It’s playoff hockey time.
Boston is the favorite to return to the Stanley Cup Final from the Eastern Conference while a mix of teams are in the running for the Western Conference title.
Here are five storylines to follow as the puck drops on hockey’s second season:
The Blues in St. Louis
Throughout the regular season, the Blues separated themselves as the power of the Western Conference. But by season’s end, their scratch list was littered with players suffering various injuries, including second-leading scorer T.J. Oshie and third-leading scorer David Backes. Both are listed as day-to-day, but who knows how much of this team will be 100 percent for a first-round pairing against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. What was expected to be a very promising postseason for St. Louis could instead turn out to be very short.
The best series of the first round is a repeat matchup from three of the past four years: Los Angeles versus San Jose. Los Angeles boasts this year’s Team USA goalie Jonathan Quick, who finished the year with a 2.07 goals-against average and is no stranger to a playoff run. Minding the other net is another playoff-rich goalie, Antti Niemi, who finished the season with a 2.39 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage. While the physical play of these teams could wear each other out, the goalie with the best form could make the ultimate difference in this series.
New look Red Wings
There’s much more to this Detroit Red Wings squad than its move to the Eastern Conference. The organization known for its hockey dynasties has become something of the underdog over the past postseasons and could thrive in that role this year. However, to become the most uncommon of Cinderellas, they must go through Stanley Cup favorite Boston in the first round. Injuries have changed the roster’s look. Forward Gustav Nyquist, who only got extended playing time due to injuries, might be the club’s most dynamic player.
The Duck stopper
With Anaheim crease stalwart Jonas Hillar trending downward as the Ducks closed out the regular season, dropping the final three games of the season by allowing a combined 11 goals, Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau could go with one of his two rookie goaltenders to open the playoffs. Frederik Andersen was the Ducks’ go-to backup through the season, playing in 28 games and posting a 2.29 goals-against average with a .923 save percentage. Boudreau’s other option is John Gibson, who played in just three games this season, posting a 1.33 goals-against average and a .954 save percentage.
The chance for Chicago to have a go at winning back-to-back Cups is very dependent on the ability of forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to return at a high level from injuries that kept them out at the end of the regular season. On Chicago’s side is the fact that they returned almost everyone from last year’s championship team, including this year’s leading scorer, Patrick Sharp (78 points), as well as Marian Hossa (60 points). Chicago is making its sixth consecutive trip to the playoffs after finishing 46-21-15 (107 points).