A 16-team tournament packed with clubs looking for those magical 16 wins begins on Wednesday night. As such, here are 16 thoughts on the eve of the NHL playoffs.
It’s interesting that the Western draw worked out so two of Chicago, St. Louis, San Jose and Los Angeles will be gone after round one. With all due respect to Anaheim and Colorado, those first four clubs always seemed like the true heavyweight contenders. Now, if they can dust off their wild card opponents, the Ducks and Avs will face second-round foes missing a pound of flesh.
Nobody should be picking Detroit or Columbus to beat Boston or Pittsburgh, respectively. That said, the Wings are still chock full of playoff savvy and Columbus is a scrappy squad in the mould of the New York Islanders outfit that gave the Penguins all they could handle in last year’s first round. Just sayin’.
Speaking of that series, do you think Pittsburgh would have even got past the Isles if New York goalie Evgeni Nabokov didn’t post an atrocious .842 save percentage in his team’s six-game loss? Given the fact Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky could register a save percentage that’s 100 points higher, this series will be worth watching.
The matchup I can’t wait for? Chicago and St. Louis. Old Norris Division rivals; speed versus hurt; ample anger on both sides and one team can hold its ability to win Cups over the other championship-challenged franchise. Yes, please.
After the trade deadline, I talked about the Minnesota Wild being a team that could challenge from the back of the Western pack. Combine the way Ilya Bryzgalov has played since his arrival in Minny with the fact Colorado isn’t the most seasoned playoff club and the intrigue around this series grows thicker.
Matt Duchene’s expected absence (hey, it’s the playoffs; you never know) is also a huge help for the Wild. With Duchene in the lineup, Colorado can ice two deadly lines. Without him, the Wild can sick Ryan Suter on the top trio all night with less fear of getting burned by a diminished second unit.
The fact Tampa Bay goalie and Vezina candidate Ben Bishop is sidelined seems to have made Montreal the consensus pick in that matchup. I follow that logic, but Tampa is an aggressive young team and the Habs defence can get twisted in knots easier than some realize. If Carey Price isn’t significantly better than Lightning fill-in goalie Anders Lindback, look out.
Speaking of Price, it’s worth repeating that Canada’s golden goalie has a career .905 save percentage in 30 career playoff games. That storyline needs to change.
If you’re a Pens fan looking forward to round two, do you want your team to play the Rangers or Philly? Despite the Blueshirts actually being a better top-to-bottom team, my guess is everybody in Pittsburgh would like to sidestep the Flyers. The rest of us, meanwhile, should be praying for an all-Pennsylvania Metropolitan final because those games and series are just the friggin’ best.
Not that the Rangers-Flyers tilts won’t be awesome themselves. Hard to believe this is the first time these division rivals have met since the 1997 Eastern Conference final, when Eric Lindros and the Flyers beat the Blueshirts in Wayne Gretzky’s final playoff appearance.
Aside from Pittsburgh, you have to think Anaheim is the club that can least afford a first-round exit. The team has just one playoff series win since taking the Cup in 2007 and coach Bruce Boudreau has all that disappointing Washington Capitals history on his resume, plus a first-round upset with the Ducks at the hands of Detroit last year. It would be excruciating for Anaheim—the top seed in the West—not to get past the Dallas Stars.
Meanwhile, the Stars’ season qualifies as a success just by making the post-season. What a great job GM Jim Nill has done in his first season in Texas, highlighted by the trade that landed Tyler Seguin.
As for Seguin’s old team, the Bruins’ first-round series has gone to overtime of game seven each of the past three springs. The league’s top team would no doubt love to keep things shorter and sweeter this year.
A full decade after leading Calgary to the 2004 final, Jarome Iginla has his best chance yet at getting that elusive Cup ring. The fit was never quite right in Pittsburgh last year, but Iggy has been a significant contributor on Boston’s top offensive line.
Related, has anyone else noticed that Calgary and Boston always seem to be involved in these grand, “Win it for X” storylines? In 1989, everybody in Canada outside Quebec was thrilled to watch the Flames beat the Canadiens, sending Lanny McDonald into the sunset smiling. Just over 10 years later, the entire hockey world got behind Ray Bourque, who had to leave a legacy in Boston behind to win a Cup with Colorado. Now, one of Calgary’s all-time hockey heroes is chasing the dream in Beantown. Just some strange symmetry that seemed worthy of mention.
How have we gotten this far without talking about Sharks-Kings? Should we just say winner of this one goes all the way? All right, then.