If you had asked a crowd of hockey fans before the playoffs began to put down a bet on who would win the Stanley Cup, there would likely have been one resounding favorite. The Tampa Bay Lightning had just completed a historic 62-win season and had everything you would want in a team. Top scorers, including potential Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov who led the league with 128 points this season. Shutdown defenders like Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh, both playoff-tested from years of postseason play. One of the best goaltenders in the world in Andrei Vasilevskiy, a Vezina finalist for the second consecutive season.
None of that mattered though, after the Columbus Blue Jackets erased a 3-0 first period lead in game one and never looked back. Tampa Bay was swept out of the first round, and weren’t the only favorite to be overcome. All four division leaders were knocked out this season, the first time that has happened in the history of the NHL. The Calgary Flames (107 points), Washington Capitals (104) and Nashville Predators (100) all saw their playoff run end early. Even other 100-point teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins were ousted, though this time by even better regular season teams that were forced to face higher seeds than in playoff formats of the past.
The second round started last night, with the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues taking early series leads. Are they now the default favorites to go all the way? What about the upstart wild card teams like the Colorado Avalanche and Carolina Hurricanes who have more young talent than they know what to do with?
If that same crowd were asked today to name a favorite, it might not be as easy. Cast your vote below and make sure to leave your thoughts in the comment section!
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