NHL Contenders Start Their Playoff Push Tonight
Back to business.
Three of the four divisions have wide-open races in progress, and it's likely most playoff matchups won't be determined until the final week or two of the regular season. It's the playoff before the playoffs, where the temperature gets turned up another notch.
The powerful Washington Capitals leader in the Eastern Conference and all of hockey, leading Chicago by four for the Presidents' trophy.
Alex Ovechkin should've healed during the break, and it is finals or bust for the Caps this season.
Then there's the possible Battle of New York between the Rangers and Islanders. The Blueshirts have played steadily of late but still don't have a player with more than 36 points. The Isles have been up and down all season but still have John Tavares, who always plays well against the Rangers.
Suprising Florida would be the East's second seed as the leader in the Atlantic Division. Roberto Luongo has fit in great as the goalie for the Panthers after many thought his career was over.
Luongo, along with the ageless Jaromír Jágr, would be facing the improved Boston Bruins in the playoffs in what could be another interesting series.
Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit are angling for a rematch. The Lightning went to the finals last season at the Red Wings' expense. They started slow this season but have put it in gear recently, with solid play from the likes of Nikita Kucherov and Ben Bishop.
Detroit, under first year coach Jeff Blashill, has been in contention all season with Henrik Zetterberg and Dylan Larkin leading the way.
The defending champions will be near the top as long as Corey Crawford and Patrick Kane remain healthy. Kane has 73 points already this season, 30 of them coming on goals.
As of today, Chicago would open the playoffs with Nashville, in a rematch of last year's first round. The Predators gave the Blackhawks all they could handle last season and could do the same this year.
Los Angeles and Chicago have won five of the last six Stanley Cups and the Kings usually peak in April. Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick are the keys to another successful Los Angeles playoff run.
Dallas and St Louis would meet in the Central Division playoffs. The Stars have had a great start led by Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin along with their two goalies Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen. The Blues need to advance deep into spring this season or there will be big changes next year.
Of course, it's still a long, hard road to April.
But the contenders' destinies are right where they want them: in their own hands.