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2013 NHL Playoff Preview

(The Verge) – With the conclusion of the shortened 2013 National Hockey League season, the playoffs are set to begin, as three games will be played Tuesday night. The Chicago Blackhawks will host the Minnesota Wild, while the Detroit Red Wings visit the Anaheim Ducks, and the St. Louis Blues will host the defending champion Los Angeles Kings.
Action in the Eastern Conference will begin on Wednesday, as the New York Islanders make their long-awaited return to the postseason in Pittsburgh. The Toronto Maple Leafs will play their first playoff game since 2004, as they will visit the rival Boston Bruins in what is sure to be a heated matchup. The San Jose Sharks and Northwest Division champion Vancouver Canucks will also play the first game of their series on Wednesday.
Thursday will see two more Eastern Conference series get underway. The Ottawa Senators will visit the Montreal Canadiens, while the local favorite New York Rangers will travel to D.C. for game-one against the Washington Capitals.
In the east, there is not a single bad matchup in the quarterfinals. The Penguins and Islanders draw may seem lopsided in Pittsburgh’s favor, but the Islanders have played some great hockey this year with the help of star center John Tavares. Not to mention, the two teams have developed a bit of a rivalry over the year, thanks to some intense physical play. If Sidney Crosby returns for the Penguins, it will only serve to add to the already overwhelming number of star players in the series.
The 2-7 matchup finds the Montreal Canadiens pitted against the neighboring Ottawa Senators. Montreal has played at an impressive level throughout the 2013 campaign, and managed to win what was arguably the most competitive division in the NHL this year. However, they will take on one of the ‘stories’ of this season: the Ottawa Senators. Over the course of the season, Ottawa has been ravaged by injury. Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson missed most of the regular season after suffering a laceration on his leg. They have also been missing one of their best forwards in Jason Spezza. This did not stop the Senators from making a playoff push, though. With Karlsson back in the lineup, Ottawa could surprise some people in the first round.
Next, we have the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers, who met in a dramatic conference semifinal series last year. On the back of a revitalized Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals have won the Southeast Division for the 5th time in the last six seasons. The Rangers may have fallen short of the 1st-place expectations that were set for them when they traded for Rick Nash, but they find themselves in the postseason yet again. Do not let New York’s 6th-place finish fool you – this team can play, and the 6th seed is one of the most advantageous.

The Washington Capitals, after a rough start, have found themselves in the playoffs yet again. Image taken from: cdn.clotureclub.com

Last but not least, there is the 4-5 series. This is perhaps the most exciting matchup in the east, as the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs will add to what is already a heated rivalry. The Bruins will be the first challenge for Toronto, who have not qualified for postseason hockey since 2004. The expectations are high in both cities. For the Bruins, the expectations come from being a perennial Stanley Cup contender as of late. In Toronto, the bar is set high out of sheer excitement for a playoff return.
The Chicago Blackhawks became one of the major stories of the NHL when they went 24 consecutive games without losing in regulation. Although they have cooled off since the streak ended on March 6, the Blackhawks are still a favorite in the west. They will take on the Minnesota Wild, who are returning to the postseason for the first time since 2008 with the help of free agent signings Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. The Wild’s busy free agent window has put a lot of pressure on the team to succeed, and overcoming Chicago will be no easy feat.
One of the other series in the west will involve the Anaheim Ducks and Detroit Red Wings. A 2nd place finish is plenty of cause for excitement in Anaheim. After signing potential free agents Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry to lengthy contract extensions, the Ducks’ future is much less in question than it was at the start of the year. They won the division which includes the defending champions. The Red Wings are a model of consistency, as they have earned a playoff berth for the 23rd straight season. Detroit always offers plenty of stars to watch. Keep an eye on Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
On paper, the series between the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks may be one of the best. Another strong season has resulted in yet another Northwest Division title for the Canucks. Despite the controversy surrounding goaltenders Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, Vancouver will make yet another chase for the Stanley Cup. Lest we forget the electrifying Sedin Twins: Henrik and Daniel. The perennial playoff contending San Jose Sharks will have their work cut out for them, as star center Joe Thornton will look to lead his team past the first round, and dispel the label of choke artist that many attach to him.
The west’s 4-5 matchup is a repeat of a conference semifinal from last year: the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings. The Blues may not be as dominant as they were in the previous campaign, but they are still a formidable foe. St. Louis and their young defense will aim to eliminate the defending champions in the first round. After capturing their first Stanley Cup last year, the expectations for the Kings are high, which is contrary to what they saw last year as the 8th seed. With one of the NHL’s best young goaltenders in Jonathan Quick, defenseman Drew Doughty, and perhaps the deepest group of centers in the league, the Kings are capable of repeating.
There is no doubt that this is the most exciting time of the year for hockey fans. Players will turn it up a notch as they strive to win the Stanley Cup. Whether or not your favorite team is participating, playoff hockey is the best hockey you will see. And with the NBC family of networks covering every game, keeping up with these fast-paced matchups will be made much easier.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are only hours away from entertaining a country-full of enticed fans. Image taken from: site.hockeytrain.com