When the last of the NHL’s postseason dominoes fell Saturday night, they revealed that the league is set up for an extremely interesting spring.
This Stanley Cup tournament features seven teams that missed the playoffs last year. Five Canadian teams earned berths, the most from hockey’s heartland since 2004.
Defending champion Los Angeles won’t be there, and neither will perennial power Boston. The New York Rangers and Anaheim landed atop the two conferences, but contenders with a tantalizing array of veteran talent and hungry youth are right behind them. The postseason contenders were separated in the standings by only 16 points, the smallest gap in the 16-team postseason era.
The puck drops Wednesday night in four cities. The action won’t stop until a new champion raises the Cup in June.
Here’s what to watch when the NHL postseason begins this week:
Canadian players and coaches are prominent on every NHL team. But when franchises based in Canada make the playoffs, there’s an extra excitement — and this postseason will have plenty after a mad rush for position left five Canadian teams in the field and two all-Canadian first-round matchups.
Montreal was a no-doubt contender. Vancouver comfortably earned its postseason spot and second place in the Pacific Division. Yet the Canucks’ first-round opponent will be the upstart Calgary Flames, who defied expectations and the loss of injured captain Mark Giordano to end their five-year playoff drought.
The Winnipeg Jets also hung on late to earn their city’s first home playoff games since 1996.
And then there are the Ottawa Senators, who went 23-4-4 over their final 31 games to earn a first-round showdown with Montreal.
The best bow out
For the first time in NHL history, the teams that won the previous season’s championship and the team with the last Presidents’ Trophy both missed the postseason. The Los Angeles Kings flopped in the final week, finishing ninth in the West and ending their run of two championships over the past three years. The Boston Bruins, who won the 2011 title and had the NHL’s best regular-season record last year, joined the Kings on the golf course.
Steady as they go
The Detroit Red Wings made the playoffs for the 24th consecutive season, and they’ve never had a postseason series against the Tampa Bay Lightning and general manager Steve Yzerman, a Hall of Famer and a bit of a celebrity in Michigan.