Now that the National Hockey League’s all-star weekend has officially come to an end, teams are entering the stretch towards the playoffs.
Two teams, Tampa Bay and Calgary, are not only post-season-bound but they are eyeing first overall in the NHL and home-ice advantage throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs. Certainly, the Lightning have the edge in points — 76 to 71 — and two games in hand on the Flames entering play Monday, but I wouldn’t bet against Calgary making a serious run at the top spot.
At the other end of the standings are those teams that will be sellers come the Feb. 26 trade deadline. Yes, I’m looking at you, Ottawa, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Detroit, Los Angeles and Chicago — the latter two having won five of the six Stanley Cups between 2009-10 and 2014-15.
That leaves a whole host of teams battling for playoff spots. If the Stanley Cup playoffs started Monday, fans would be treated to some exceptional opening round series.
Out west, three of the four playoff matchups would be never-before-seen series. The top-seeded Flames would square off against Colorado for the first time in franchise history, a favourable matchup for the boys from Alberta given their 3-0 record against the Avalanche this season.
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Winnipeg and Dallas would meet in the playoffs for the first time as well, as would Central Division rivals Minnesota and Nashville. Vegas and San Jose would hook up in round one, a rematch of last year’s Western Conference semi-final series, won by the Golden Knights.
As good as the potential series in the west are, they are not as compelling as those that we might see in the Eastern Conference. How does a Tampa Bay-Pittsburgh first-round series sound? Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin versus Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos? Yes, please!
Maybe you’d prefer a series between the upstart New York Islanders and the battle-tested Boston Bruins? They’ve met twice in the post-season before but not since 1983 when New York went on to win its fourth consecutive Stanley Cup.
Washington and Columbus would meet again this spring following their exciting six-game series in round one last season.
The piece de resistance, however, would be an epic opening round series between Original Six rivals the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens. The two historic clubs have met in the playoffs on 15 different occasions — the last of which came in 1979 — including five times in the Stanley Cup final. The Habs have won eight of those 15 series, but the Leafs own a 3-2 edge when the Cup was on the line.
Now, if only we can only convince the NHL to start the playoffs pronto.