NEW YORK, NY – The NHL regular season ended Saturday and we’re set to roll into hockey’s second season. It’s on to the two-month extravaganza that culminates in one team lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup as the league champions.
After teams jockeyed for position over the last couple of months, the playoff match-ups are set for the first round and there are some good ones.
President’s Trophy winners – and runaway Cup favorites – Tampa Bay Lighting will take on the Columbus Blue Jackets. It’s a match-up that pits a host of former New York Rangers against their former Blueshirts coach.
John Tortorella has had a good run in Columbus but he’s coming up against a buzz saw in the Tampa’s Lightning. The Lightning dominated the regular season amassing 62 wins and 128 points. The 62 wins matches the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings’ total. Notably the Red Wings did not win the Stanley Cup in 1996. They were defeated in six games by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche. The Bolts will be looking to avoid that fate. Their series starts Wednesday night. I think the Lighting will win this series in five games.
The other Atlantic Division matchup sees the Boston Bruins play the Toronto Maple Leafs in an original six matchup. The bruins and Leafs both hit the century mark on points during the regular season. This series should be great with two hockey powerhouses going head-to-head. The Leafs are relevant again and in Mathews and Tavares, they have plenty of firepower. I don’t know if that will be enough to see them through, though. I’ve got the Bruins winning in 7.
In the Metropolitan Division, the Washington Capitals will take on the Carolina Hurricanes who won the first Wild Card slot. The Canes and Blue Jackets held on to the Wild Card spots and kept the Canadiens out. The Caps should make quick work of the Hurricanes. This series should be over in four games.
The last Eastern Conference matchup sees the New York Islanders play the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Isles led the Metropolitan Division for a time, but stumbled in the final month and fell a point short of the Capitals. The Penguins were on the outside looking in a month ago and managed to pull things together to secure the third spot in the Metro, reaching 100 points in the process. This should be another good series and I think it will go the distance with the Penguins prevailing in seven games.
Out west, the Calgary Flames led the pack and will play the Colorado Avalanche in the first round. The Flames are probably Canada’s best hope of reaching the finals. They should make quick work of the Avs. Flames in four.
The Sharks and Knights will do battle in the other Pacific Conference match-up. The Knights couldn’t match their regular season performance from last season. They finished third in the Pacific with 93 points. They’ll go out to the Sharks in six games.
In the Central Division, Nashville will take on Mats Zuccarello and the Dallas Stars. The Preds were the only team in the Central to reach 100 points. The Stars had a great last month of the season and reached 93 points. Zuccarello returned from his broken arm last week and is set to help the Stars try to beat the Preds. I think the Predators will prevail in a long series. Nashville in 7.
Lastly the Winnipeg
J-E-T-S Jets will take on the St. Louis Blues. Both teams finished with 99 points, with the Jets edging the Blues for the second spot in the Central. This should be another even series with the Jets winning in 7 games.
The playoffs start Wednesday and it should be a good one. That’s it for me today. Leave your two bits below and come back tomorrow for a fellow Puck Head, Ben Whitney.