The Stanley Cup playoffs are so close, you can almost smell the hipster playoff beards. No matter how deep your love of vulcanized rubber, this is what we have been waiting for since training camps broke eons ago. There are still several playoff spots up for grabs, and seedings will change, but if the playoffs started now, here are some of the most intriguing matchups of the first round.
Anaheim Ducks vs. San Jose Sharks
Ducks have been nothing short of spectacular. In February they were practically unbeatable, going 12-1-1, and sit only two points behind the L.A.Kings for the Pacific Division lead after a horrific start to the season.
San Jose has played well, but have had little success this season against the mighty Ducks (see what I did there), posting a 1-3-0 record. The Sharks won’t complain if Anaheim stays hot and gets a higher seed. No team in the league wants the steamrolling Ducks in the first round.
Minnesota Wild vs. Chicago Blackhawks
If you haven’t been paying attention, for some odd reason, the Wild have had Chicago’s number this season. There’s still two games left on the docket between these teams. But right now, Minnesota is 3-0-0 against the defending Stanley Cup champs, including a 6-1 ass-kicking in front of 50,000 in a February 20, 2016 Stadium Series game.
Of course, the Wild actually have to make the playoffs to realize a potential Earth shattering upset. They sit tied for the last spot with the Colorado Avalanche, and had a brutal stretch after the New Year, dropping 13 of 14 while getting coach Mike Yeo fired. But they’ve played better under interim coach John Torchetti and should they sneak in, they could give the Blackhawks a test.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals
The Washington Capitals are in total cruise control for the number one seed. Now imagine the tension if the Caps have to face a resurgent Sidney Crosby AND a healthy Evgeni Malkin in the first round. All those regular season wins would mean nothing if Pittsburgh could push the Capitals to an extended six or seven game series. Washington has to reach the conference finals this postseason, or heads could roll on the National Mall.
New York Islanders vs. New York Rangers
Who doesn’t love it when New Yorkers fight each other? This one is long overdue. The Islanders and Rangers haven’t tussled since 1994 when the Rangers broke through and won the Stanley Cup.
The Isles have taken the first two contests this season with two to play. Both games were tight, and a playoff series would be no different. Should this series become reality, expect it to go seven, with the edge going to the Rangers, who will be able to lean on their recent playoff experience to pull out a win.