The NHL playoffs are the best playoffs, hands down—well, outside of the NCAA basketball tournament, perhaps—and Wednesday night was another indication of why that always holds true.
One game, between the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning, went to overtime. The other both finished as 4-3 scores, with the Pittsburgh Penguins erasing a two-goal deficit to overcome the Columbus Blue Jackets on Brandon Sutter's game-winning goal with 8:18 remaining in the third period.
It was a reminder that if you miss any of these games, you do so at your own peril. You never know when one of these games will be an all-time classic. So here's the current playoff schedule, so you don't have to miss a thing.
|Friday, April 18||7:30 p.m.||Detroit at Boston||NBCSN|
|Sunday, April 20||3 p.m.||Detroit at Boston||NBC|
|Tuesday, April 22||7:30 p.m.||Boston at Detroit||NBCSN|
|Thursday, April 24||8 p.m.||Boston at Detroit||NBCSN|
|*Saturday, April 26||3 p.m.||Detroit at Boston||NBC|
|*Monday, April 28||TBD||Boston at Detroit||N/A|
|*Wednesday, April 30||TBD||Detroit at Boston||N/A|
|Friday, April 18||7 p.m.||Montreal at Tampa Bay||CNBC|
|Sunday, April 20||7 p.m.||Tampa Bay at Montreal||NBCSN|
|Tuesday, April 22||7 p.m.||Tampa Bay at Montreal||NHL Network|
|*Thursday, April 24||7 p.m.||Montreal at Tampa Bay||N/A|
|*Sunday, April 27||TBD||Tampa Bay at Montreal||NBCSN|
|Tuesday, April 29||TBD||Montreal at Tampa Bay||N/A|
|Saturday, April 19||7 p.m.||Columbus at Pittsburgh||NBCSN|
|Monday, April 21||7 p.m.||Pittsburgh at Columbus||NBCSN|
|Wednesday, April 23||7 p.m.||Pittsburgh at Columbus||NBCSN|
|*Saturday, April 26||TBD||Columbus at Pittsburgh||N/A|
|*Monday, April 28||TBD||Pittsburgh at Columbus||N/A|
|*Wednesday, April 30||TBD||Columbus at Pittsburgh||N/A|
|Thursday, April 17||7 p.m.||Philadelphia at NY Rangers||CNBC|
|Sunday, April 20||Noon||Philadelphia at NY Rangers||NBC|
|Tuesday, April 22||8 p.m.||NY Rangers at Philadelphia||CNBC|
|Friday, April 25||7 p.m.||NY Rangers at Philadelphia||CNBC|
|*Sunday, April 27||Noon||Philadelphia at NY Rangers||NBC|
|*Tuesday, April 29||TBD||NY Rangers at Philadelphia||N/A|
|*Wednesday, April 30||TBD||Philadelphia at NY Rangers||N/A|
|Thursday, April 17||9:30 p.m.||Minnesota at Colorado||CNBC|
|Saturday, April 19||9:30 p.m.||Minnesota at Colorado||NBCSN|
|Monday, April 21||7 p.m.||Colorado at Minnesota||NHL Network|
|Thursday, April 24||9:30 p.m.||Colorado at Minnesota||CNBC|
|*Saturday, April 26||TBD||Minnesota at Colorado||N/A|
|*Monday, April 28||TBD||Colorado at Minnesota||N/A|
|*Wednesday, April 30||TBD||Minnesota at Colorado||N/A|
|Thursday, April 17||8 p.m.||Chicago at St. Louis||NBCSN|
|Saturday, April 19||3 p.m.||Chicago at St. Louis||NBC|
|Monday, April 21||8:30 p.m.||St. Louis at Chicago||CNBC|
|Wednesday, April 23||9:30 p.m.||St. Louis at Chicago||NBCSN|
|*Friday, April 25||8 p.m.||Chicago at St. Louis||NBCSN|
|*Sunday, April 27||3 p.m.||St. Louis at Chicago||NBC|
|*Tuesday, April 29||TBD||Chicago at St. Louis||N/A|
|Friday, April 18||10 p.m.||Dallas at Anaheim||NBCSN|
|Monday, April 21||9:30 p.m.||Anaheim at Dallas||NBCSN|
|Wednesday, April 23||8 p.m.||Anaheim at Dallas||CNBC|
|*Friday, April 25||10:30 p.m.||Dallas at Anaheim||NBCSN|
|*Sunday, April 27||TBD||Anaheim at Dallas||N/A|
|*Tuesday, April 29||TBD||Dallas at Anaheim||N/A|
|Thursday, April 17||10:30 p.m.||Los Angeles at San Jose||NBCSN|
|Sunday, April 20||10 p.m.||Los Angeles at San Jose||NBCSN|
|Tuesday, April 22||10 p.m.||San Jose at Los Angeles||NBCSN|
|Thursday, April 24||10:30 p.m.||San Jose at Los Angeles||NBCSN|
|*Saturday, April 26||TBD||Los Angeles at San Jose||NBCSN|
|*Monday, April 28||TBD||San Jose at Los Angeles||N/A|
|*Wednesday, April 30||TBD||Los Angeles at San Jose||N/A|
Source: NHL.com. (*If Necessary)
It was also a reminder that few events are harder to predict than the NHL playoffs. Upsets are a huge part of the annual postseason tournament, but that won't stop folks from trying to unlock the code. So for those folks, here's a look at the first-round odds, via Ben Valentine of The Linemakers:
|No. 4 Detroit Red Wings||+250|
|No. 1 Boston Bruins||-300|
|No. 3 Montreal Canadiens||-105|
|No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning||-115|
|No. 4 Columbus Blue Jackets||+190|
|No. 1 Pittsburgh Penguins||-220|
|No. 3 Philadelphia Flyers||+120|
|No. 2 New York Rangers||-140|
|No. 4 Minnesota Wild||+110|
|No. 1 Colorado Avalanche||-130|
|No. 3 Chicago Blackhawks||-115|
|No. 2 St. Louis Blues||-105|
|No. 4 Dallas Stars||+160|
|No. 1 Anaheim Ducks||-180|
|No. 3 Los Angeles Kings||+120|
|No. 2 San Jose Sharks||-140|
Via Ben Valentine of The Linemakers
There are so many intriguing matchups in this postseason, but a few stand above the rest.
For starters, there are the Philadelphia Flyers taking on the New York Rangers, traditional rivals who come into this series pretty even in talent. They also split the season series, so it's hard to find much to separate the two.
The Rangers are the stingier defensive team (fourth in goals allowed this season) and have an excellent goalie in Henrik Lundqvist. The Flyers are the superior offensive team, eighth in the NHL with 233 goals on the year and seventh with a 19.8 power play percentage, led by superstar Claude Giroux (86 points).
The teams do, however, represent an interesting clash of styles, as Jeff Z. Klein of The New York Times writes:
The Rangers rely on puck movement and balanced scoring while playing 'between the whistles,' as their playoff-seasoned coach, Alain Vigneault, puts it. The Flyers also rely on balanced scoring, but under their rookie coach, Craig Berube, they emphasize 'being physical.'
A Flyers team that relies on physicality—fancy that. Don't be shocked if this series goes the distance.
Another matchup between traditional rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues, also promises fireworks. The Blues won the season series, 3-2, and also had the better record on the year, but a six-game losing streak down the stretch has all of St. Louis feeling a bit nervous.
St. Louis comes into the series battling injuries, a concern for sure, but perhaps the bigger concern will be slowing down a Chicago attack that scored 261 goals this year, second in the NHL.
The key man in this series will be Blues' goalie Ryan Miller, who has struggled of late. From Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
The netminder made several stops on breakaways in Sunday’s 3-0 loss to Detroit, and he’s had no offensive support to speak of in the last two games, but heading into the Blues’ first-round series against Chicago Miller is 0-5 in his last five starts with an 3.82 goals-against average and an .856 save percentage.
'Obviously it’s been a tough stretch as far as goals-against, but I don’t feel like I’m in a really bad place,' Miller said. 'I feel like I’m in a pretty good place, honestly. I know people probably will take that and just chop it up and laugh about it, but I feel pretty good.
'I can compete. I just have to worry about battling and competing. It was going to be the same job no matter what. Once you get to the playoffs everybody’s at zeros, so compete.'
If Miller doesn't come up big for St. Louis, their trip to the postseason will be brief.
Finally, a matchup between California powers, the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings, promises to bring plenty of intrigue. The Kings struggle to score goals but it generally hasn't mattered, as they've only allowed 168 on the year, tops in the league, led by Jonathan Quick.
San Jose is no slouch defensively, however, having allowed just 193 scores on the season (fifth in the league), led by goalkeeper Antti Niemi.
As Chris Peters of CBS Sports writes, however, the Sharks are probably very pleased they own the home-ice advantage in this one:
The Kings were on top in the season series, winning three of the five meetings between the two clubs. All but one of those games ended via one-goal differences, including one overtime win for the Kings and one shootout win for the Sharks.
Getting back to the home ice thing, in this season's series, the home team only lost one of the five games as the Sharks did in January. In fact, over the last three seasons, including the postseason, the home team is 20-2 in this series. Think the Sharks are happy to be the higher seed for this one?
You can expect a physical, forecheck-heavy, defensively disciplined series here, with an emphasis on great goalkeeping. The Kings have been better offensively since adding Marian Gaborik, but they don't want this series to become a collection of high-scoring games. They won't win that series.
So the battle between the Sharks' talented attack and the Kings' stifling defense will be the key. Whichever team is able to dictate their style of play is going to scrape by with a close series win. But you can bet it will be close.