The division finals begin tonight. Of the sixteen teams that started the big dance, eight have gone home. Left standing are an array of teams from the easily predictable to the somewhat surprising. Tonight we begin to separate the challengers from the true contenders.
In the west, the Los Angeles Kings will visit their nearest neighbors the Anaheim Ducks. The key point of interest in this series is the goaltenders. The Ducks have used both netminders already. The Kings have Jonathan Quick who has played like two different stoppers in this years playoffs.
The biggest difference between these two teams is age of players. Most of the Kings forwards are in the middle of their careers. Guys like Kopitar, Brown, and Carter are established veterans who can all look forward to another five or more productive seasons if they remain healthy. The Ducks have two key forwards in the same age bracket in Getzlav and Perry, and then some greybeards like Koivu and Selanne, and youngsters such as Beleskey, Smith-Pelly and Bonino who have yet to make their mark on the NHL.
The showdown for top honors in the Metropolitan Division is between the New York Rangers and regular season champion Pittsburgh Penguins. While neither team is the other’s top rival, that doesn’t mean they like each other. What’s also true is that it is entirely fair to say both teams escaped the first round minus a stretch or two of skin. The Rangers took seven games to eliminate the Flyers in a very close series. The Penguins coughed up leads right, left, and center to the Columbus Blue Jackets before moving on. Neither team should be proud of their first round performance, and both should have something to prove. The second biggest surprise in this series is who hasn’t scored a goal, and you know their names. The biggest surprise is how productive Paul Martin has been to date. This series could either be a fail fest or a ferocious battle of two skilled teams, its just a matter of which (if either) coach gets their team pulling together and aimed in the right direction, and keeps it that way.
The most historic rivalry in the NHL will begin forging a new chapter tonight. The Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens will square off for vengeance, bragging rights, and the right to move on. P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty, Alexie Emelin and Brendan Gallagher will square off with Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, and Torey Krug.
Behind those men, and across from each other will stand a pair of men with something to prove. The last time the Canadiens left the first round, Jaroslav Halak and not Carey Price was the backbone of the team. His record in Boston is not good. Price’s opposite number is in worse shape, he’s not yet beaten the teams most hated rival. Tuukka Rask is having a very good year in the NHL and has been nominated for the Vezina, while Price has an Olympic Gold Medal to comfort himself with. Something will give, or someone.
The defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks will face the plucky Minnesota Wild. The pressure is all on the 2nd City squad. Not many expected Koivu, Scandella, Coyle, Suter and Parise to beat the Avalanche. Yet win they did with an Islander’s discard potting the series winner.
Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith will look across the ice at Norris finalist snub Ryan Suter, and know they are expected to win. Charlie Coyle, Jason Pominville and their team will work their tales off, and could spark the Cinderella story of the year with a win. Hossa, Kane, Toews and Sharp stand in their way. For pure drama, this may be the most watchable series of the second round. The frosting on this icy drama is that the Blackhawks eliminated the Wild in the first round last year.