Last night’s five Game 1 contests began the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs nicely. On one hand, you had familiar foes from 2010 in Coyotes-Red Wings and Blackhawks-Canucks. There was also another meeting between the Rangers and Capitals with an ’09 series fresh on each others minds. Still, there were a couple “getting your feet wet” games as the Predators-Ducks and Lightning-Penguins met each other in a postseason version of a blind date.
There won’t be many stammering self-descriptions and awkward silences in tonight’s three Game 1 matchups, though, as all three series boast an uncomfortable amount of familiarity. Maybe the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks haven’t beaten each other up in a playoff series before, but they obviously know each other well from Pacific Division skirmishes. Let’s take a look at the three games on Thursday night’s schedule.
All start times are according to Eastern Standard Time (ET).
Montreal @ Boston – 7 p.m. (Versus)
If you’re asking for a continuation of that bad blood theme, it doesn’t get much better than the 33rd playoff meeting between the Canadiens and the Bruins. Anyone who paid attention to the regular season knows that this historic rivalry was given another push based on the controversy surrounding Zdeno Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty.
Of course, the most dynamic(/dangerous?) reaction to that situation will come when the series shifts to Montreal for Game 3 on Monday, but the vitriol should be there from the first dropped puck tonight.
That being said, the potential carnage must be dialed down a notch or two since so much is on the line. In the end, it might come down to a more palatable story: which goalie will come out on top – Tim Thomas or Carey Price?
Buffalo @ Philadelphia – 7:30 p.m.
This game is even more of a toss-up with Chris Pronger out of the Flyers lineup for at least Game 1.
Without that Pronger-sized security blanket, Philadelphia must find a way to use its superior offensive skill (on paper, at least) to give Sergei Bobrovsky a chance to best world-class goalie Ryan Miller. That’s a pretty tall order for a rookie goaltender, especially with the Flyers’ recent downward trend and the Sabres’ solid finish to the season.
Will Danny Briere torment his former team? Can the Sabres continue their hot run under new ownership? Those and many other questions will begin to receive answers tonight.
Los Angeles @ San Jose – 10 p.m. (Versus)
Thursday night marks the first “Battle of California” in the playoffs between these two teams.
It would have been a tougher one to handicap if Anze Kopitar could play for the Kings, but some think that Los Angeles is bringing a knife to a gun fight in this one. On paper, the Sharks’ star forwards might be too much for the Kings to handle.
That being said, Terry Murray’s troops still include all-world defenseman Drew Doughty (off-year or not), wildcard blueliner Jack Johnson, steady goalie Jonathan Quick and some other solid players. They might have to dumb the games down a bit, but don’t count out the Kings entirely.
I still think the Sharks will manhandle them, though.