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Five Things To Watch In The 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Ben Ebert |
April 13, 2015 | 12:50 a.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals skates before the start of overtime in a playoff game against the Montreal Canadiens (Clyde/Flickr).
Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals skates before the start of overtime in a playoff game against the Montreal Canadiens (Clyde/Flickr).
It’s that time of year again. Another National Hockey League regular season has passed, and now 16 teams will make the playoff push to the Stanley Cup.

It’s a strange, new look for the NHL postseason this year, as multiple Stanley Cup Playoff regulars didn’t make the cut.

Most notably, the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings, who won two Cups in the last three years, fell short in the Pacific Division behind a Calgary Flames team that has found its fire. The Flames delivered the elimination blow to the Kings last Thursday in Alberta, as Calgary pulled away with two points for the regulation win, putting the playoffs just out of reach for Los Angeles.

Another California team that always has a seat in the postseason won’t be there this year either, as the San Jose Sharks’ playoff streak was snapped. The Sharks had not missed the playoffs in 10 years, the second-longest playoff streak in the NHL, behind the Detroit Red Wings’ current streak of 23 straight playoff appearances.

The Eastern Conference is missing one of its regulars as well, with the Boston Bruins just falling short of the second Wild Card spot. This is the first time the Bruins have missed the playoffs since head coach Claude Julien came in after the 2006-2007 season, the last time Boston failed to make the postseason. Although Julien led the Bruins to their sixth Stanley Cup victory in franchise history in 2011, there is speculation about whether he will still be behind the bench next season.

But now that the few irregularities of this NHL postseason have been addressed, here are five key things to keep an eye out for heading into the first round.

1. A little bit ‘Long’er on the Island

This will be the final season in which the New York Islanders call Long Island their home, as they are set to make the move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn next season, where they will share the barely two-year-old arena with the Brooklyn Nets.

However, the Isles are not ready to part ways with Nassau Coliseum just yet. They clinched the third spot in the Metropolitan Division, setting them up for a first-round series with the Washington Capitals.

This is the third time in the last decade that the Islanders have made a playoff appearance. The Islanders won their four Stanley Cups in four consecutive seasons from 1980-1983, and will be looking to finish off their 43-year history at Nassau Coliseum with their fifth.

2. Chicago’s missing ingredient?

The Blackhawks have been missing Patrick Kane since February after he broke his collarbone late in the month. Since then, the ‘Hawks went 12-8-1 to close out the regular season. While this isn’t a record to be ashamed of by most NHL teams for the final 21 games of the season, by Chicago standards it is worrisome.

The Blackhawks lost their final four regular season games, solidifying their third-seed spot in the Central Division, and now enter a playoff series against the second-seeded Nashville Predators. However, the Predators are coming off their own end-of-the-season losing streak, as the Preds dropped their final six games.

Chicago did win the regular season series over Nashville, taking three out of four games. History is also on Chicago’s side, as the last time Chicago played Nashville in the postseason it was in the first round in 2010. The ‘Hawks took that series in six games and would go on to win the Stanley Cup.

If Chicago hopes to repeat history, they will need Kane back in the lineup. Kane has made progress in his recovery. However, the next step will be the most critical of all: a full-contact practice. The hardest hits in hockey come in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so Kane better make sure he’s ready for contact, even though he is known for his ability to scurry away from big checks.

3. Friendship helps spark a Wild run to the playoffs

Both Ryan Suter and Zach Parise suffered the loss of their fathers this season. But a positive that came from these two misfortunes was the bond formed between the two star hockey players. That has undoubtedly led the Minnesota Wild on an inspiring second-half run to the postseason.

This is the Wild’s third straight playoff appearance, a new milestone for the franchise. For the last two years, Minnesota has been eliminated by Chicago, in the Conference Quarterfinals in 2013 and in the Conference Semifinals last year. This postseason, Suter and Parise will look to lead the Wild to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. However, their first step will be getting passed an elite St. Louis Blues team in the opening round.

4. Flaming Hot

The Calgary Flames are relevant again, as they stamped their ticket to their first playoff appearance in six years. This was a season in which the Flames were considered to be in the midst of a rebuild. But rebuild or not, third-year head coach Bob Hartley has now taken this team past 82 games and into the postseason.

Who could ask for a better first-round matchup than the Vancouver Canucks and the  Flames? These are two Canadian rivals that would love nothing more than to eliminate the other from the postseason. Will the playoff-experienced Canucks send Calgary home early? Or will the Flames show their Canadian neighbors that they mean business?

5. Presidential Sweet

The New York Rangers have bounced back from last year’s Stanley Cup Final defeat in commanding fashion. The Rangers finished the regular season with the best record, claiming the Presidents’ Trophy and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

“King” Henrik Lundqvist has performed to his usual royal abilities. But most notable is the shutdown goaltending from backup Cam Talbot. Talbot got 24 starts in net after Lundqvist ruptured a blood vessel in his neck. Talbot went 17-4-3, which included three overtime wins and two shutouts.

Rick Nash had a career-high 42 goals this season, winning him the bronze amongst the NHL’s regular-season goal scorers. If Nash can keep his production on, along with the Rangers’ prime goaltending, New York should have no trouble against a struggling Pittsburgh Penguins team that just made it into the second Wild Card spot in the East.

Welcome back playoff hockey. Oh my, how you have been missed.

Reach Staff Reporter Ben Ebert here.



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