Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s almost that time of year. When fans start whipping out their rally towels, bragging rights against the team you hate the most are at an all-time high and men grow beards that could put a bear to shame.
I’m talking, of course, about the NHL playoffs.
With the regular season winding down within the next week or so, the post-season race will soon be underway. However with the realignment that the league underwent at the start of the season, the pictures will look a little different than they have in years past.
The new format for the playoffs is not as straightforward as it used to be. Instead of the top eight teams in each conference making fighting for a chance to win the Stanley Cup, conferences are broken down into divisions. And it’s within divisions that the matchups are decided.
The top three teams from the Central, Atlantic, Pacific and Metropolitan divisions will make up the first 12 teams. The remaining four teams will be determined by a wildcard, which is determined by the next two highest-placed teams in each conference.
Don’t worry, I was every bit as confused as you might be right now. So instead of fretting over the logistics, let’s focus on what really matters: What the playoffs would look like if they started today.
In the first round, matchups would be as follows. Wild card teams are denoted with a “wc.”
(1) St. Louis Blues v. (wc) Dallas Stars
(2) Colorado Avalanche v. (3) Chicago Blackhawks
(1) Anaheim Ducks v. (wc) Minnesota Wild
(2) San Jose Sharks v. (3) Los Angeles Kings.
If this is in fact how things will unfold, one series to keep an eye on will be Colorado against Chicago.
The Avalanche have earned their first playoff berth since 2010, led by offensive powerhouses Gabe Landeskog and Paul Stastny. On the other hand, the Blackhawks have been no stranger to the postseason. They’ve captured two Stanley Cups in the last three years, most recently in 2013. Neither team lacks the prowess up front or on defense, so it’s sure to be one tough series.
(1) Boston Bruins v. (wc) Columbus Blue Jackets
(2) Montreal Canadiens v. (3) Tampa Bay Lightning
(1) Pittsburgh Penguins v. (wc) Detroit Red Wings
(2) New York Rangers v. (3) Philadelphia Flyers
It’s no secret which of these series will prove to be most interesting. It’s looking a lot like 2008 and 2009, isn’t it? Detroit and Pittsburgh can’t seem to get enough of each other in the playoffs. Of course, the Red Wings took home hockey’s holy grail in the 2008 finals, and Pittsburgh returned the favor exactly a year later.
However, Detroit didn’t display the dominance this season that we’ve all become accustomed to. Plagued by injuries that left them unable to find stability, it’s unusual that the Original Six team is fighting for a wild card spot instead of kicking back as the Presidents' Trophy winners.
And then you have Pittsburgh. Head coach Dan Bylsma recently became the fastest coach to reach 250 wins in the NHL. Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz have proved more than capable when it comes to scoring goals, and rookie goaltender Jeff Zatkoff has been solid between the pipes.
The Penguins are currently without top forward Evgeni Malkin, and as we’ve seen before, that’s about the only injury they can afford. This team’s downfall tends to happen when all their star players go down at once.
And there you have it. The NHL postseason is always one of the most exciting, nerve-racking and cuss word-inducing times of the year. So if you have a die-hard hockey fan friend, please cut him or her some slack. And don’t take anything they may shout at you during a post-game tirade personally.
They can’t help it. It’s the playoffs.
Who do you have winning the Stanley Cup this season? Email email@example.com and let Adee know what you think.