The NHL playoffs, though often overlooked and overshadowed by the more prevalent American sports, are home to perhaps the most exciting post-season matchups in sports. Not only is hockey a fast paced and exhilarating display of both machismo and finesse, but it is also a sport in which tiny and unpredictable factors can change the outcome of entire seasons. A team’s goalie can get hot, placing an impenetrable iron curtain around his net. A long and grueling playoff race can wear down a team’s roster, making them more susceptible to series altering injuries at the most inconvenient of times. And the smallest miscalculation in the flight trajectory of a puck can alter the course of sporting history. But despite the fickle nature of NHL Playoff predictions, EA Sports chose to use one of its newest games, “NHL 14”, in order to simulate the entire post season. Though nothing is guaranteed in the world of sports prognostication, the makers of “NHL 14” may just be on to something.
In the Western Conference, EA Sports decrees, the San Jose Sharks will reign supreme, earning themselves a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. On this surface, this pick seems a bit far-fetched. Though perpetually competitive and all around fixtures come playoff time, the Sharks seem to fall short of the ultimate goal every season. To make matters worse, the team is not exactly getting any younger. Team leaders, Dan Boyle (37), Joe Thornton (34), and Patrick Marleau (34) are each entering the conclusive chapters of their careers.
However, while many would assume this would work against San Jose, it may actually instill a sense of urgency in the Sharks. Their window of opportunity is shutting, and desperation may be setting in. I do not envy the opponents of San Jose, a team who is battle tested, has extensive playoff experience, and is playing for a last ditch effort at glory. But despite the deep experience and skill of the Sharks, all roads lead to the most terrifying team in the NHL: the Boston Bruins.
The clear favorite to win the Stanley Cup this season, the Boston Bruins are head and shoulders above the competition. The team has only improved since last season’s loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in game 6 of the Finals, making them the deepest, toughest, and downright meanest team in the NHL. The Bruins have virtually no weakness. They have solid defense, an impeccable goalie, and four solid lines that tend to wear opponents down to the nub. Center Patrice Bergeron, D-man Zdeno Chara, and goalie Tuuka Rask are all league bests at their positions. Adding to the team’s depth is the fact that the Bruins had 10 players with over 10 goals this season. The only possible Achilles’ heel for Boston may be the fact that they employ such a physical and gritty style of hockey that it may leave them vulnerable to injury and fatigue toward the deeper rounds of post-season play. This, however, is most likely wishful thinking for opponents. Boston should make short work of most of the teams they play throughout the playoffs, leaveing them healthy and rested come Finals time.
Should EA Sports’ predictions prove correct, the Bruins will reign victorious over San Jose after 6 games. This outcome does not exactly ring excitement, but the matchup is intriguing in itself. A long standing playoff team that can sense a waning sun goes to war for what could be the last time, albeit against an imposing goliath who has been the clear favorite all season. Lets hope EA Sports’ simulation was correct, and that we get to see a war of the ages on the ice, where the strong are dominant, the skilled are supreme, and just about anything can happen along the way.