While the only thing unsettled in the East is home-ice advantage between Montreal and Tampa Bay, the Western Conference will still see its fair share of intrigue on Sunday. At least in the Central Division.
The Anaheim Ducks cemented their first-round opponent tonight, on the other hand. By beating the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 in a shootout, they clinched the top seed in the Western Conference; only the Boston Bruins would begin a series with home-ice advantage against Anaheim and that would be in a hypothetical 2014 Stanley Cup Final series.
Let’s look at the two Western series we’re certain of as of Saturday night (with the team featuring home-ice advantage listed first).
Anaheim vs. Dallas
The Ducks did impressive work in locking up the top seed, but more than a few people still wonder about the team’s legitimacy. The Stars could provide an interesting test, as Dallas seems to weigh in higher according to various “fancy stats” metrics while the Ducks come out looking lucky.
That’s not nearly as fun as trotting out the boxing-style storylines, though. Feel free to add exclamation points to various feuds: Tyler Seguin vs. Ryan Getzlaf; Corey Perry vs. Jamie Benn; uncertain-yet-talented goalies vs. a guy with zero career playoff wins playing in front of a two-time Vezina winner.
Yes, there is a lot of drama going on and there could very well be some excellent, high-flying hockey to go with it.
San Jose vs. Los Angeles
On paper, the Ducks and Stars seem primed to display styles that are dynamic and wide-open. The Sharks and Kings may play it much tighter to the vest, although the two cross-state rivals often bring the fireworks out of each other. On one hand, you have a franchise that’s been strong for what seems like a decade and holds home-ice advantage; on the other, you have the Kings: a team with a shorter span of recent success but a Stanley Cup victory as a trump card.
Ultimately, we get two fascinating playoff series, with the Central Division-dwelling Stars playing against the division they were a part of just last season.
The Central Division teams have plenty of motivation to scrap for the crown. With all due respect to the improving Minnesota Wild, the loser of the jousting between the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues must face the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
(Colorado has more regulation/OT wins, so St. Louis must win while the Blackhawks must lose in some fashion to wrestle the Central Division title away.)
Long story short, even with all 16 playoff spots determined, Sunday still has ample room for intrigue and excitement.