NHL: STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS PREVIEW CAPSULES
EASTERN CONFERENCE : NO. 1 PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (36-12-0) vs. NO. 8 N.Y. ISLANDERS (24-17-7)
2013 SERIES RECORD: Pittsburgh 4-1.
PLAYOFF HISTORY: New York 3-0. Last meeting: New York 4-2 in 1993 Patrick Division finals.
PITTSBURGH: The Penguins were 23-4 in their final 27 games but will need to be on their game to avoid a third straight first-round exit. ... If Sidney Crosby can return to the lineup as well as James Neal, the Penguins might have no trouble in the playoffs. Neal scored three goals Saturday in his first game after missing eight because of a concussion. The Penguins are getting healthier all over as Evgeni Malkin returned earlier in the week after he sat out four because of an upper body injury. Crosby (jaw) is back practicing and could soon receive medical clearance to play in games.
Reinforcements acquired at the trade deadline — Brenden Morrow, Jussi Jokinen and Jarome Iginla — have helped Pittsburgh offset its injuries. The Penguins won eight of the 12 games Crosby missed. Over the past three years, the Penguins have played 131 of 212 games without either Crosby or Malkin and are 84-38-9 — including 19-7 this season. ... Iginla scored goals in four of the final six games and had at least one point in seven of nine (four goals, six assists). Morrow has 14 points in 15 games with Pittsburgh after having 11 in 29 games with Dallas. ... Marc-Andre Fleury earned 23 wins and posted a GAA of 2.39 in 33 games this season.
N.Y. ISLANDERS: The Islanders are in the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and will be looking for their first series win since they reached the conference finals in 1993. This is only their sixth postseason appearance since then. ... John Tavares emerged as a legitimate MVP contender by scoring 28 goals and adding 19 assists in 48 games. He carried New York to this long-awaited playoff berth as the club is gearing up for its move in two years to Brooklyn. Matt Moulson shared the offensive load with 15 goals and 44 points, and Brad Boyes has been a welcome addition with a 10-goal, 35-point campaign. ... The Islanders’ road success could be a major boost if it continues in the playoffs. New York was 14-6-4 away from Long Island and only 10-11-3 at home. ... Veteran G Evgeni Nabokov brought it all together with a 23-11-7 mark and 2.50 GAA. The 37-year-old Nabokov, third on the NHL active list with 335 career wins, showed little wear and tear in playing 41 of the 48 games this season.
OUTLOOK: Islanders are ready for playoffs, but not quite ready to knock off playoff-tested Pittsburgh. Penguins in 5.
NO. 2 MONTREAL CANADIENS (29-14-5) vs. NO. 7 OTTAWA SENATORS (25-17-6)
2013 SERIES RECORD: Both teams 2-1-1.
PLAYOFF HISTORY: First meeting.
MONTREAL: With help from their division rival, and now first-round opponent, the Canadiens won the Northeast title for the first time since the 2007-08 season when Ottawa knocked off the Bruins in Boston on Sunday. Montreal, which didn’t qualify for the playoffs last year, will be looking to get to the second round for the first time since getting to the Eastern Conference finals in 2010. ... The Canadiens closed the regular season with a 4-1 win on Toronto on Saturday, but they sort of stumbled to the finish — going 4-6 in their last 10 games. Most alarmingly is Montreal yielded 29 goals in those six losses. Carey Price was in goal for nine of 10 games before the finale vs. Toronto. Price earned 21 wins in his 39 appearances, posting a 2.59 GAA. Peter Budaj proved to be a solid backup with eight wins in 13 games. ... The offense is spread out with eight players in double figures in goals — topped by 16 by Michael Ryder, and followed by 15 each from Max Pacioretty and rookie Brendan Gallagher.
OTTAWA: The Senators moved up one spot from last year when they lost in seven games to the New York Rangers in the No. 1 vs. 8 first-round matchup. Ottawa bounced back from a home loss to Philadelphia on Saturday achieved its goal of avoiding top-seeded Pittsburgh by beating the Bruins in Boston in the final game of the NHL regular season on Sunday. ... While the Senators and Canadiens are only about an hour’s drive apart geographically, the teams haven’t met since Montreal’s 4-3 shootout victory on March 13. ... This will be the first time the Senators face a Canadian opponent in the playoffs, other than Toronto, which is 4-0 in series vs. Ottawa. ... The Senators haven’t gotten out of the first round since 2006, but their chances this year are bolstered by the recent return of Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson, who missed 31 games with an Achilles injury suffered on Feb. 13 at Pittsburgh. He had a team-high 27:11 of ice time Thursday in an overtime win at Washington in his return and added two assists. ... Ottawa was 6-3 in its final nine games. ... G Craig Anderson missed 18 games due to injury in the middle of the season, but was sharp in going 12-9-2 with a 1.69 GAA in 24 games.
OUTLOOK: This backyard brawl could go back and forth for quite a while. Ottawa will be still standing at the end. Senators in 7.
NO. 3 WASHINGTON CAPITALS (27-18-3) vs. NO. 6 N.Y. RANGERS (26-18-4)
2013 SERIES RECORD: New York 2-0-1.
PLAYOFF HISTORY: Washington 4-3. Last meeting: New York 4-3 in 2012 conference semifinals.
WASHINGTON: Alex Ovechkin fueled the Capitals’ surge to their fifth Southeast Division title in six years by leading the NHL with 32 goals. Ovechkin scored an NHL-record 14 goals in April and became the first three-time winner of the Richard Trophy in the 13 years the award has been given to the season leader in goals. ... Washington went 17-4-2 in its final 23 games — including 11-1-1 in April — to move from 14th in the East to the No. 3 seed in the playoffs. ... Adam Oates is the 22nd rookie coach to win a division title since the 1969-70 season and the fifth to do it since 2005-06. ... G Braden Holtby set a career high with 23 wins this season. ... Washington is in the playoffs for the sixth straight season. It is the Capitals’ longest postseason stretch since a 14-season run from 1983-96.
N.Y. RANGERS: New York entered the final day of the regular season with the possibility of finishing anywhere between sixth and eighth in the East. A 4-0 win over New Jersey, coupled with a loss by Ottawa, moved the Rangers to sixth and into another meeting with Washington. ... Last season, the top-seeded Rangers lost in the conference finals to New Jersey. They clinched their third straight postseason berth with an OT win at Carolina on Thursday. ... The Rangers secured their spot by going 10-3-1 in April, and by scoring an NHL-best 3.6 goals per game since the April 3 trade deadline. ... Rick Nash broke out of a scoring slump with two goals in the finale to reach 20 for the ninth straight season. Brad Richards enters the playoffs on a six-game point streak, and Henrik Lundqvist has allowed two goals or fewer in 16 of the past 20 games — going 13-5-2. He tied for the NHL lead with 24 wins with a stellar 2.05 goals-against average.
OUTLOOK: These teams went seven games last season, with the final two being decided by 2-1 scores. Expect more of the same. Rangers in 7.
NO. 4 BOSTON BRUINS (28-14-6) vs. NO. 5 TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (26-17-5)
2013 SERIES RECORD: Boston 3-1-0.
PLAYOFF HISTORY: Boston 8-5. Last meeting: Boston 4-0 in 1974 quarterfinals.
BOSTON: The Bruins squandered a chance to win the Northeast Division and claim the No. 2 seed in the East by losing in overtime at Washington on Saturday and at home to Ottawa on Sunday in the regular-season finale. The skid goes back even further as Boston was 2-5-2 in its last nine games. ... While these teams are division rivals, it has been nearly 40 years since they met in the playoffs. This matchup is the only one between two Original Six teams in the first round, but all six qualified for the playoffs. ... Boston is in the postseason for the sixth straight season. The Bruins were ousted by Washington last year in a seven-game, first-round series when Boston was defending its Stanley Cup title. ... David Krejci scored a team-high 23 goals, followed by Patrice Bergeron with 22. Jaromir Jagr should be recovered from the flu symptoms that kept him out of the final two regular-season games enough to provide more playoff experience up front. ... Tuukka Rask, now the No. 1 goalie with Tim Thomas out of the picture, allowed three goals in the loss Sunday to fall to 19-10-5, but he carried a 1.97 GAA in 35 games into the season finale.
TORONTO: Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said he was “mystified” by his club’s 4-1 home loss to Montreal in the regular season finale on Saturday. He will have a short time to figure things out before opening the first-round playoff series at Boston on Wednesday. Toronto managed only one shot in the second period, despite having three power plays. ... The Maple Leafs lost four of their final six and were outscored 20-15 in that stretch. ... Phil Kessel netted his 20th goal of the season, giving him 10 in 10 games. ... Toronto will go as far as G James Reimer will take them. Reimer went 19-8-5 with a 2.46 GAA in 33 games this season. Ben Scrivens earned seven wins in 20 outings. ... In addition to Kessel, the Maple Leafs will look to Nazem Kadri and James van Riemsdyk to carry the offense. Kadri posted 44 points, eight fewer than Kessel’s team-leading 52.
OUTLOOK: Boston outlasts Toronto in matchup of skidding clubs. Bruins in 7.
NO. 1 CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (36-7-5) vs. NO. 8 MINNESOTA WILD (26-19-3)
2013 SERIES RECORD: Minnesota 2-0-1.
PLAYOFF HISTORY: First meeting.
CHICAGO: The Blackhawks tore through the Western Conference and claimed the Presidents’ Trophy for the second time. But what the Original Six team really wants is its second Stanley Cup title in four years after going 49 without one. ... Chicago started the season 21-0-3 and then cruised to a 10-3-2 mark in April. ... The Blackhawks are one of the most balanced teams in the league, with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews tying for the club lead with 23 goals. Marian Hossa was next with 17 as Chicago led the West with 155 goals — second to Pittsburgh overall. The defense was the stingiest in the NHL, allowing 97 goals behind the goalie tandem of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery. Crawford won 19 games, Emery earned 17 wins, and both posted goals-against averages of 1.94.
MINNESOTA: The Wild secured their fourth playoff appearance in their 12 seasons, but first since 2008, when they beat Colorado in the regular-season finale — one day after being routed at home by Edmonton with a berth on the line. ... The Wild reached the 2003 conference finals in their first trip to the playoffs, but were first-round losers in 2007 and 2008. ... Much was expected after the team’s big free-agent signings of forward Zach Parise and Ryan Suter last summer. Parise led the club with 18 goals, and his Stanley Cup playoff experience from New Jersey should help his teammates. Suter was fourth on the team with 32 points, including 28 assists. Suter has made five previous playoff appearances with Nashville. ... The biggest challenge will fall to Niklas Backstrom, who will try to stop the high-powered Blackhawks offense. Backstrom tied for the NHL lead with 24 wins this season.
OUTLOOK: If Chicago is going to be seriously tested, it won’t be by the Wild. Blackhawks in 5.
NO. 2 ANAHEIM DUCKS (30-12-6) vs. NO. 7 DETROIT RED WINGS (24-16-8)
2013 SERIES RECORD: Anaheim 2-1-0.
PLAYOFF HISTORY: Detroit 3-2. Last meeting: Detroit 4-3 in 2009 conference semifinals.
ANAHEIM: If not for the Chicago Blackhawks, the Pacific Division champion Ducks would likely be the odds-on favorite to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup finals. Only Chicago (77) and Pittsburgh (72) had more points than the Ducks’ 66 this season. ... As impressive as Anaheim was at home in winning 16 games — including 13 in a row — the Ducks went 14-5-5 on the road. ... Like their Detroit counterparts, the Ducks aren’t overly powerful on offense, despite a slew of big-name players known for goal scoring. Top-line forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry tied for the team lead with 15 goals each, and Teemu Selanne and Bobby Ryan combined for only 23 goals — 12 for Selanne. As is often the case, defense could be the deciding factor in the playoffs. Jonas Hiller and 30-year-old Swedish rookie Viktor Fasth split the goaltending chores and posted comparable numbers. Both had 15 wins and six regulation losses. Fasth had a 2.18 GAA in 25 games, and Hiller had a 2.36 in 26 appearances.
DETROIT: It wasn’t easy but the Red Wings managed to get into the playoffs for a 22nd straight season, clinching their spot with a win in the season finale. Though this time, Detroit will have to navigate through the postseason without retired stalwart defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, who anchored Red Wings teams that won four Stanley Cup titles and went to the finals six times in his 20 seasons. ... Jimmy Howard will have to be the ultimate backstop now after having a fine regular season in which he won 21 games and posted a 2.13 GAA. ... The Red Wings no longer rely on a potent offense. They managed only 124 goals in the regular season, with Pavel Datsyuk posting team-highs with 15 and 49 points. Henrik Zetterberg, second with 48 points, had two goals and an assist in Saturday’s playoff-clinching win over Dallas. ... Rookie C Damien Brunner will be tested following a 12-goal campaign, but he was a minus-6. ... The Red Wings won their final four games by a combined score of 15-3 to get back to the playoffs.
OUTLOOK: The Red Wings returned to the postseason again, but won’t stick around too long. Ducks in 6.
NO. 3 VANCOUVER CANUCKS (26-15-7) vs. NO. 6 SAN JOSE SHARKS (25-16-7)
2013 SERIES RECORD: San Jose 3-0-0.
PLAYOFF HISTORY: Vancouver 1-0. Last meeting: Vancouver 4-1 in 2011 conference finals.
VANCOUVER: The Canucks enter the playoffs as the Northwest Division champion for the fifth time in six seasons. ... Vancouver might have to make the most of its home-ice advantage because the Sharks have only two regulation losses in San Jose and five other defeats in overtime or shootouts. ... The Canucks mustered just 127 goals this season — 28 fewer than Central champion Chicago and 13 less than Pacific champion Anaheim. Alex Burrows led the Canucks with 13 goals, Daniel Sedin was next with 12, followed by twin brother Henrik with 11. Henrik Sedin had a team-best 45 points, five more than Daniel. ... Cory Schneider got the bulk of the work in goal, making 30 appearances — 10 more than former No. 1 netminder Roberto Luongo. Schneider had a solid season with 17 wins and a 2.11 GAA. Luongo posted nine wins with a 2.56 GAA.
SAN JOSE: The Sharks will have to quickly figure out how to win on the road — at least once in this series — if they are going to advance. They were 17-2-5 at home but only 8-13-2 on the road, though one of the wins was in Vancouver. San Jose had the potential confidence boost that it was undefeated against the Canucks this season. ... The Sharks lost in the first round of last year’s playoffs after consecutive trips to the Western Conference finals the previous two years. Vancouver derailed them in five games in 2011 before falling in the finals to Boston. ... San Jose has been to the playoffs in nine straight seasons, reaching the conference finals three times during that run. ... Logan Couture led the team with 21 goals in 48 games, only 11 goals fewer than his career best of 32 in 79 games of the 2010-11 season. Joe Thornton was limited to seven goals, but he topped the team in scoring thanks to his 33 assists. Patrick Marleau (17 goals) and Joe Pavelski (16) will be needed to produce if San Jose hopes to advance. ... The rest will be left up to workhorse goalie Antti Niemi, who played in 43 of the Sharks’ 48 games and tied for the NHL lead with 24 wins. The heavy workload didn’t seem to wear him down as Niemi posted an impressive 2.16 GAA and .924 save percentage. Backup Thomas Greiss got into only six games and earned one win.
OUTLOOK: San Jose is used to long playoff runs. Its success over Vancouver continues into the playoffs. Sharks in 6.
NO. 4 ST. LOUIS BLUES (29-17-2) vs. NO. 5 LOS ANGELES KINGS (27-16-5)
2013 SERIES RECORD: Los Angeles 3-0-0.
PLAYOFF HISTORY: St. Louis 2-1. Last meeting: Los Angeles 4-0 in 2012 conference semifinals.
ST. LOUIS: The Blues surged in April to secure home-ice advantage in the first round, but their 11-2 mark in the final month also put them into a matchup with perhaps their biggest nemesis. St. Louis was swept by the Kings in last year’s playoffs and didn’t beat them in this regular season, either — including two losses in Los Angeles. ... G Brian Elliott led the way down the stretch for St. Louis, giving up only 16 goals in the final 13 games. He was 3-6-1 before finishing 14-8-1 with a 2.28 GAA and .907 save percentage. Elliott took over for injured goalie Jaroslav Halak last year, and was the losing goalie in the series against the Kings. Halak played in only 16 games this season and went 6-5-1 with a 2.14 GAA. ... Chris Stewart scored a team-high 18 goals and 36 points. Patrik Berglund was next with 17 goals, and was one of five Blues players with at least 25 points.
LOS ANGELES: The Kings won the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title last year, and they did it from the No. 8 seed. So it is hard to discount them this time as they start the tournament three slots higher. ... If they are going to make another deep run, it stands to reason that G Jonathan Quick will be why. Quick earned Conn Smythe Trophy honors last year as the playoff MVP when he went 16-4 with a minuscule 1.41 GAA. He put together a solid regular season this year by going 18-13-4 with a 2.45 GAA in 37 appearances. ... Jeff Carter paced the offense with 26 goals, and Anze Kopitar topped the team with 42 points, including 32 assists. Captain Dustin Brown scored 16 goals and fell one point shy of being the fifth Kings player with 30. ... Los Angeles has won eight straight against St. Louis, including last year’s second-round sweep. That marked Los Angeles’ first sweep in a best-of-7 series and the first time a No. 8 seed eliminated the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds.
OUTLOOK: Los Angeles is ready for another lengthy playoff stay. It starts here. Kings in 7.