Posted on 01 May 2013.
For hockey fans, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are what we live for. It’s where the best story lines come to life in constant, leave-you-breathless action. If you’re not a fan, let me lay it out for you. It’s like March Madness, combined with NFL playoff weekend action, with the patriotism and spirit of the Olympics. Are you hooked yet?
The lockout led to a shortened season, but the NHL playoffs are back this week in their full splendor. Playoff previews are a dime a dozen, so we here at Pro Sports Chick have tried to compile the BEST information so that you can become an expert in no time. Let’s start with the Eastern Conference.
#1 Pittsburgh vs #8 Islanders
After years of disappointment, the New York Islanders are finally giving their fans something to be excited about – an upcoming move to a hip location and a dynamic, youthful team to go with their new image. Twenty-two-year-old John Tavares and linemate Matt Moulson are one of the most prolific duos in the league, but they are facing a team that many considered to be Cup favorites before the season even began – the Pittsburgh Penguins. The stats on their roster could make for a pretty competitive fantasy team, not to mention the fact that they got where they are with their captain Sidney Crosby sidelined with a broken jaw for the past month. No big deal.
The Numbers: The Islanders have a combined 193 career playoff games among them; the Penguins have 1,159. In the five times these two teams faced each other during the regular season, Pittsburgh came away with four wins.
#2 Montreal Canadiens vs #7 Ottawa Senators
Have you ever heard the expression, “They’re dropping like flies?” In a condensed season, with games almost every other day, more injuries are bound to happen; but the Ottawa Senators’ situation in 2013 was something out of a horror flick. With defensemen Erik Karlsson and Jared Cowen, goalie Craig Anderson and top center Jason Spezza all missing extended periods of time, the Sens had to overcome arguably the most adversity any team faced this season to earn a playoff spot. On the other hand, it has been twenty years since the Montreal Canadiens last had a Stanley Cup victory, and the team and its fan base are hungry for success. They missed the playoffs last year and got knocked off by the future champions, the Boston Bruins, the year before. Don’t let the seeding fool you; this may prove to be one of the most competitive series in the playoffs.
The Numbers: The Habs and the Sens split the regular season series with two games apiece. In their last 10 games, the Canadiens are 4-6 and the Senators are 6-4.
#3 Washington Capitals vs #6 New York Rangers
With a new coach in longtime NHLer Adam Oates, the Washington Capitals got off to a bumpy start this year and many people assumed they would be golfing by now. But that was before Alexander Ovechkin caught on fire and finished the season with a league-leading 32 goals. These teams know each other very well – this is the third consecutive season they will meet in the playoffs, and fourth time in five years. The New York Rangers are a complete team with players who are not afraid to sacrifice their bodies by hitting an opponent or standing in front of their shots. That willingness, combined with a world-class goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist, makes them a true force to be reckoned with this postseason.
The Numbers: The Caps finished the season on a 15-2-2 run and tied for fourth in the league in the number of goals per game. The Rangers were 2-1 against the Caps during the regular season, and their loss came in a shootout.
#4 Boston Bruins vs #5 Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs are back in the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-04 season. The Boston Bruins still have 18 players remaining from their Stanley Cup victory two years ago, but with a few additions that complement their already talented roster, namely veteran forwards Jay Pandolfo and Jaromir Jagr. Goaltender Tuukka Rask has been quietly getting the job done for the B’s, but he will have his hands full with big names such as Phil Kessel, James Van Riemsdyk, and up-and-comer Nazem Kadri.
The Numbers: The B’s beat the Leafs in 3 out of 4 contests during the regular season. Neither team finished particularly strong, with both winning just 6 games in April. The Maple Leafs have lost the last 11 out of 13 games at Boston’s TD Garden.
And on the West coast:
#1 Chicago Blackhawks vs #8 Minnesota Wild
Both of these teams made shocking headlines this year. It appears that the Minnesota Wild took a note from the Miami Heat and the New York Yankees, stopping at no cost to bring in the hottest young players available in the hopes of bringing their team closer to a championship. It paid off with a playoff berth. Zach Parise produced 38 points and Ryan Suter is ranked third in the NHL in points among defensemen. With the trade deadline acquisition of the former Buffalo Sabres captain Jason Pominville, this team has the tools to put up a fight in the future. The Chicago Blackhawks, however, will be very tough competition. Their big names – Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa – who earned 55, 48 and 31 points, respectively, lead this team to some incredible stats, seen below.
The Numbers: In the first 24 games of the season (that’s HALF!), the Blackhawks did not lose in regulation. They were awarded the Presidents’ Trophy for earning the most points of any team this season. The Wild gave out two contracts to the aforementioned Parise and Suter totaling nearly $200 million last summer. It might not be directly related to this playoff series, but it’s astounding nonetheless.
#2 Anaheim Ducks vs #7 Detroit Red Wings
Dynasty. No, not “Duck Dynasty,” the popular TV show, though I have heard it’s highly entertaining. Dynasty as in the Detroit Red Wings, who have won four cups since 1996-97 and have only missed the playoffs two times since 1983-84. That’s about as close to a dynasty as you can get in the modern-day NHL. This pair is quite surprising in the ways that their seasons played out. While the Red Wings didn’t clinch a playoff berth until their last game in the regular season, the Anaheim Ducks got 30 wins this season after finishing last in their division in 2012 and consequently missing the playoffs. While the Red Wings have full faith in their goalie Jimmy Howard, the Ducks have been splitting time between Viktor Fasth and Jonas Hiller, and that could get complicated down the road.
The Numbers: Despite having the lower seed, the Red Wings beat the Ducks two out of the three times they met this season. Both teams are coming in with momentum, with Detroit winning their last four and Anaheim winning three out of their last four.
#3 Vancouver Canucks vs #6 San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks have not won a Stanley Cup since they were created in 1991-92, but they have been close. This is their ninth playoff appearance in as many years. They have a lot of depth, and four players (Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski) earning more than 30 points this year. The Vancouver Canucks are similar in that there aren’t just one or two stars; they had six players score 10 or more goals, but none score over 15. Both teams rank in the bottom half of the league for the number of goals scored per game, so this most likely won’t be a high-scoring series, but it should be an exciting matchup.
The Numbers: The Sharks have been great at home this year with a record of 17-2-5. When playing in other arenas, they’re 8-14-2. They are tied with the Kings for the least amount of wins on the road out of teams that made the playoffs. While many believe that seeding does not matter in the NHL as much as it does in other sports, it could come into play here. Having the lower seed could work against them if they cannot come away with a win in Vancouver. The good news is that they beat the Canucks the three times these teams faced each other this season.
#4 St. Louis Blues vs #5 Los Angeles Kings
Last but not least, the reigning Stanley Cup Champion L.A. Kings aim to repeat. And why not? They were the 8th seed last year and only lost 4 games in their entire playoff run. They swept the St. Louis Blues in the playoffs last year, and they have all their major players back: Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, and goalie Jonathan Quick. But the fat lady isn’t singing the Blues just yet. They have won six of their last seven and that’s without much contribution from their top players like Chris Stewart and Patrick Berglund. If this crew can get hot, they have a chance at revenge.
The Numbers: After 764 career games, the Blues’ Jay Bouwmeester finally gets to play in a postseason game. That was the longest active streak in the NHL. The Blues have only one victory in their last 11 matchups against the Kings. As mentioned earlier, the Kings only earned 8 wins on the road this season, but two of those wins were at St. Louis.
Go watch some hockey. Because it’s the Cup.
All statistics/records were acquired from hockey-reference.com, NHL.com and the official individual team sites.