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With the National Hockey League getting ready to return to training camp July 10th and beginning the 24-team playoffs in August, the teams are back on the ice. With this years’ playoffs being 24 teams instead of the normal 16, the league is still trying to determine where these games will be played and how the first two elimination rounds will be done. The league is considering a hub city for both the Eastern and Western Conferences but the locations have not been disclosed. Going into these playoffs, there will be no crowds cheering on the players. However, that doesn’t seem to be a bother as the teams are eager to start. As the playoffs begin to get closer to starting, here is a look at the top 10 teams going in and what they will need to do to stay ahead.
10. Dallas Stars (37-24-8)
It is not surprising to see the Dallas Stars fighting their way to playoffs. The Stars have been led by the dynamic duo of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin who not only lead the team in leadership, but also on the ice. Dallas has a strong offensive edge, but lacks unity on the defense. For Dallas to do well in playoffs, they will need to strengthen their defense and learn to take advantage of the ice and move throughout it, finding the other teams’ players and blocking the net. The Stars have a chance to do well in playoffs if they can manage to be dynamic on the ice and communicate on the defensive side.
9. Carolina Hurricanes (38-25-5)
The Carolina Hurricanes have made a name for themselves once again in the league. With being one of the youngest teams in the game, they are a strong dynamic team that maximizes on scoring opportunities. These young players have been fueled by not only breaking into the game but also making a household name. The offense and defense on this team rally together to play two-way hockey, protecting in both zones and always seeming to find the net. Carolina however does lack goaltending strength. The lack of net strength has left the defense on their own while opponents can sneak past and score easily. To keep what they have built for themselves, the Hurricanes will need to create that strong defensive edge within goaltending to fight opponents and not have an open net.
8. Vegas Golden Knights (39-24-8)
Vegas Golden Knights have battled this season to find their way into the playoffs. The Knights started off on a slower pace, but managed to rally through and become a standout team with strong two-way hockey. While Vegas has managed to maintain its momentum, this season they are a team that heavily relies on the arenas atmosphere to keep it going. So that leaves the question of how will the Knights do without their biggest strength of the crowd roaring throughout the entirety of the game? Players will need to be more vocal to fuel the drive of teammates to advance on finding the net as well as continuing to make those dynamic plays that put them where they are.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins (40-23-6)
Pittsburgh has shown no surprises this season in their capability on the ice. The Penguins have high intensity in all fields, however it is inconsistent throughout the game. For Pittsburgh to show consistency in the playoffs, they will need to maintain their offensive stride and fight off hard teams. The Penguins have strong players such as Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust who are leading the team. With players like this, they create a strong offensive front to advance on power play opportunities. While Pittsburgh has not been a surprise for their opponents, they still have fight in them to remain a threat.
6. Philadelphia Flyers (41-21-7)
The Philadelphia Flyers were considered an underdog team at the beginning of the season. However, this team has made a name for themselves. The Flyers maintained finding the net. They are built by a strong mix of veteran players and fresh young players. The Flyers will need to keep their defense strong to match their offensive lines. While the offense carries the team, the defense has done well this season to hold their own. While the Flyers came into the season as underdogs, they should not be counted out come playoff time.
5. Washington Capitals (41-20-8)
The Washington Capitals have succeeded this season due to their dynamic offense. This team has been led by captain Alex Ovechkin, who has built a strong unity on this team. The Capitals are a huge threat going into playoffs by knowing when to make the advantage plays as well as finding the net in the heat of the game. Washington has struggled to keep focus with defense but has continued to work players in to find the best lines to protect from opponents. Come playoffs, this team will need to combine offense and defense strategies to fight for their spot.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning (43-21-6)
Tampa Bay is a team that has fought to the playoffs this year with their strong offense. The offense of this team has led to strong goals and maximized shots on net. Tampa is looking good for the playoffs. However, they need to get the defense to protect from the opposing team’s efforts to find the net. Goaltending has been a downgrade for the Lightning this season, which ties into the lack of defensive efforts. Going into the playoffs, the Lightning will need to focus on outscoring opponents and trying to form a defensive edge to stay in the game.
3. Colorado Avalanche (42-20-8)
The Colorado Avalanche maintained a top spot for most of the season with players such as Nazem Kadri, Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar leading the team. It was no surprise that this team could always find the net. However, injuries hit this team hard midseason. However, more players stepped up to improve offense and defense, making this team a threat to opponents. The Avalanche must keep this momentum up moving into playoffs to keep improving. Colorado’s biggest weakness is goaltending. Both goaltenders have been mediocre at best this season, allowing easy goals. Colorado needs to find a way to bring defense into the mix to help the goaltenders fight offensive efforts.
2. St. Louis Blues (42-19-10)
St. Louis is still singing “Gloria” from their Stanley Cup win last season and that momentum lasted through the regular season as they made their way to the playoffs once again. The Blues have managed to have a strong offense and defense that held their own for the first half of the season. St. Louis, however, seemed to lose their consistency after the all-star break and were being run off the ice by opponents. Leading the team was David Perron and Ryan O’Reilly, who led the team in goals and points across the board. The Blues need to find their way back into playing two-way hockey. To move further ahead in this year’s playoffs, the Blues will need to maximize on scoring advantages as well as keeping focus throughout the games. St. Louis has a strong chance to do well, especially sitting in the top five moving into playoffs.
1. Boston Bruins (41-14-12)
The Boston Bruins have received a top playoff spot by managing to stay in the top five for most of the regular season. The Bruins have had strong offensive efforts from forwards Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, who lead the team in points and assists. The Bruins will need to keep momentum in the games as well as form a stronger offense to back Pastrnak and Marchand. Boston has struggled in years past with inconsistent goaltending and offensive decline. However, that does not seem to be stopping them this year.