NHL Network Radio’s Mick Kern shares his 2018 playoff predictions

Blake Wheeler #26 and Kyle Connor #81 of the Winnipeg Jets celebrate a second period goal against the Los Angeles Kings at the Bell MTS Place on March 20, 2018 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

Spring has finally arrived, which means baseball is just around the corner, and more importantly, the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 16 of the 31 teams in the NHL will live to play meaningful games in April, and that group will include the expansion Vegas Golden Knights. Despite benefitting from a generous expansion draft, and some astute moves by general manager George McPhee, (the Golden Knights will be crowned Pacific Division champions, and will face the first Western Conference wildcard team), it’s still a major surprise that Vegas has done this well in their inaugural season.

Will the Vegas magic hold up over a seven-game series? That’s one of many questions as we head into the first round of the post-season… Most hockey observers have tapped Nashville to be the odds-on-favourite to hoist the Stanley Cup over their head come mid-June. The Preds came up two games short in the Cup Final last year against the Penguins. Can those Pens win yet again, and become the first team to claim the Cup three times in a row since the Islanders way back in the early 1980s?

They’ll have a difficult path to navigate just to get back to the Stanley Cup Final, as the Eastern Conference features a number of impressive battleship teams. The Tampa Bay Lightning, who missed the playoff cut by one point last season, are back with a vengeance, and next to the Predators are the team most mentioned as the eventual Cup champions. The Bolts will have to get by the likes of the resurgent Devils and Flyers, the pesky Blue Jackets, the young gun Maple Leafs, and the impressive Boston Bruins.

One of the hoary old clichés in hockey is just get into the playoffs, and anything can happen. A quick glance at the NHL Guide and record book lays waste to that myth, as it was exceedingly rare that the underdogs would win the Stanley Cup. With the parity that now exists in the league, that cliché has become true; just get into the Stanley Cup playoffs, and anything can happen.

Will the Winnipeg Jets win their first Stanley Cup, and become the first Canadian-based team to do so since the 1993 Montreal Canadiens? Will 600 goal scorer Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals finally go deep into the spring, and maybe, just maybe, hoist their first Stanley Cup? Will there be controversial offside calls, and how much goaltender inference will there be?

One thing is guaranteed; there will be classic playoff games played, games that we’ll be talking about years from now.  Overtimes that will last a handful of minutes, and overtimes that will extend into the early hours of the morning.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs is when the National Hockey League really comes alive, and it all begins on Wednesday, April 11th. SiriusXM NHL Network Radio Channel 91 has you covered, with games, analysis, and 24/7 hockey talk.