Beyond Nova Nation: Playoffs feature divisonal faceoffs



Kaitlin Santanna

The quarterfinal round of the NHL playoffs kicked off last night, with some series starting tonight or tomorrow. This opening round features five matchups of teams from the same division and proves to be one of the most exciting first rounds in recent history.

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Montreal Canadiens vs.

No. 8 Boston Bruins

On paper, this matchup looks to heavily lean toward the Canadiens in this battle of historic rivals. The Habs are the Eastern Conference Champions with 104 points, have gone 8-1-1 in their past 10 games and swept the season series versus the Bruins 8-0. Boston, on the other hand, only secured its playoff spot a week ago. A plus for the Bruins is that all Stanley Cup champions have an extremely strong defensive core, and Boston is perhaps the best defensive shutdown team in the league. The Canadiens’ fate will largely depend on the status of their injured captain Saku Koivu and their rookie goaltender Corey Price, who, although a proven champion in the minor leagues, has not had to perform on a scale this large before.

No. 2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs.

No. 7 Ottawa Senators

After starting off the season with a record 13-1-0, the Senators fell from grace and barely squeaked their way into the playoffs. Now Ottawa must face one of the most talented teams in the league in the Atlantic Division Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. This is the matchup the Pens wanted, and Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Co. should have little trouble taking care of the injury-ridden Senators, who look to be without veterans Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fischer at the start of the series.

No. 3 Washington Capitals vs.

No. 6 Philadelphia Flyers

This matchup of the two most improved teams from last season is one of the most anticipated in the Eastern Conference. The Capitals are the hottest team in the league and had to go 7-0 and win 11 in their last 12 games just to make the playoffs. They clinched the Southeast Division in the last game of the series and are the only team in NHL history ranked 14th in the conference to come back and win the division, carrying energy, emotion, home advantage and the support of a majority of the League’s fans on their side. Washington also has Alexander Ovechkin, one of the few players in history to win both the trophies for top-scoring and goals in a season. With all the Cap hype, Philly will be able to fly under the radar and play with a little less pressure. The Flyers and Capitals have two of the hottest goalies in the league, two equally matched records and both of their captains out due to injury. Keep an eye on this matchup, which looks to produce close and exciting games.

No. 4 New Jersey Devils vs.

No. 5 New York Rangers

These two divisional rivals ended the regular season playing each other, vying for home ice advantage. If the fact that that game went to a shootout is any indication, this series will be a close one. The Devils and Rangers know each other well and both have incredible strength in goal with Marty Brodeur and Henrik Lundqvist, respectively. The real questions for whoever gets out of the first round are what sort of shape they will be in after this war of a series and whether they can be competitive in future rounds. Every game in this matchup is going to be a battle and has the potential to take all seven games to sort out.

Western Conference

No. 1 Detroit Red Wings vs.

No. 8 Nashville Predators

This series looks more uneven on paper than it may be on the ice. The Wings won the President Trophy for the best record in the NHL and have sat unchallenged atop the league all season long. Despite the great year from Detroit, the season series between the Preds and Wings has been very close. Nashville was 3-3-2 against Detroit, and five of the eight games have been one-goal contests. The goaltending for Detroit is a very veteran tandem, and keeping these aged keepers healthy may be a concern for the Wings. Although the Red Wings’ third-ranked power play equals Nashville’s third-ranked penalty kill, the Predators’ power play ranks 27-out-of-30 in the league to Detroit’s eighth-place PK.

No. 2 San Jose Sharks vs.

No. 7 Calgary Flames

The 2-7 matchup traditionally produces an upset in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. While the Sharks/Flames series may not turn out an upset, it will certainly not be an easy ride for either team. The Flames are the only team that has to open their series with back-to-back games on the road, but if they can steal a game in San Jose, their first-round future looks bright. Calgary, despite having strength in goal with Miikka Kiprusoff, on defense with Dion Phaneuf and in their 50-goal scorer Jarome Iginla, has been inconsistent throughout the season and lacks secondary scoring. If the Sharks can shut down the Flames’ first line and continue to play consistent, the depth of San Jose should counter the lack of playoff success that has plagued the team in past seasons.

No. 3 Minnesota Wild vs.

No. 6 Colorado Avalanche

After missing the playoffs last season, the Avalanche has combined veteran players from past playoff runs with rookie stars of the future. The Wild and Avs hail from the same division and have been rivals all season long. Like the Rangers and Devils, Minnesota and Colorado finished off the regular season with a game decided in a shootout. The Wild also took the season series between the teams, winning five-of-eight games, but all were close matches, featuring four one-goal contests. If Colorado veterans, such as Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic and Adam Foote, can stay healthy, this matchup will be another tight series.

No. 4 Anaheim Ducks vs.

No. 5 Dallas Stars

The Ducks and the Stars each occupied the top spot in the Pacific Division before the Sharks emerged victorious. Dallas won the head-to-head matchup between the two teams by a slim margin, but it has gone only 4-8-2 in its last 14 regular season games. The Ducks received a mid-season boost with the return of Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne, two players with a plethora of playoff experience. Dallas has a group of veterans itself and, like the No 4-No. 5 matchup in the East, this Anaheim-Dallas series will be a battle that will go the distance.