With the most frustrating regular season in memory for all but one Canadian based team any hope for returning the Stanley Cup to Canada rests on the Montreal Canadiens and especially Carey Price. These playoffs will be no different than in the past with goal tending excellence poised to lead the story line for any team hoping to go deep into the playoff hunt for Lord Stanley’s prize.
With all 82 games of the 2013 –2014 season now history, the final Eastern standings have the Bruins on top with Columbus and Detroit drawing into the wild card spots. The full run down can be viewed at the official NHL website, http://www.nhl.com/ice/standings.htm?season=20132014&type=CON
At first glance it appears the Canadiens would play the Rangers but the format has been tweaked from the previous conference rank of four versus five, three versus six and so forth. Now the in conference match ups are based on division standings with the first round match ups as follows: http://www.nhl.com/ice/standings.htm?season=20132014&type=PLA
The Boston Bruins not only won the East with 117 points but were first overall and will have home ice advantage all the way through to the Cup finals, should they make it that far. In their first round series with Detroit, they should have little trouble dispatching the Wings in four or five games. Detroit tied Columbus for 7th place based on points but is ranked 8th due to fewer regulation and overtime wins. The Bruins finished the season with a plus 84 goals for and against differential compared to the Wings at minus eight, the only play-off team in the minus column.
As there is always an upset or two in the first round and despite the Penguins star power, the Blue Jackets will be unencumbered by expectations while all the pressure will be on Crosby and company to capture the Cup. Looking ahead always spells trouble and the Penguins could be surprised here especially with their history of net minding meltdowns come the post-season. This has the makings of a round one upset. Columbus will survive the Pens in seven games.
The Habs have the net minder that could carry them all the way with B.C. born Carey Price, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carey_Price coming off an Olympic gold medal and as confident as he’s ever been. The Canadiens have been stingy, second only to Boston in goals allowed over the season among Eastern Conference teams. Drawing Tampa Bay but losing home ice makes this more of a challenge for Montreal with the teams finishing just one point apart. Perhaps a slight edge to the Habs because of Price but this should be the most entertaining first round series.
Another even series features the Rangers and Flyers. While the Rangers have been improving all year after a very slow start, so has Philadelphia. New York finished just two points in front of the Flyers but recorded one more loss. The Rangers advantage is having Lundquist between the pipes on top of a significant goal differential at + 25 as compared to +1 for Philadelphia. If the perceived advantage in net plays out, New York should prevail in seven.
The playoffs get underway Wednesday April 16th at 4:00 pm eastern with Montreal visiting the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Penguins host Columbus at 4:30 eastern while the Rangers Flyers series gets underway Thursday. Boston does not hit the ice until Friday when they host the Red Wings.