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2017 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview: Metropolitan Division - Penguins vs. Blue Jackets, Capitals vs. Maple Leafs

Columbus Blue Jackets v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Columbus Blue Jackets

The Match-up: The defending Cup champions against the team nobody figured would be this good. This one ought to be good. It’s going to be an interesting 2-3 match-up.

The Penguins finished second in the Metro for the second year in a row despite a myriad of injuries to their stars. Evgeni Malkin hasn’t played since March 15th and he might not be able to play when the Penguins’ postseason starts. Kris Letang recently had neck surgery and will miss the entirety of the playoffs. Chris Kunitz hasn’t played since March 31st with a lower-body injury. Carl Hagelin was just recently placed on injured reserve and might not make it into the lineup for the Pens’ first round match-up. Needless to say, this Penguins team is still dangerous with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Justin Schultz, Phil Kessel and Olli Maata in the lineup. But it’s not quite the Penguins team from last season’s Stanley Cup run.

Well who saw that coming? The Blue Jackets are fresh off one of their best seasons in recent memory, finishing third in the Metro 108 points. A string of 16 straight wins from late November into early January vaulted the Jackets to the top of the NHL standings but ever since then they’ve struggled to stay a consistent team. Before beating the Maple Leafs in the regular season finale, the Jackets had lost 6 straight games and 8 of their previous 10. After winning 16 straight games, the team finished the season with a 23-19-4 record. This series will surely be a huge test to see if the Blue Jackets can channel whatever it was which won them a boatload of games earlier in the year or if they’re just another one-and-done team.

Why Wings fans should care: Getting a chance to watch arguably the best player in the world in Sidney Crosby is always a treat. Plus, the Penguins are looking to become the first team since the ‘97 and ‘98 Red Wings to win back-to-back Stanley Cups. Everyone else has since failed, including us (but we’ll talk about that in a minute), so it’ll be interesting to see if the Penguins can upstage a nearly 20 year-old record.

On the other hand, our former division “rivals” don’t have a whole lot going for them in this area. If you’re a fan of John Tortorella’s style of coaching, have at it with this series. It should be interesting to see how Torts plans to counter the Penguins’ superior top-end talent, especially if Malkin, Kunitz or Hagelin make it back into the lineup. Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are a lot of fun to watch, but I wouldn’t exactly think of this team as a must-see group.

You might cheer for Pittsburgh if: You missed the fact that Phil Kessel got his Stanley Cup already last year, you’re on new medication that you’re still dialing in, or you’d like to see John Tortorella potentially lose his mind on national TV. Or if you’re still upset that Columbus wouldn’t trade Rick Nash to us like five years ago. Seriously, just don’t cheer for the Penguins.

You might cheer for Columbus if: You were alive and a Wings fan in 2009. You’re a fan of Torts’ coaching style, you’d like to see a fresh team advance past the first round in the playoffs for a change.

Prediction: It pains me to say this, but I don’t see Columbus pulling this one out. Sure, the Penguins are a big banged up, but they have Sidney Crosby. Sergei Bobrovsky is going to put on a hell of a show in this series, but ultimately I think the Penguins are just a little bit too much for the Jackets to handle. Also, Columbus’ recent struggles have me thinking they’re a lot closer to a 40-win team than they are to a 50-win team. Penguins in 6.

Washington Capitals vs Toronto Maple Leafs

You wanna talk about a good series? This one should be good. Yes, the Leafs are big underdogs in this series against the Presidents’ Trophy winners (in back-to-back years to boot).

What is there to say about the Capitals that hasn’t been said already? This team should win the Stanley Cup. There’s no reason for them to lose this year again. The defense is stacked with the addition of Kevin Shattenkirk. Braden Holtby is still a beast between the pipes. Alex Ovechkin had a little bit a down year after three straight 50 goal campaigns but this time there’s a much stronger supporting cast around Ovi. The Capitals only gave up 2.16 goals per game this year, they sport one of the best special teams units in the league and they’re playing their best hockey of the season at just the right time.

I think the Leafs fall into a category similar to the Capitals; there’s not much else to say about this team. You all know about the next group of “triplets” that’s going to terrorize the Wings for the next few years. Auston Matthews just finished a 40 goal season as a 19 year old (!), Frederik Andersen is a legitimate starting goalie, and Coach Babcock has his team ahead of schedule on their rebuild. They are not the best team out there, and finishing 8th in the East has to be a little disappointing given the amount of talent on this roster. But remember that it was two years ago that Mike Babcock told the Toronto faithful there’d be “pain coming”.

Why Wings Fans Should Care: This one should be a great match-up between two of the best coaches in the league. Mike Babcock and Barry Trotz going head-to-head over a seven game series is bound to be a pleasure to watch. Also, if you’re interesting in watching one of the greatest goal-scorers of all-time and the greatest goal-scorer of this generation make another run at the Cup, this time with a team that could win it, this might be the series you’re looking for.

I won’t be picking them to win this series, but watch out for the Leafs. Could they play spoiler on an otherwise flawless season from the Capitals? Maybe. Could Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and the rest of the Leafs shock the hockey world and take out the league’s best team? I’m going to enjoy seeing them try and you should too. Also, the Babcock factor plays into this one as well. The Wings’ former head coach who fled Detroit for a division rival is back in the playoffs while we sit at home, that can’t be sitting well with a lot of people around here.

You might cheer for the Capitals if: You want to see Ovechkin finally get that Stanley Cup ring that’s eluded him, you hate Mike Babcock for leaving or you’re hoping that you won’t have to hear from Leafs fans for the rest of your April. Toronto’s status as a division rival might play into this one too.

You might cheer for the Maple Leafs if: You secretly hope that the Leafs become an NHL powerhouse after years of disappointments (and coincidentally have forgotten that Toronto is one of our biggest rivalries). You want to see more of Toronto’s youth on display in the second round, or you always cheer for the underdog whenever the Wings aren’t involved.

Prediction: Yes, the Maple Leafs have a lot going for them, relative to where the franchise was two years ago that is. But you’d have to be crazy to pick any team to beat the Capitals this year, especially if we’re talking about the 14th overall team in the league and the 8th team in the East. This jinx might play into things a little bit, but I don’t foresee it having much effect. And while I’m sure Toronto’s going to put up a fight, I can’t go completely against all logic in this one. Capitals in 5.

Please tell me all about how the Jackets are your Stanley Cup pick below.