The Hurricanes have looked outstanding for most of the postseason. During the regular season, only one team had better shot differential metrics than Carolina. In fact, Carolina led the league in expected goals for by more than 14 goals. Their success should not come as a surprise to analytically inclined fans.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Carolina’s run has been the rise of Warren Foegele. Foegele has 5 goals and 9 points in his 11 playoff games. He is also shooting an absurd 31.3%. It is shocking to see a player who came out of seemingly nowhere perform at the level Foegele is currently displaying. The entire team has looked dominant, sweeping the New York Islanders in their series, and is rightly the favorite to win the Stanley Cup.
The Hurricanes have a culture unlike that of any other team in the league. After hockey commenter Don Cherry called the team “a bunch of jerks” for their extravagant postgame celebrations, the team openly embraced being “a bunch of jerks” by selling merchandise featuring the phrase. They also have an adorable pig named Hamilton, who has been a good luck charm for the team. The team has yet to lose a game with Hamilton in attendance.
The Bruins have perhaps the most polarizing player remaining in the playoffs. Brad Marchand is seemingly always making headlines whether it is for his outstanding play on the Bruins top line, or from his willingness to use dirty tactics to gain an advantage. The Bruins have played two very hard fought series against Toronto and Columbus and will struggle to stay rested as their run continues.
In addition to their lethal top line, the Bruins boast some of the best depth forwards in the NHL. Players like Charlie Coyle who has 8 points, and Danton Heinen who is dominating shot metrics have been crucial to the Bruins’ run.
The Bruins went on to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 4-2 series, cutting short the Blue Jackets’ stellar run and now pitting the Bruins against the Hurricanes.
San Jose Sharks
San Jose has been one of the best teams in the NHL for a decade now but have not been able to win a Stanley Cup. Their team this season featured the lethal combo of Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson on defense. Both Burns and Karlsson have a strong case for being the best defenseman in the world, and have lived up to expectations during the playoffs.
San Jose was severely hindered by their goaltending in the regular season. Martin Jones and Aaron Dell combined to give San Jose the worst goaltending in the league by save percentage. Fortunately for the Sharks, Jones has stepped his game up during the playoffs saving 90.8%. For the Sharks to succeed, Jones will have to continue his stellar play.
Colorado may be the most interesting team in the playoffs. Their top line has three bonafide superstars in Nathan Mackinnon, Miko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog, however their depth has hindered them. Their depth was a major reason why Colorado had a losing record in the regular season. They were given a great chance by being in a particularly weak conference and have ran with their opportunity, by beating the top-seeded Calgary Flames.
MacKinnon has been on fire throughout the playoffs with 13 points in 11 games. Another player who has impressed for Colorado is rookie Cale Makar who only joined the team for game three of the Calgary series after winning the Hobey Baker Award for best player in the NCAA. Makar and his partner Samuel Girard have looked like a pair that has years of chemistry, especially in the offensive zone where the two seem more fluid than any other pairing in the league. If Colorado wants to be the first team to win the Stanley Cup with a losing record since 2012 (yes, somehow this happens regularly in hockey), they will need MacKinnon and Makar to carry the team.
Since acquiring Ben Bishop, Dallas has shaken their reputation as a team with perennial goaltending issues. Bishop, a finalist for goalie of the year, has been an integral part of their run to the finals. In the playoffs, Bishop has saved an incredible 92.9% of the shots he’s faced.
Dallas has also seen tremendous play from rookie Miro Heiskanen who is a finalist for rookie of the year. The Stars have the luxury of being able to deploy either Heiskanen or John Klingberg on their powerplay. Dallas’s combination of high-end talent, strong depth, and elite goaltending make them one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues are an incredibly story because they managed to make the playoffs after being the last placed team in January. Their rise has undoubtedly been because of rookie goaltender, Jordan Binnington. On top of having a strong roster of skaters, the addition of Binnington provided consistently stellar goaltending which led to the Blue’s ascent from last place.
Binnington, a finalist for the rookie of the year award, has slowed down considerably during the playoffs. With his team on the brink of elimination, it will be interesting to see how the rookie performs.
Prediction: Carolina beats San Jose in 6
Note: All statistics, predictions, and analyses are based off of gameplay up to 7 May 2019, 8:00 P.M. EST.
(All data from Natural Stattrick)