Prez Cup No Guarantee of a Wales Trophy in the East
While the New York Rangers come into the playoffs as the No 1 overall seed, the NHL Eastern Conference playoffs are far from chalk.
With Pittsburgh just squeezing into the proceedings, they're in prime position to pull a Kings and storm to the Stanley Cup from the outside lane.
Those speedy Presidents Trophy-winning Rangers open with Pittsburgh on Thu 16 Apr.
Even though the Pens have been struggling, they still have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Marc-Andre Fleury. What they don't have is a healthy blue line, where injuries and disease have been an issue all season. Kris Letang -- Pittsburgh's poster boy for medical misfortune -- is already done for the year due to concussion.
The Rangers went to the finals last season and showed no hangover from the short summer, setting team records for most wins and points in a season. Henrik Lundqvist is back from injury in goal for the Blueshirts, and if he goes down again, they know they can depend on Cam Talbot, who won 21 games this season and saved the Rangers when Lundqvist was injured.
Washington and the New York Islanders are the other Metropolitan Division teams matching up in the first round.
Each team finished with 101 points, and Washington gets home ice. The key to any series with the Capitals is containing Alex Ovechkin, the league's leading goal scorer with 53. Coach Barry Trotz has given him virtual free rein this season, and it's shown in his two-way play. Of course, no hockey team can be a one-man show, and the likes of Nick Bäckström is a case in point with his consistent production.
Islanders' goalie Jaroslav Halák needs to be up to the task of stopping Ovechkin, while Isles stars John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, and Ryan Strome must match the prolific Russian to have a chance of advancing. Braden Holtby played 73 games in goal for Washington, and he will have to match or better his 2.22 goals against average for the Caps to move on.
Ottawa and Montréal will be a dynamic series.
The Canadiens won the Atlantic Division and Ottawa came from nowhere to grab the seventh seed. The Senators finished the season on an incredible 21-3-3 run, led by goalie Andrew Hammond, who replaced the injured Craig Anderson and went 20-1-2 with a 1.79 goals against average. Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone led the Senators with 27 and 26 goals respectively.
With Hammond in net, Ottawa has a shot in this all-Canadian matchup. No matter what the Sens think, neither team is known for being physical, but they've developed an edgy mutual dislike that won't take much of a spark to cause an explosion.
The Habs lost to the Rangers last year in the conference finals and will have a healthy Carey Price in net. Price won 44 games this season. Along with PK Subban and Max Pacioretty, he's part of the club's core working to lead Montréal to their first Cup since 1993.
6-foot-7 Ben Bishop won 40 games in goal for the Lightning, which is led as usual by center Steven Stamkos, who sniped 43 goals in the regular season. Detroit's goaltending is an eternal question; this year, it'll be up to Jimmy Howard and/or Petr Mrazek to keep the puck out of the net. Henrik Zetterberg led the Red Wings with 66 points this season.
The most pressure is on the Rangers, who need to get back to the finals and win it this time. Ottawa, Washington, and the Islanders are in this year, while Boston, Columbus, and Philadelphia are out after getting in last year.
Here's how Bovada assesses the participants' chances of claiming the 2015 Prince of Wales Trophy this time around:
|Rangers ...||9:4||Penguins ...||8:1|
|Canadiens ...||9:2||Red Wings ...||9:1|
|Lightning ...||9:2||Senators ...||9:1|
|Islanders ...||8:1||Capitals ...||9:1|