The NHL playoffs are set to get underway tomorrow, April 12th, and the first round has some great match-ups ready for us. Original story posted on CBC and can be found here.
The Canadian content in the Stanley Cup playoffs has gone from zero teams last spring to five this time around.
Here's an in-depth look at the first-round matchups for the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Season series - Ducks win 4-1-0 (Flames 1-4-0)
- Nov. 6 @ Anaheim — Ducks 4-1
- Dec. 4 @ Calgary — Flames 8-3
- Dec. 29 @ Calgary — Ducks 3-1
- April 2 @ Calgary — Ducks 4-3
- April 4 @ Anaheim — Ducks 3-1
The skinny: Welcome back to the playoffs, Mark Giordano. The Flames captain missed the post-season two years ago due to an arm injury, and hasn't performed in a playoff game since the Flames were eliminated by the Detroit Red Wings in the first round on April 22, 2007. Giordano is public enemy No. 1 in Anaheim after his knee-on-knee hit with Ducks defenceman Cam Fowler last week. Fowler likely will miss the first-round series. The Flames have not won at the Honda Centre in 25 regular-season outings and have won only once there in their last six post-season outings. The Flames have only celebrated one playoff series victory (first round vs. Vancouver in 2015) in 13 years. Calgary has one of the best records since the all-star break at 20-9-1, but the Ducks finished with an impressive 11-0-3 run.
Player to watch - Anaheim D Kevin Bieksa. The 35-year-old Bieksa was with the Canucks, when the Flames knocked out Vancouver in the first round two years ago. In the series finale, Bieksa watched his Canucks build a 3-0 lead in a game that turned into a 7-4 Flames victory. He was on the ice for final empty-net goal.
Prediction - Ducks in six. Until the Flames prove otherwise, the Ducks have a spell over Calgary and plenty of confidence after two solid wins against the Flames last week.
Season series - Oilers win 3-1-1 (Sharks 2-3-0)
- Dec. 23 @ San Jose — Sharks 3-2 (OT)
- Jan. 10 @ Edmonton — Sharks 5-3
- Jan. 26 @ San Jose — Oilers 4-1
- March 30 @ Edmonton — Oilers 3-2
- April 6 @ San Jose — Oilers 4-2
The skinny - Edmonton has made the playoffs for the first time since its improbable run to the 2006 final. Oilers coach Todd McLellan meets up with his old team, the Sharks. While the Oilers went on a solid 19-11-1 run since the all-star break, the Sharks limped to the finish line at 15-12-5. Standout Edmonton goalie Cam Talbot only has 46 minutes of playoff experience, which came in mop-up duty in the New York Rangers' run to the Stanley Cup final three years ago. While the Oilers may be lacking in playoff experience, don't underestimate what winning the world championship gold with Canada last spring did for Connor McDavid and Talbot. The Sharks are trying to be the first Stanley Cup final loser to return to the final the next season since the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009.
Player to watch - How will Art Ross Trophy winner McDavid – and possibly the Hart Trophy recipient, too – follow up his 100-point season? At 20 years, 86 days, McDavid is the third-youngest player, behind Sidney Crosby (19 years, 244 days in 2006-07) and Wayne Gretzky (20 years, 69 days in 1980-81), to win a scoring title.
Prediction - Sharks in seven. They have too much depth with Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Although, Thornton and Couture have to get healthy this week.
Season series - Canadiens win 3-0-0 (Rangers 0-2-1)
- Jan. 14 @ Montreal — Canadiens 5-4
- Feb. 21 @ New York — Canadiens 3-2 (SO)
- March 4 @ New York — Canadiens 4-1
The skinny - Claude Julien versus Alain Vigneault. Here we go again. This is so 2011, when the former minor-league teammates were at the helm of the Boston Bruins and Canucks, respectively, when they met in the Stanley Cup final. It's also so 2014, when Montreal's Carey Price beat his Rangers counterpart Henrik Lundqvist in an all-world goaltender battle in the gold-medal final at the Sochi Olympics. A few months later Rangers forward Chris Kreider went skates-first into Price in the opener of the East final, taking out the game's best goalie for the rest of the series. Both teams have injuries. Rangers defenceman Ryan McDonagh, a former Habs draft pick, returned for the regular-season finale. Montreal's Shea Weber has been out of action late in the season with a lower-body ailment. How much will the Rangers miss playoff performer Derick Brassard? He scored 18 goals in 59 playoff games in the last four seasons, more than Rick Nash's 11 in 61 outings.
Player to watch - Montreal forward Paul Byron broke out for a career-high 22 goals this season. This will be his first foray into the Stanley Cup playoffs, but he did score 21 goals in 19 games to lead Gatineau to the QMJHL championship in 2007-08.
Prediction - Montreal in six. Price is too good and the Rangers have difficulty scoring goals when it matters.
Season series - Senators win 4-0-0 (Bruins 0-3-1)
- Nov. 24 @ Ottawa – Senators 3-1
- March 6 @ Ottawa – Senators 4-2
- March 21 @ Boston – Senators 3-2
- April 6 @ Boston – Senators 2-1 (SO)
The skinny - The Bruins and Senators will meet in the playoffs for the first time. Interim Boston coach Bruce Cassidy returns to the city where he helped the Ottawa 67's win the Memorial Cup in 1984. The Senators dealt with a handful of injuries late in the regular season to captain Erik Karlsson, Bobby Ryan, Zach Smith and Marc Methot. But they did see the surprise return of LW Clarke MacArthur after a lengthy stay on the sidelines with a concussion. Methot doesn't appear to be ready to return this week. The Senators frustrated Boston all season with their trapping ways. Nobody has scored more than Bruins left wing Brad Marchand's 29 goals since Jan. 1. Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson was on his game with three wins and only two goals allowed in his final three starts.
Player to watch - Senators left wing Alex Burrows. He was an excellent pickup for Ottawa general manager Pierre Dorion at the trade deadline. Six years later, Burrows gets another crack at the Bruins after his Stanley Cup final loss to Boston while with Vancouver.
Prediction - Senators in seven. The Bruins have the playoff experience, but Ottawa's depth will shine in this series.
Toronto vs. Washington
Season series - Capitals win 2-1-0 (Maple Leafs 1-1-1)
- Nov. 26 @ Toronto – Maple Leafs 4-2
- Jan. 3 @ Washington – Capitals 6-5 (OT)
- April 4 @ Toronto – Capitals 4-1
The skinny - The Maple Leafs are making only their second post-season appearance since the lockout-cancelled 2004-05 season. Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak are the only players who remain from the Maple Leafs team that suffered a third-period meltdown in Beantown four years ago when they lost Game 7 in overtime. Toronto staggered in the final week with three losses in four games. The Capitals have won back-to-back Presidents' Trophies, yet they haven't advanced past the second round since Alex Ovechkin joined the team in 2005. The big concern for Toronto is goalie Frederik Andersen, who took another knock on his noggin on Saturday for his second head injury in three weeks. He's expected to start in the opener on Thursday.
Player to watch - Toronto centre Auston Matthews. He became the first rookie to score 40 goals since Ovechkin checked in with 52 in 2005-06. Matthews will need to have a big post-season if the Maple Leafs have a chance.
Prediction - Capitals in five. They have the better goalie in Braden Holtby and too much firepower for the Maple Leafs to handle.