Here are your first round matchups

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With the Detroit Red Wings beating the St. Louis Blues, we now know which teams will meet in the first round.

If you’re not familiar with the new playoff format, the second and third place teams in each division will face each other while the division winners will play against the Wild Card squads. As you might imagine, the teams with the best record in their respective Conferences are paired with the worst Wild Card teams.

We’ll have plenty of in-depth coverage of the upcoming playoff series in the days to come, but for now, here are your first round matchups:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Boston Bruins versus Detroit Red Wings

The Detroit Red Wings have made the playoffs for the 23rd consecutive campaign. Meanwhile, the Boston Bruins have secured the Presidents’ Trophy for the second time in the franchise’s history. Two of the eight teams that have won the Presidents’ Trophy in the salary cap era have gone on to win the Stanley Cup.

Montreal Canadiens versus Tampa Bay Lightning

It remains to be seen who will have home ice advantage in this series. Montreal finished the campaign with 100 points, but Tampa Bay is at 99 going into its game against Washington this afternoon. The Canadiens control the tiebreaker, so an overtime/shootout loss wouldn’t be good enough for the Lightning.

Pittsburgh Penguins versus Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets have made the playoffs for just the second time in the franchise’s history and they are searching for their first postseason win. In Pittsburgh, all eyes will be on goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury after his string of disappointing showings in the playoffs. The Penguins went to the Stanley Cup Final in back-to-back years in 2008 and 2009 and won it all the second time around, but they got a lot to prove going into the 2014 postseason.

New York Rangers versus Philadelphia Flyers

Goaltending could be the X-Factor in this one. The Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist is one of the best goalies of this era while Steve Mason has only played in four postseason contests and has lost them all. Philadelphia has also lost eight straight games at Madison Square Garden, which is a trend they need to snap given that the Rangers have home ice advantage.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Anaheim Ducks versus Dallas Stars

Anaheim won the Pacific Division for the second straight season — although obviously the division changed this season. The Ducks lost in the first round in 2013 despite their strong regular season, so they have plenty to prove going into this series. This will also be Teemu Selanne’s last postseason run before retirement. Meanwhile, Dallas is back in the playoffs after a five-year absence.

San Jose Sharks versus Los Angeles Kings

Will this be the year that San Jose’s regular season success translates into a Stanley Cup championship? This will be San Jose’s 10th consecutive season in the playoffs, but the franchise doesn’t have anything to show for it yet. The Kings had the inferior regular season record, but they won the Cup in 2012 and advanced to the Western Conference Finals in 2013.

St. Louis Blues versus Chicago Blackhawks

Lots of star power in this one, but how much of it will be healthy? Chicago will get Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews back for Game 1, but the Blues have a lot list of injured forwards, including Patrik Berglund, Brenden Morrow, Vladimir Sobotka, T.J. Oshie, David Backes, and Vladimir Tarasenko.

Colorado Avalanche versus Minnesota Wild

The Avalanche’s turnaround under rookie coach and Hall of Famer Patrick Roy has been spectacular, but can they take that momentum into the playoffs? The Wild are going into this series as the underdogs, but expectations will still be high for them to perform in the second season of the Ryan Suter/Zach Parise era.

Milbury, Jones: Tkachuk walked the walk; Kings’ response was embarrassing

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The Los Angeles Kings got revenge on Matthew Tkachuk and the Calgary Flames on the scoreboard on Wednesday. But was that 4-1 win enough?

Mike Milbury and Keith Jones provided a lengthy “overtime” segment on NBCSN that brought about some really fascinating takes on the situation between Tkachuk and the Flames versus Drew Doughty and the Los Angeles Kings.

Watch the full video above, as it’s worth your time.

A few interesting lines if you’re (tsk tsk) skipping it:

Milbury: Believes that Doughty didn’t “do enough,” noting that star players sometimes have to stick up for themselves. On the other hand, Tkachuk showed that he can “walk the walk.”

He also gave the Kings a “C-, D+ if not worse” for their overall response. “Fight your own battles,” Milbury said of Doughty.

Jones disagreed to some extent, believing that Kings teammates won’t look at Doughty differently. But Jake Muzzin? He believes that Muzzin’s frequent defensive partner (at least over the years, maybe not this season) backing down from a fight was an embarrassment.

Spicy stuff.

For what it’s worth, Drew Doughty has one career fight (against Joe Thornton [!] in 2011-2) while Jake Muzzin’s lone bout came against Andrew Desjardins in 2012-13, according to Hockey Fights. Does that mean they shouldn’t have dropped the gloves on Wednesday? Milbury and Jones seem to believe that they should have answered the bell.

For more, check out a collection of the early violent moments and Tkachuk’s attempted shot at Doughty. The Kings win is summarized in greater detail here.

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

graphic via NHL
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It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.

 

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.