NHL's Playoff Sprint Keys on the Stoppers
Coming into today's NHL action, each team atop its division has 93 points.
Montréal and the Rangers lead their divisions in the East, while Nashville and Anaheim are the West's pacesetters.
Stellar goaltending is the common factor here, and the Rangers and Nashville have the best stories. Henrik Lundqvist left the Ranger lineup on 7 Feb with a severe throat injury and has yet to return. It's easy to see why:
However, Cam Talbot has been great in his absence, and even 20-year-old Mackenzie Skapski has added two wins. The Rangers are 13-2-3 since Lundqvist went out and have passed both Pittsburgh and the Islanders in the Metropolitan Division. And as long as Talbot keeps making saves like this, the Blueshirts will be in good hands until Lundqvist returns:
Montréal has the Vezina Trophy favorite in Carey Price, whose consistency is evidenced by his 1.91 goals against average along with a 38-14-4 record. Price, injured last season in the Eastern Conference finals, is hoping to lead the Canadiens to their first Stanley Cup title since 1993. Currently, the Habs are trying to stave off Tampa Bay in the Atlantic Division; if Price stays healthy, they'll be a fair bet to do so.
Rinne has since returned, but the Predators still endured a slump before taking two of three and staying ahead of the St Louis Blues in the Central Division. Nashville is also looking at Chicago, which has continued to play well after losing Patrick Kane to a broken collarbone.
Anaheim came close to knocking the Los Angeles Kings out of the playoffs last year and now lead the Pacific Division by a comfortable margin. The Ducks have used both Frederik Anderson (30-10-15) and John Gibson (10-6-0) all season and, allegedly, will have to make a decesion for a No 1 goalie once the playoffs start.
The battle rages to claim this season's Presidents' Trophy -- and the current $500,000 team bonus that comes with it -- but trouble may well lurk for the division winners as soon as the first round of the playoffs.
Right now, the Rangers would play the potent Washington Capitals while Montréal would meet arch-rival Boston, as it seems they do every spring. Neither challenger is an easy first round opponent. In the West, Nashville would draw surging Minnesota, and Anaheim would get surprising Winnipeg.
However, Los Angeles is close behind, and the one thing no one wants to do is play the Kings in April, in any round.