The NHL’s schedule release show airs on Sunday, but thanks to Saturday’s games, we at least know which East teams will face off in the four first round series.
This post features quick recaps to explain how Saturday’s games determined the different matchups and some quick thoughts to whet your appetite for some great-looking series. If you’re left wanting more, don’t worry; there will be much more preview fun to be had during the next few days.
1. Washington Capitals vs. 8. New York Rangers
Saturday’s games: The Capitals lost a 1-0 game against the Florida Panthers, but their fate as the No.1 seed was already sealed. Meanwhile, the Rangers beat up on the Devils and celebrated a surprising flop by the Carolina Hurricanes to take the final spot. New York’s playoff fate has been decided on the last game of their season for two straight years, but the 2010-11 edition came out on top.
Quick thoughts: The Rangers are a serious thorn in the side of the Capitals. They pounded Washington in a game that was immortalized by HBO’s cameras and won the season series too. New York also pushed Washington to a seven-game series two years ago, so this might not be a cakewalk for the Caps.
2. Philadelphia Flyers vs. 7. Buffalo Sabres
Saturday’s games: The Flyers continued their dominance against the New York Islanders to (barely) earn the second seed in the East while the Sabres gave themselves a chance to win the sixth seed by beating the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Quick thoughts: How much do you believe in momentum? How about quality depth vs. elite goaltending? Your feelings about both questions will likely determine if you like the staggering,but notably deep Flyers or the streaking, top-heavy Sabres to win this series.
3. Boston Bruins vs. 6. Montreal Canadiens
Saturday’s games: The Bruins clinched the Northeast Division quite a while ago, but kept themselves in position to steal a second seed by winning against the Senators. The Habs managed to retain the sixth seed thanks to a 4-1 victory versus Toronto.
Quick thoughts: Anyone who’s been eye-balling the standings for the last few months can attest to the fact that this was a likely series (much like the four/five match). Even with that being said, this one still seems too good to be true. It’s not just the next chapter in one of the most storied — if imbalanced — rivalries in all of hockey; it’s also a grudge match between teams who genuinely dislike each other for much more immediate reasons. The only obviously negative thing about this series is that we’ll probably have to watch replays of Zdeno Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty approximately 3,000 times.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 5. Tampa Bay Lightning
Today’s games: The Penguins were hoping the Islanders would win to give them a chance to steal the Atlantic Division (and second seed) from the Flyers, but it was not to be. The Lightning didn’t really have anything to play for in their game against the Hurricanes — beyond the delicious flavor of spite — but they still made a statement by pummeling the playoff-needy team.
Quick thoughts: The Penguins would be wise to keep Sidney Crosby on the shelf, even if a Steven Stamkos vs. Crosby showdown would be tantalizing for the NHL.
Instead, this is a tough series to gauge, as both teams have gone through spurts in which their shootout wins made their point totals a bit deceptive. It’s tough to imagine Pittsburgh being able to keep up with Tampa Bay’s offense, so this might come down to how much better Marc-Andre Fleury can be than Dwayne Roloson.
Honestly, there’s really not a dud of a series in any of these matches. If you’re not getting excited yet, then your status as a hockey fan must be questioned.