The 2014 NHL playoffs may be in the their infancy, but there has already been a ton of exciting action, and that will almost certainly continue as the first round progresses.
With the NHL's new playoff system creating better first-round matchups than ever before, each every game has the potential to be a classic. With that in mind, this weekend's slate of games is essentially a dream come true for hockey fans.
Along with the full television viewing schedule for Saturday and Sunday's playoff clashes, here is a closer look at the postseason battles you simply can't afford to miss.
|Upcoming NHL Playoffs Schedule|
|Saturday, April 19||3 p.m.||Blackhawks vs. Blues||2||NBC|
|Saturday, April 19||7 p.m.||Blue Jackets vs. Penguins||2||NBCSN|
|Saturday, April 19||9:30 p.m.||Wild vs. Avalanche||2||NBCSN|
|Sunday, April 20||12 p.m.||Flyers vs. Rangers||2||NBC|
|Sunday, April 20||3 p.m.||Red Wings vs. Bruins||2||NBC|
|Sunday, April 20||7 p.m.||Lightning vs. Canadiens||3||NBCSN|
|Sunday, April 20||10 p.m.||Kings vs. Sharks||2||NBCSN|
Top Games to Watch
Detroit Red Wings vs. Boston Bruins (Game 2)
As the Presidents' Trophy winners, the Boston Bruins entered the playoffs as the Stanley Cup favorite. At the very least, most observers expect them to reach the Eastern Conference Finals and engage in a great series with the Pittsburgh Penguins. After Game 1 of their first-round series with the Detroit Red Wings, though, that may be ambitious.
After nearly three periods of scoreless play featuring fantastic goaltending from Jimmy Howard and Tuukka Rask, the Red Wings broke through first. Star center Pavel Datsyuk scored with just over three minutes remaining, and it proved to be the game-deciding goal.
As seen in this video courtesy of the Red Wings' official Twitter account, it took an incredible individual effort from Datsyuk to give the wild-card underdogs a 1-0 advantage in the series:
The fact that Detroit won the opening game makes Game 2 that much more interesting, but there also happens to be some bad blood. Bruins forward Milan Lucic speared Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser during the second period.
After the incident, Lucic acknowledged what he did and showed remorse, via Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press:
It was kind of a heat of the moment thing when you're not thinking and you do something like that. I've been in the league for seven years and I think I've only done that three times. I don't know why I did it. I believe in playing within the rules, and for me, I definitely won't be heading down that road again.
Despite the seemingly vicious play, Lucic was only fined $5,000 and was not suspended. The Red Wings have to focus on trying to extend their series advantage to 2-0, but the looming possibility of retribution will make Game 2 that much more interesting.
Minnesota Wild vs. Colorado Avalanche (Game 2)
In what was unquestionably the most entertaining Game 1 of the first round, the Colorado Avalanche overcame a huge challenge from the Minnesota Wild and prevailed in overtime, 5-4. Minnesota held a 4-2 advantage heading into the third period, but the Western Conference Central Division champions mounted a comeback.
Center Paul Stastny tied the game with just 14 seconds remaining in regulation, and he then proceeded to score the overtime winner in front of a raucous Denver crowd at the Pepsi Center. Avs fans have suffered through some disappointing seasons in recent years, but head coach Patrick Roy was grateful for the support they showed in Game 1, per the team's official Twitter account:
One can only assume that the fans will be even louder in Game 2 since their team has the advantage. The Avs are among the most exciting teams in the league due to their scoring depth with the likes of Stastny, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog all doing plenty of damage in Game 2. That is something the Wild will once again have to be cognizant of in the second game.
Minnesota wasn't a particularly explosive offensive team during the regular season, so it must tighten up defensively and play a lower-scoring game in order to succeed. That clash of styles should make for a great Game 2 and an excellent series as a whole.
Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks (Game 2)
Over the past several years, the Los Angeles Kings have risen to the occasion during the playoffs, while the San Jose Sharks have often crumbled. There was no sign of that in Game 1 between the Californian rivals, though, as San Jose was in control throughout and prevailed by a 6-3 score.
The Kings made things interesting in the third period after the Sharks jumped out to a 5-0 lead, but San Jose was able to put L.A. away. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Sharks' win was the fact that all six of their goals were scored by different players, according to ESPN's John Buccigross:
San Jose has all the talent in the world, and it seemingly has the tools necessary to make a deep run at the Stanley Cup. That has been the case for quite some time, though, and it has never come to fruition. If the Sharks can build off what they did in Game 1, maybe 2014 will be a different story.
With that said, the Kings have plenty of players who know how to win in the playoffs, and they won't back down in Game 2. That especially goes for former Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick. The Kings goaltender struggled mightily in Game 1, but it's difficult to imagine that happening twice in a row.
As long as Quick is on his game, Los Angeles will have a golden opportunity to strike back.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter