Bryan Altman, CBS Local Sports
The hits are getting harder, the intensity is ramping up and it’s almost time for the best part of the NHL season: Stanley Cup Playoff hockey. Certain teams are getting closer and closer to clinching playoff berths and other teams that are on the bubble are pulling out all the stops trying to squeeze their way into the playoff picture. While we might not yet know exactly what seed each team will be and we’re not entirely sure which teams are going to make the playoffs there are definitely some matchups that we want to see more than others. Let’s take a look at the six best potential matchups – three from the Eastern Conference and three from the Western Conference as we near the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
1. Rangers vs. Islanders
There has been bad blood between these two franchises for decades and the fires of the rivalry have finally been stoked again this season. The Rangers have been the best team in the NHL for the last month while the Islanders have been near the top of the standings basically all year. The Islanders won the season series 3-2 and would love nothing more than to take down the top-seeded Rangers in their last season at the Nassau Coliseum. This series would be one for the ages if these two teams lock horns in the postseason.
2. Canadiens vs. Bruins
Admittedly, the Bruins look left for dead right now. That feels somewhat ridiculous to say for a team that sits one point out of a playoff spot and has been a force in the Eastern Conference for the better part of the last decade but after losing seven games in a row they seem listless and lifeless. Still, it would be a tremendous series if the Bruins and Canadiens met. Last year’s seven-game series most certainly reinvigorated the ancient rivalry and if the Bruins can put it together and retake the final playoff spot from the Ottawa Senators they would be meeting none other than the Montreal Canadiens if all else remains the same.
3. Rangers vs. Lightning
I can’t help but feel like a seven-game series between the Rangers and Lightning would be special. There’s ex-Rangers and ex-lightning captains Martin St. Louis and Ryan Callahan facing off against their old teams plus Dan Boyle, Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman playing against their old teams as well. Throw in the fact that Tampa Bay scores at will while the Rangers have one of the best defensive corps in the game in addition to the Steven Stamkos vs. Henrik Lundqvist matchup and you’re left with one heck of a playoff series.
1. Kings vs. Blackhawks
We all remember how brutal and bruising this conference final was last year and it’s starting to seem like an inevitability that these two teams will meet again. Sure, the Kings are technically not in the playoff picture at the moment but how much longer do you expect that to last the way they’re playing? It’s actually really unfortunate for Winnipeg and Calgary as both teams have exceeded expectations this season but it doesn’t feel like there’s a chance both of them can hold off the surging Kings. I doubt most fans want to see the Kings in the playoffs again but they own this time of year until someone claims it from them. Surely the Blackhawks would relish the chance to repay the overtime heartbreak from last year anyway.
2. Blackhawks vs. Blues
Wakey wakey Backes, it’s time for another playoff battle with the Blackhawks. Besides Brent Seabrook’s utter destruction of Blues captain David Backes this series had it all. Four of the six games went to overtime and the intensity was as high as any playoff series in recent memory. In this case, the sequel will probably hold a candle to the original.
3. Canucks vs. Flames
While John Tortorella won’t be present to chase Bob Hartley into the tunnel for this one, the intensity definitely would still exist between these two Western-Canadian rivals even when line brawls aren’t starting off the games. These two teams haven’t met in the postseason in over 10 years but the battle for Western Canada would definitely be an intense one. Both of these teams have overachieved this year and are on track to play each other if the Kings don’t ruin everything. If they do meet, it probably won’t take them very long to get reacquainted with each other.
There’s still plenty of time left until the regular season comes to an end but the finish line is definitely in sight. It’s exciting just thinking about the prospect of these particular matchups and it will be more excited watching them unfold if they in fact do come to fruition.