Now that the playoffs are underway, the morning skate will focus on previewing each night’s playoff matches. The 2014 postseason is set to begin and there are so many teams with a legitimate shot of emerging as the Stanley Cup champions.
In his exit speech, former Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz, said that the first round is the scariest and hardest for NHL teams. So let’s take a look at what these guys fear:
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Game 1: Tampa Bay Lightning host Montreal Canadiens (7:00 p.m. ET, CNBC)
The big difference between the 2013 Lightning and this season’s squad is goaltender Ben Bishop. He has emerged as one of the league’s best netminders and helped keep the team afloat during Steve Stamkos’ absence with a broken leg and as the team adjusted when former captain Martin St. Louis demanded and received a trade.
So the fact that Bishop won’t be available for Game 1 has to be a major concern for the squad. His replacement, Anders Lindback, wasn’t nearly as good in the regular season, although he did finish the campaign on a high note.
Meanwhile, Montreal is going into this as Canada’s sole representative.
The Canadiens finished second in the Eastern Conference standings last season, but fell apart in the first round, so they’ll be eager to put that behind them. That’s especially true for goaltender Carey Price, who had a particularly troubling showing in the 2013 playoffs and has a career 2.90 GAA in 30 postseason games.
Game 1: Pittsburgh Penguins host Columbus Blue Jackets (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)
The Blue Jackets are going into this series as the prototypical little guys. Coming out of this with their first playoff win as a franchise would be seen as a big step forward.
Although Columbus will certainly try to do far more than that, it’s fair to say expectations are much higher in Pittsburgh. The Penguins, at least on paper, have enough star power to be a dynasty. Early on in the Evgeni Malkin/Sidney Crosby-era they were on that course with back-to-back appearances in the Stanley Cup Final and a championship just four seasons into Crosby’s career.
However, injuries and playoff collapses have derailed the Penguins and they haven’t appeared in a Stanley Cup Final game since.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has been at the heart of Pittsburgh’s shortcomings as he has significantly underperformed in recent playoff runs. It got to the point where Tomas Vokoun took the starting job from him during the 2013 postseason. He was solid in the regular season, but that hasn’t always translated to playoff success in the past.
Game 1: Anaheim Ducks host Dallas Stars (10:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN)
Teemu Selanne’s last playoff run will start tonight.
The 43-year-old future Hall of Famer saw his role with the Ducks significantly reduced in 2013-14, but perhaps he will be asked to do more now that the real season is beginning. It’s worth noting that Selanne was the 2014 Winter Olympics MVP, so he has shown that he can still be leaned upon when circumstances call for it.
Either way, this series will feature two of the most explosive offensive duos in the league. On the Ducks side there’s Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, who finished second and fifth in the league’s scoring race respectively. The Stars will counter with 22-year-old Tyler Seguin and 24-year-old Jamie Benn, who ranked fourth and 10th in the points leaderboard.
They are the only two teams that featured two players in the top-10, so the fact that they’re playing against each other should make things fun.
Anaheim is heavily favored to win this series, but they also had the second seed in 2013 and still lost in the first round, so they still have a lot to prove. It doesn’t help that starting goaltender Jonas Hiller has lost his confidence and might not even play tonight.