The playoffs are just one month away. Time to start getting our hopes up.
MONTREAL – BOSTON
This is one of the NHL’s greatest all-time rivalries. Boston and Montreal have played each other more times (regular season and postseason combined) than any other two franchises in league history. They’ve met 34 times in the playoffs. Hell, they’ve met four times in the playoffs in the last decade alone.
And even though some of the best members of this rivalry (see: P.K. Subban and Milan Lucic) have moved on to other organizations, there’s still lots of potential entertainment value. For one, you’ve got long-time Bruins coach Claude Julien back behind the bench in Montreal. The Habs have also beefed up a lot in the last year, adding the likes of Shea Weber, Dwight King, and Steve Ott. Plus you’ve two of the three best Corsi teams in the league going head to head (L.A. ranks first), which always makes for good hockey.
TORONTO – ANYONE IN THE ATLANTIC
The Leafs are really exciting this year. First, you’ve got Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown, and Zach Hyman all putting in productive rookie years. Then you’ve got the fact that they might actually make the playoffs in an 82 game season for the first time since 2004.
So pick your poison. The Toronto – Montreal rivalry is what most people would call the greatest rivalry in NHL history. Toronto – Ottawa gives you the Battle of Ontario, which was one of the league’s best rivalries in the early 2000s. And Toronto – Boston have plenty of bad blood as well, especially after their 2013 playoff matchup which saw Toronto blow a 4-1 lead in game seven.
All of these series would be excellent.
ANY CENTRAL DIVISION SERIES
The good news is that this is guaranteed to happen. So pick whichever combination of Minnesota, Chicago, and Nashville you want. All would be excellent first round matchups.
The Wild look better than they ever have under GM Chuck Fletcher. Eric Staal’s revived his scoring touch, Mikael Granlund’s finally hitting his ceiling, and Bruce Boudreau is doing Bruce Boudreau things.
Chicago is, well, Chicago. They’ve got three Stanley Cups since 2010, and its been the same core throughout. A team led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Artemi Panarin, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford, and Joel Quenneville will always be a threat to win it all.
Then there’s the Predators. A lot of people had them pegged as Cup contenders before the season started. Then they went 7-7-3 to begin the year. But they’ve (mostly) found their stride, and Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, P.K. Subban, and Roman Josi have all played strongly. They could definitely make some noise in the playoffs.
CALGARY – EDMONTON
Who doesn’t love a little geographic warfare?
Edmonton hasn’t made the playoffs since they were in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006. Calgary’s been very up and down the past few years, but they’ve won 10 games straight as of this article. Factor in some young stars (and superstars) like Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Johnny Gaudreau, and Sean Monahan, and you’ve got the makings of a classic Battle of Alberta.
LOS ANGELES – ANYONE
The Kings routinely rank first in the league in Corsi, and it’s a huge part of why they’ve been so successful at defying the odds.
Things are just more interesting when this team’s in the playoffs. Before 2012, only one team in NHL history had won the Cup as a 5-seed or lower. And that was the Devils in 1995, in a lockout-shortened season. The Kings have done it twice since 2012 (8-seed in 2012, 6-seed in 2014).
Here’s hoping they at least get the chance to provide the threat of a deep run this year.