The Stanley Cup Chase Begins: Eastern Conference
Could this be the year Alexander Ovechkin finally hoists the hardware?
This year's only 50-goal sniper continues to thrive under Coach Barry Trotz's two-way tutelage, and he's got company.
The Washington Capitals are loaded and clearly the favorites to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup finals.
Ovie & Co confirmed that fact a week ago.
All the Caps need to do now is beat what's become the Presidents' Trophy curse. Since 2005, only two of its winners -- Detroit (2008) and Chicago (2013) -- have gone on to claim the Cup.
Philadelphia gets the first shot at maintaining that hex. Their founder and guiding force may be gone, but his fists and grit live on in the Flyers' fists and grit. Both will surely be on ample display when they meet Washington, who aren't exactly shrinking violets in that department.
There's enough history to go around, as this clip from 2014 exemplifies:
These clubs just met last week, when Philadelphia was fighting for their playoff lives.
They match up well against the Caps.
In fact, it was an overtime loss to the Pens on Sun 27 Mar that paved the way to the Blueshirts' current lukewarm performances.
Ironically, the Rangers' so-so fortunes came in a loss to Pittsburgh on Thu 3 Mar when Henrik Lundqvist uncharacteristically lost his cool:
Swedes are usually more refined than that, unless they're carrying axes.
Of course, there are no gimmick endings in the Cup's shadow.
The Florida Panthers aren't a surprise anymore, and their fans are noticing. There may be hope yet for hockey in south Florida, and with ageless wonder Jaromír Jágr leading and mentoring at the same time, the odds are improving.
In spite of a boffo campaign the season before, the New York Islanders have been flying under the radar all season. Until recently, Barclays Arena was a good site for the witness protection program during Isles games, but that's changing, too.
They'll get the first shot at keeping this from being another Year of the Rat:
Detroit's streak of consecutive playoff appearances is now at 25, barely. The Red Wings took it down to the wire this season, only clinching an invitation from Lord Stanley this past weekend.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay's had a hard time staying in one piece all season. Toss in the Stamkos-to-TO rumor circus, and it's been an unsettling year for a team that was thought to do better than it has.
Detroit will suffer a major loss, too, but at least it won't happen until they start setting tee times:
As we now know, both clubs pushed hard enough.
The Wings have made a habit of using the side door all season, staying in games where they were definite underdogs.
Looks like it might happen again.