Connor’s Corner: NHL Preview, top teams capturing division crowns

The Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers’ starting centers – Claude Giroux and Patrice Bergeron – will meet in the middle of TD Garden to mark the beginning of the 2014-15 National Hockey League season Wednesday night.

One of the teams in matchup will win its respective division, and it’s not the Broad Street Bullies.

The Boston Bruins will bruise their way through a tough Atlantic Division, and find themselves on top at the end of the season. The loss of enforcer Shawn Thornton to the Florida Panthers will hurt, but there is enough grit between Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara to get the Bruins to the playoffs.

Bergeron will bring the best out of his wingers Brad Marchand and Reilly Smith. Both will have all-star quality seasons. Tuukka Rask will win the Vezina Trophy on Boston’s marathon to the postseason.

The Pittsburgh Penguins will face off against the Anaheim Ducks at 7 p.m. Thursday night. The game features two of the NHL’s premiere lineups, and both will win their divisions.

The Ducks made the biggest off-season move – acquiring Ryan Kesler from the Vancouver Canucks.

Kesler gives Anaheim’s second line much needed offensive firepower, which will help the team win the Pacific Division and elevate the Ducks to the next level in the playoffs.

Corey Perry will lead the division in goals, and Ryan Getzlaf will lead the Pacific in assists.

The Penguins will be in a close race with the Chicago Blackhawks for the top team in the NHL.

Pittsburgh added defenseman Christian Ehrhoff from the Buffalo Sabres to strengthen the defense core while adding some offense to the blue line. He will add a dynamic dimension to an established and potent power play.

The surprise MVP for the Penguins will be the second-line center Brandon Sutter. In the absence of Evgeni Malkin and Beau Bennett, Sutter will be a rock for Pittsburgh.

Chicago will take the Central Division with the most well-rounded squad in the NHL. Signing Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews for the next eight years gives the team stability and proves that the Blackhawks will be a perennial powerhouse in the Central.

When the most exciting player in the NHL – Kane – is on your second line, you’re doing something right. The Blackhawks have the best top-two lines in the NHL and have a defensive core that has immense playoff experience.

Steven Stamkos will snipe his way to the Rocket Richard trophy, and his fellow rookie teammate Jonathan Drouin will take home the Calder trophy when he returns from a minor thumb injury.

The Buffalo Sabres rookie center Samson Reinhart will also be in contention for the Calder, but I give the slight edge to Drouin.

Drew Doughty will be awarded the Norris trophy for his outstanding defensive play in all three zones.  P.K. Subban will make it close, but Doughty’s defensive awareness puts him a step ahead of Montreal’s top defensemen.

Stanley Cup Prediction: Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 series win over the Boston Bruins.

CONNOR SONDEL

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