The NHL Playoffs are right around the corner and hockey’s coveted “Lord Stanley” Cup is up for grabs. This year, for the first time in 46 years, all teams involved in the playoffs are from the good ol’ USA, despite hockey’s foundations in Canada. All seven Canadian teams were eliminated from playoff contention in early April. The Stanley Cup Playoffs will begin on Wednesday. This year’s Cup playoffs are anyone’s game, with multiple contenders for the title.
Starting off in the West in round one is the Minnesota Wild vs the Dallas Stars. The Wild faced an uphill battle in the second half of the season after a promising first half. They just snagged the second wild-card spot in the West with 87 points. On the other side the Dallas Stars had a fantastic season, topping their conference with 109 points. During the regular season, the Wild/Stars series was almost evenly divided going 1-1-3. Both teams are missing top scorers. Minnesota’s Zach Parise has been listed as day-to-day with a back injury. He is one of the most experienced players on the Wild’s roster, especially concerning the playoffs. He’s recorded 25 goals this year. On the Dallas end, star forward Tyler Seguin has been out for the past couple games when he suffered an Achilles injury back in early March. Seguin recorded 33 goals this season. This particular match-up is heightened in rivalry, too, since the Dallas Stars were formerly the North Stars, who played in Minnesota until 1993.
Next in the West in round 1 are defending champions, the Chicago Blackhawks who will face the St. Louis Blues. The Blackhawks have won three Stanley Cups in the past five years and are hungry for a fourth. They’ll face conference rivals the St Louis Blues who came in second in the regular season. The Hawks finished third, despite a strong start. Of course you can’t talk about the Blackhawks without mentioning Patrick Kane who set a personal record, this season, with 106 points including a 26 game point-streak. He’ll face off against star Blues forward, Vladimir Tarasenko who scored 40 goals for the Blues this season. Reports say that Blues goalie, Jake Allen has recovered from injury and will be ready for the postseason while Hawks veteran Marian Hossa’s status is still uncertain after sitting out the Hawks final regular season game. The defending Stanley Cup Champs had a disappointing second half of the regular season, losing their spot at the top of the division and coming in third, while the Blues finished on a high note.
The Nashville Predators and the Anaheim Ducks will also face off in the first round. Nashville has been one of the hottest teams in the second half of the NHL season. They took home 46 wins in the second half to rally and grab the first wildcard spot in the West. However, Anaheim won their division and is considered one of the best statistical teams in the league. Both teams are considered extremely tight on the defensive side, while the Ducks lead the league in both power play and penalty kill percentages. Though both teams have great defensive game, they both also have power on their forward lines. The Ducks have Ryan Kesler, one of the biggest names in American hockey and the Preds have Philip Forsberg, a young player who has proven his poise with the puck.
Finishing up the West is a California rivalry between the L.A. Kings and the San Jose Sharks. The Kings and the Sharks have a bit of history in the playoffs as the Kings eliminated the Sharks in both the 2013 and 2014 playoff series. On the Sharks side of things, their top line of Thornton, Pavelski, and Hertl has been consistently producing but they’ll have to go up against Jonathan Quick of the L.A. Kings, one of the best American-born goalies in the league and a two-time Stanley Cup winner. On a defensive side, both teams have Norris Trophy contenders in Brett Burns with the Sharks and Drew Doughty for the Kings.
Over in the East, the Washington Capitals will face the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round. The Caps took the league lead with a remarkable 120 points in the regular season. Forward, Alexander Ovechkin scored 50 goals, marking his third consecutive 50 goal season. However, the Caps secured a playoff position very early and haven’t had to play with much urgency, lately. They’ll need to rekindle their momentum for the playoffs, especially after losing their edge in the playoffs year after year. For the Flyers, the goalie, Steve Mason, has been by far the most consistent player in a long stretch of tired play by the front lines. The Flyers will also have to reinvigorate their team after a hard-fought regular season. Philadelphia has won three of five postseason series against the Capitals.
The second match-up in the east offers a shot at redemption for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they take on the New York Rangers. The Rangers eliminated the penguins in the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Pens are looking to stop history from repeating itself. The two teams have two of the most respected goalies in the league with Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers and Marc-Andre Fleury with the Penguins. Fleury recently recovered from a concussion suffered earlier this month and is good to go for the first round. Although, his counterpart, Lundqvist, has extensive playoff experience, many think that Fleury will be able to hold his own against the Rangers, who will be missing their captain, Ryan McDonagh for at least the first game. On the Pens side, after a slow start, captain Sidney Crosby seems to have fallen into a rhythm in the second half of the regular season and should pose a threat, as always.
Jaromir Jagr, now the oldest player in the league will lead the Florida Panthers as they take on the New York Islanders in the first round. Jagr himself has had a particularly hot season, tallying 66 points and he certainly has the most playing experience out of anyone in the league. However, the Panthers have low statistics in both shots on goal and puck possession which will be hard to handle against the Islanders physical play. Islanders captain, John Tavares will also pose a significant threat against the Panthers as he tallied 70 points during the regular season. However, Islanders goalie, Thomas Greiss, only has one game of playoff experience, despite consistency during the regular season. It’s unsure whether he’ll respond well to the pressure of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Rounding out the East in the first round is the match-up between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Detroit Red Wings. The Lightning took their season all the way to the finals last year where they fell short of the title. They suffered a significant loss in the post season when captain, Steven Stamkos, was reported out for the remainder of the year, undergoing surgery for a blood clot found in his arm. On the other side, the Red Wings have ample playoff experience as this is the 25th consecutive time they’ve made it to the playoffs, however, they haven’t been able to produce on that lately, as they’ve lost in the first round for the last two years in a row. During the regular season the Red Wings and the Lightning split their series, each taking a win in two games.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports