Clash for the Cup: NHL East Girds for Battles
The NHL regular season had its perceived winners and losers, but there will be no doubt about those distinctions during the Stanley Cup playoffs, and it all gets going this Wednesday night.
The Presidents' Trophy winner Boston Bruins -- and don't shrug at the $350,000 bonus that goes with it -- are the overall Cup favorites, so they'll be the overwhelming favorite to come out of the East.
Boston, however must face the playoff veteran Detroit Red Wings in the first round in what could be a struggle. The Bruins had 117 points while Detroit finished with 93, but the Wings won their season series, 3-1. It's been an incredible season for Detroit, extending their North American-best consecutive playoff streak to 23 seasons in spite of a crushing number of injuries. They weren't really assured of a happy ending until about a week ago.
Boston is hoping Tuukka Rask can backstop them to another Stanley Cup Finals appearance.
Pittsburgh thought they'd advance to the finals last year but were swept out by the Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals. This season, the Pens begin their quest for the Cup againist the Columbus Blue Jackets. Pittsburgh needs goaltender Marc-André Fleury to play better than he has in recent seasons and has to hope that Evgeni Malkin returns from a foot injury that has sidelined him for the last three weeks.
Tampa Bay and Montréal pair up with the Lightning earning home ice advantage on their last game of the season. The 'Ning finished one point of ahead of the Canadiens, which may be a harbinger; this is a series that could go seven games. Tampa's goalie, Ben Biishop, is injured and questionable for the early part of the series, so the Lightning will have to depend on Anders Lindbäck to try and beat Montréal. The Canadiens goalie Carey Price will try to pull of a daily double, winning an Olympic and NHL title in the same year.
The final Eastern Conference pairing will feature two old-time rivals, the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers. These teams only finished two points apart, with the Blueshirts securing a 96-94 edge. The Rangers will go as far as goalie Henrik Lundqvist will take them while Philadelphia has a capable goalie in Steve Mason and that famed Flyer intensity level that never seems to subside.
The first round is usually the most exciting, with as many as four games per day and night. Many go down to the wire and into at least one full-scale overtime. To paraphrase Russell Crowe in Gladiator, when the pucks drop, they'll unleash hell.