Intense battles highlight playoff matchups
With a rigorous 82-game schedule officially in the books, the real season begins for the 16 NHL teams in search of Lord Stanley's mug.
There will be plenty of storylines to follow when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin Wednesday night (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m. ET) in Pittsburgh.
The Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens will clash for a 32nd time in their storied rivalry. The Bruins are looking to beat a Montreal team that has already knocked them out three times this decade. It's been 15 years since Boston has ousted the Canadiens in a playoff series.
Philadelphia had a golden opportunity to nail down home ice advantage in the opening round, but dropped a 4-3 decision to the New York Rangers, forcing the Flyers to start on the road against the hated Penguins. The Flyers must also contend with stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who became the fourth player in team history to win the Art Ross Trophy as leading NHL scorer.
Over in the Western Conference, the Vancouver Canucks used a late-season surge to snatch the Northwest crown away from Calgary. Due to injuries and salary cap issues, the Flames started only 15 skaters during their final two games.
The San Jose Sharks secured home ice throughout the playoffs, an important fact with the NHL club losing only five times at HP Pavilion.
(1) Boston (53-19-10, 116 points) vs. (8) Montreal (41-30-11, 93 points)
The Bruins were clearly the best team in the East and have beaten Montreal the last five times. However, Boston can't take Montreal lightly, especially when considering its past playoff failures against the Habs.
The teams have met in the post-season 31 times, with the Canadiens skating away with 24 series victories. Montreal's most recent conquest was a seven-game affair during last season's first round. The Bruins also held the No. 1 seed in 2002, only to fall to Montreal in the opening round in six games.
(2) Washington (50-24-8, 108 points) vs. (7) New York Rangers (43-30-9, 95 points)
Superstar sniper Alex Ovechkin, the Maurice (Rocket) Richard Trophy winner as the NHL's top scorer with 56 goals, leads the Capitals' attack. Washington, which cruised to the Southeast Division title by 11 points over Carolina, defeated the Rangers three of four times this season.
(3) New Jersey (51-27-4, 106 points) vs. (6) Carolina (45-30-7, 97 points)
New Jersey finished its campaign with a 3-2 win over the Hurricanes, and with forward Zach Parise, sport one of the most talented scorers in all of hockey. But Carolina upended the Devils in the first three contests of the year, outscoring New Jersey by a 9-5 margin.
(4) Pittsburgh (45-28-9, 99 points) vs. (5) Philadelphia (44-27-11, 99 points)
Although the Flyers would dearly love to gain a measure of revenge for having their post-season halted by the Penguins last year, advancing won't be easy. The Penguins, who eliminated Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference final in 2008, have won five of six games against their state rivals.
(1) San Jose (53-18-11, 117 points) vs. (8) Anaheim (42-33-7, 91 points)
Winners of the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's best regular-season team, the Sharks continue one of the most intense rivalries in hockey against their fellow California foes. San Jose finished with a franchise record of 53 victories, while posting the league's best home mark of 32-5-4 this season. But Anaheim has beaten the Sharks in two of the six games, including a convincing 5-2 win in San Jose on April 4.
(2) Detroit (51-21-10, 112 points) vs. (7) Columbus (41-31-10, 92 points)
The Blue Jackets face a good and bad news scenario heading into the playoffs. Columbus reached the post-season for the first time in its nine-year existence. On the other hand, the team has the unenviable task of taking on the defending Stanley Cup champions. Although the Red Wings concluded the season 3-6-1, they remain a serious threat to repeat.
(3) Vancouver (45-27-10, 100 points) vs. (6) St. Louis (41-31-10, 92 points)
In Roberto Luongo, the Canucks have one the best goaltenders in the NHL. That's a very good thing considering Vancouver struggled to score this season. The Canucks managed just 246 goals, the fourth worst total among West playoff teams. The Blues, who split a four-game set with Vancouver this year, are in the post-season for the first time since 2004, and had the best second-half record in the NHL (25-9-7).
(4) Chicago (46-24-12, 104 points) vs. (5) Calgary (46-30-6, 98 points)
The Flames are banged up and face a Chicago team that's handled them quite easily this season. Calgary is 0-3-1 against the Blackhawks, while being outscored 19-7. Another problem for the Flames: all four games were played when the team was healthy.