NHL playoffs: The Chase for the Stanley Cup

Stanley Cup
Francis Okupa

The NHL play-offs are underway and 16 teams are involved in the chase for the Stanley Cup, which is given to the winner of the NHL play-offs.

Here is a primer on the teams to watch, the star players to follow, and the championship-winning player with African roots.

You can catch all the Stanley Cup play-off action on Kwesé. Click here to find out where, when and where you can watch it.

Teams to watch

Washington CapitalsWashington Capitals
The Capitals had the best record in the league heading into the play-offs (55 wins and 118 points ) and won their division to get home advantage throughout the play-offs (meaning they will get the majority of home games in each series, as well as the final match in a seven-game series). The problem with the Capitals is that they ended last season in similar fashion, but fell apart in the play-offs with a series loss to eventual champions Pittsburgh Penguins. Coach Barry Trotz will hope his team will be stronger mentally this time round in order to bring the first Stanley Cup to the nation’s capital.

Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins are the defending champions and despite a myriad of injuries to various players throughout the season, they still finished with 50 wins. The NHL play-offs are as much a physical battle as a mental one, and the Penguins are well equipped in both departments. Unfortunately for the Penguins (or their opponents) the NHL play-off scheduling is quite quirky and it has the Penguins playing the third best team in their division, the Columbus Blue Jackets, in the first round of the play-offs. If the Penguins get past the Blue Jackets, and the Capitals get past their first round opponents ( Toronto Maple Leafs), fans will be in for a treat as the Penguins and Capitals will tangle once again the play-offs.

Chicago Blackhawks
Winners of the Stanley Cup in 2015, 2013 and 2010, the Blackhawks flew under the radar (if a first-placed team can fly under the radar) because of a fairly weak Western Conference, but they will step things up a notch in the play-offs and are the prime favorites to get to the Stanley Cup finals from the West, for good reason.

Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers are back in the NHL play-offs for the first time in 11 years – much to the delight of NHL fans and purists. With the Western Conference not at its best this season, the Oilers could pose a surprise to first round opponent San Jose Sharks (the losing team in the 2016 Stanley Cup finals), but just getting into the play-offs makes this Oilers season a success regardless of a series win or loss.

Players to watch

Alexander Ovechkin (Washington Capitals)
Alexander OvechkinThe star Russian winger and captain for the Capitals, Ovechkin has battled it out with Sidney Crosby for the title of best NHL player over the course of the last decade, and is looking to win his first Stanley Cup in order to be placed on the same level as Crosby and other NHL greats that have lifted Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins)
Crosby is still regarded as the best player in the NHL who, despite missing several games this season due to injury, came back to score 44 goals and win the Maurice Richard trophy (two years in a row) for most goals in a season. Malkin is one of the most skillful players in the league who on his day can embarrass opponents with ease. Between the two of them, the Penguins have two of the most dangerous players in the league.

Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks)
Toews (pronounced Tayze) and Kane are the lifeblood of the Blackhawks and provide a very effective offensive threat for their team (55 combined goals with 92 combined assists this season). Toews is the leader of the team, much like the aforementioned Crosby and Ovechkin are to theirs. Unlike Crosby and Ovechkin, Toews is unassuming and quiet, but his demeanor belies the fact that all the centre does is win, win, win … no matter what.

Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers)
The young 2nd year centre and captain (youngest captain of a team in NHL history) for Edmonton had a solid follow-up to his rookie season as he scored 30 goals and had 70 assists this season to lead all players with 100 points and help the Oilers into the play-offs. Playing for Edmonton will always lead to unfair comparisons between McDavid and the greatest player to ever lace up skates and play in the NHL, Wayne Gretzky (played for the OIlers between 1979 and 1988 while winning four Stanley Cups), but McDavid has shown the mental strength to deal with the pressure and stardom he’s received so far. His first play-off experience will be a test that many expect he will build upon in the years to come.

African player

Johnny Oduya (Chicago Blackhawks)
Johnny OduyaThe lone player in the play-offs with African connections, Oduya (son of a Kenyan father and Swedish mother) left the Stanley Cup-winning Blackhawks in 2015 to sign with the Dallas Stars. After less than two mediocre seasons in Dallas, the Blackhawks traded for Oduya in order to get a wise and steady defenseman in their rotation to absorb the heavy minutes being played by their top three defencemen, as well as assist in other areas defensively. Since Oduya returned to Chicago, the Blackhawks have picked up defensively and balanced out the talented offense that coach Joel Quenneville puts on the ice. Oduya won’t provide flashy play, but he will be reliable and just might be the missing piece that helps the Blackhawks go on another run to the Stanley Cup finals this season.

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