In recent years, the Los Angeles Kings have been a safe bet for a long ride through the Stanley Cup playoffs.
They claimed their first two cups in 2012 and 2014.
This year — not so fast.
The Kings are the first defending Stanley Cup champions to miss the playoffs since the Carolina Hurricanes missed the 2007 postseason.
How about the Chicago Blackhawks, who have Cup wins in 2010 and 2013?
The return of star right wing Patrick Kane, who missed the team’s final 21 games after surgery on his fractured left collarbone on Feb. 25, has the Blackhawks hoping they can make a run similar to playoffs past.
The Detroit Red Wings are making their 24th consecutive playoff appearance — the longest active streak and the fourth longest in NHL history.
On the other end of the spectrum are the Winnipeg Jets, who earned their first playoff berth since moving from Atlanta — which last reached the playoffs in 2007. The last time the city of Winnipeg hosted a playoff game was 1996, a season before the original Jets franchise relocated to Phoenix.
Here are five storylines to watch in what should be an intriguing Stanley Cup playoffs:
1 Return of Kane
Blackhawks star Patrick Kane said Tuesday that he will suit up for Wednesday’s opening game. That is five weeks earlier than the recovery time give by team physician Michael Terry after surgery on Kane’s broken left collarbone. Kane was tied for the NHL scoring lead when he was injured and still finished second on the team with 27 goals and 64 points, despite missing the last seven weeks. Chicago cobbled together a 12-8-1 record in Kane’s absence and can only be buoyed by his return.
2 Curse of the Stars?
On the other side of that series is a Nashville Predators squad that enters the playoffs after a 4-1 loss Saturday to the Dallas Stars. Sound familiar? Exactly one year to earlier, one of the hottest teams through the regular season, the St. Louis Blues, lost 3-0 to a desperate Stars team, allowing Dallas to clinch its first playoff berth in five years. A few days later, the Blues would finish second in the Central Division to face the very same Chicago Blackhawks, who beat St. Louis 4-2 in the first round. Nashville finished second in the Central Division this season and has Chicago first on the docket.
3 Price is right
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price posted a career-best regular season, finishing as the league leader in goals-against average (1.96), save percentage (.933) and wins (44). What is the easiest way to make the journey to the Stanley Cup Finals? Ride a hot goalie, and Price enters the playoffs exactly that. That being said, the playoffs are a completely different game and manning the crease for Le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge is difficult. Price holds a 17-21 record in the playoffs with a .909 save percentage and a 2.73 goals-against average. The Habs drew a first-round date with the hottest team in hockey, the Ottawa Senators, who finished the season on a 21-3-3 run.
4 Veteran or newbie?
The Red Wings certainly boast a plethora of playoff experience with their 24-season streak, but their starting goalie might be a fresh face to the postseason. In his first real season of consistent action at the NHL level, Detroit goalie Petr Mrazek, who has yet to play in a Stanley Cup playoff game, could get the starting nod over veteran Jimmy Howard as the Red Wings enter their first-round series against Tampa Bay. Howard enters the 2015 playoffs with a 21-24 postseason record with a 91.9 percent save percentage and allowing 2.53 goals per game. As for Mrazek, first impressions are always important.
5 Oh, Canada!
Five Canadian teams earned berths in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs — Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Calgary — marking the most teams from north of the border since five participated in the 2004 postseason. The last time a Canadian team won the Cup was in 1993 when Montreal beat the Kings in five games in the Stanley Cup Finals. Vancouver was the last team to make a finals appearance in 2011, falling to the Boston Bruins 4-3. According to Bovada.net, Montreal is Canada’s best bet to end the Cup drought, with 9-1 odds.