Center stage: NHL playoffs begin with intrigue, unique matchups

04/14/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Sixteen teams each hoping for 16 wins. That's what the road to the Stanley Cup looks like as we get ready to faceoff the 2015 NHL Playoffs. The puck drops on Wednesday night, so lets take a look at those series:
Eastern Conference
#2 Montreal vs #7 Ottawa (Season Series: Ottawa 3 to 1)

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Nobody is hotter heading into the playoffs than the Ottawa Senators. The Sens finished the regular season winning 21 of their final 27 games and getting points in 24 of those games. The player matchups in this series are fantastic. In goal it's Price who's the favorite for the Vezina Trophy, against Hammond aka "The Hamburgler", who won 20 of his first 23 NHL starts and has sparked the Senators playoff run. On defense, two Norris Trophy hopefuls will go head to head in P.K. Subban for Montreal, and Karlsson for Ottawa. Montreal finished 20th in the NHL in goals per game, but had the best goals against average of any team. Ottawa finished 9th in goals per game and 13th in goals against. The key for the Canadiens is will Pacioretty, who was injured late in the regular season, be ready for the start of this series? Not only did he lead the team in scoring, he led them versus Ottawa on the regular season with 6 points (4G/2A) in the 4 games played between the teams. Karlsson led the Senators in the season series with 6 points as well (3G/3A). Price split his two starts versus Ottawa, while Hammond won both of his starts. This is also a rematch of the 2013 opening round, in which the Senators upset the Canadiens.
Eastern Conference
#4 Washington vs #5 NY Islanders (Season Series: NY 2 Washington 2)
This is a great opening round matchup between two teams who were very even in the regular season, and between two of the NHL's premier players as well. Both teams finished with 101 points. The teams split the regular season series. The home team won in every game. 3 of the 4 games went to overtime. You can't ask for much more even than that, but on paper is the only place these teams are similar. On the ice, the Capitals bring a big and physical team against the speed and skill of the Islanders. The matchup between Ovechkin, who won the Rocket Richard Trophy by scoring 53 regular season goals, and Tavares, who finished 2nd in the league in scoring, just adds to the intrigue of this series. The key to this series may be special teams, as the Capitals top ranked power play goes against an Islanders penalty kill that ranked 26th in the league. Another key for the Isles will be the health of defenseman Travis Hamonic, who was injured in the next to the last game of the regular season. Both Tavares (2G/3A0 and Ryan Strome (1G/4A) put up 5 points to lead the Isles in the 4 games versus the Caps. Nicklas Backstrom led the Caps vs the Isles with 6 points (1G/5A), but Ovechkin added 4 goals in the series as well. Halak and Holtby each won their two starts versus their respective opponent as well.
Western Conference
#3 Nashville vs #4 Chicago (Season Series: Chicago 3 to 1)
The biggest news for this series is the best news Blackhawks fans could hope for, as Patrick Kane has been cleared to play for Game 1. Kane had 64 points (27G/37A) in 61 games for Chicago before being suffering a broken clavicle. That's the hot news. The cold news is the way these two teams finished the regular season. Chicago dropped their final four regular season games, while Nashville lost their last 6 games. Even thought the Blackhawks won 3 of the 4 regular season games, two of those went to overtime. James Neal scored 5 goals in the 4 regular season games between these teams to lead the Predators in scoring. Duncan Keith led the Blackhawks with 4 assists, while Marian Hossa scored 3 goals in those 4 games. Crawford won both of his starts versus Nashville, while Renne split his two starts. Chicago has the 2nd best goals against average in the NHL at 2.26. This is Nashville's first playoff appearance since the 2011/2012 season.
Western Conference
#5 Vancouver vs #8 Calgary (Season Series: Calgary 2 Vancouver 2)
The Calgary Flames are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2009. That may be biggest surprise of this NHL season. Maybe even a bigger surprise is they won 12 of their final 20 games with defenseman Mark Giordano, who was leading all NHL defenseman in scoring when he was lost to a season ending bicep injury. This is a matchup of the #5 and #8 seed because the Canucks finished 2nd in the Pacific Division and the Flames finished 3rd. Ryan Miller will be back from injury for Vancouver, but the Canucks may go with backup Eddie Lack to start the series since Miller will be a bit rusty. Hudler led the Flames with 4 points (1G/3A) in the season series versus Vancouver. Henrik Sedin (1G/2A), Daniel Sedin (3 assists) and Chris Tanev (1G/3A) led the Canucks against the Flames. Miller won 2 of his 3 starts versus the Flames, while Lack lost his only appearance. Hiller lost in his only start against the Canucks. These teams last met in the playoffs in 2004, a series Calgary won en route to the Stanley Cup Finals.

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