the most intriguing matchup going into the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. It’s been filled with a ton of offense and speed, and it’s loaded with superstars on both teams.
The Blackhawks are a dangerous team right now. If they finish off the Oilers and get into the 16-team playoff field you have to like their chances of continuing this run with all of the Stanley Cup veteran experience they have on the team to go along with some young talent as well.
But you definitely can’t count out the Oilers and say they’re officially done. They still have two of the best players in the world with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but their goaltending has been shaky at best.
Expect more offensive fireworks to happen in Game 4 as the Oilers are looking to avoid being the first upset of the qualifiers. Through three games 26 goals have already been scored between the two teams.
(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild
It’s a 2-1 series lead for the Canucks after the Wild dominated them in the first game with a shutout. Things have dramatically turned since then as the Canucks look like they’re in complete control over a Wild team that’s probably a year or two away from really competing for a playoff run.
I’m not sure the Wild have enough firepower to extend this to five games. They’ve battled hard this season and were fortunate to get into the 24-team format, but this ride is probably just about over. They don’t have the pieces to match with Vancouver for the next two games.
The Wild will lose one of the next two, and Vancouver will extend their season into the next round. The Canucks could be a contender to go past the next round if they get the right matchup from the round robin teams.
(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets
This series had so much intensity and extracurricular activities going on with injuries. The Flames are a rugged team that plays a rough style of hockey. A controversial collision from behind from Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk on Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele has been the main story to follow.
There’s differing opinions on whether or not Tkachuk intended to hurt Scheifele, but either way it was a crushing loss for the Jets. Scheifele is a 70-point scorer and a major part of Winnipeg’s offensive prowess.
To the Jets’ credit they didn’t fold entirely and evened the series in Game 2, but the Flames were just too much to handle as they dominated the Jets the rest of the way.
The Flames outscored the Jets 10-2 over the last two games to advance out of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. They won’t know their next opponent until the other series are completed.
Being such a physical team they will match well with another physical team like the Dallas Stars in the next round. I don’t think the Flames have enough offensive weapons to get past any of the round robin teams in the next round.
(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes
The series most of us are focused on is the Predators and Coyotes. A series that the Predators probably feel like they should be leading 2-1 instead of being down 2-1.
At times the Predators have been their own worst enemy, much like they were in the regular season. An inexplicable offside call on Matt Duchene, which was clearly the right call, negated the go-ahead goal for the Predators in the third period of Game 3.
The Coyotes, to their credit, have played a smart series and been opportunistic in their scoring chances when they arise. The Predators nearly completed the comeback in Game 1, mostly dominated in Game 2, and opened Game 3 with several high-danger scoring chances but couldn’t get a goal.
The top line for Nashville has had to do most of the heavy lifting offensively, and that has to change in Game 4 if the Predators are going to extend their stay in Edmonton.
It’s going to be a troubling offseason full of roster changes if the Predators come up short again today while some top players continue to make little impact on the series.
Eastern Conference Refresher
The Eastern Conference has had no shortness of excitement, either. You’ve got the Montreal Canadiens looking to really shake things up by eliminating Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
This series has been one of the more entertaining ones to watch and will definitely go down as a major upset if the Canadiens can finish them off. Each game has come down to the very end, but Carey Price has been the difference-maker for Montreal.
Last night saw the Columbus Blue Jackets make a massive comeback on the Toronto Maple Leafs to stun another team that was expected to be a team to go deep in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
This series is on a back-to-back later today after going to overtime last night. If both the Penguins and Maple Leafs get eliminated, that will mark two heavyweights out East that won’t even make it to the traditional 16-team field.
To round out the East, the New York Islanders are holding a 2-1 series lead over the Florida Panthers while the Carolina Hurricanes swept the New York Rangers back on Tuesday.
The round robin brackets have also had some excitement, but not on the same level as qualifiers for obvious reasons. The Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche are both 2-0 in their two games setting up a big matchup for the top overall seed in the West.
The Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning are each 2-0 in the East round robin.
One big thing to pull from all of the action so far is that some of the NHL’s biggest superstars are in danger of not even making it to the 16-team field. Still lots of action remains heading into today’s schedule.