It can certainly be argued that nothing in sports is better than playoff hockey, and the first round of the NHL's Stanley Cup playoffs has certainly been indicative of that thus far.
Each and every series has featured plenty of entertaining moments, and the first round is still a long way from reaching its conclusion. With most teams still alive and fighting for their playoff lives, there are plenty of great games still to come.
Here is a full listing of the remaining television schedule for each first-round series, along with a breakdown of Friday's upcoming action.
|Remaining NHL Playoffs First-Round Schedule|
|Rangers at Flyers (Game 4)||Friday, April 25||7 p.m.||CNBC|
|Flyers at Rangers (Game 5)||Sunday, April 27||12 p.m.||NBC|
|Rangers at Flyers (Game 6) *If necessary||Tuesday, April 29||TBD||TSN|
|Flyers at Rangers (Game 7) *If necessary||Wednesday, April 30||TBD||TSN|
|Blackhawks at. Blues (Game 5)||Friday, April 25||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|Blues at Blackhawks (Game 6)||Sunday, April 27||3 p.m.||NBC|
|Blackhawks at Blues (Game 7) *If necessary||Tuesday, April 29||TBD||CBC|
|Stars at Ducks (Game 5)||Friday, April 25||10:30 p.m.||NBCSN|
|Ducks at Stars (Game 6)||Sunday, April 27||8 p.m.||TSN|
|Stars at Ducks (Game 7) *If necessary||Tuesday, April 29||TBD||TSN|
|Red Wings at Bruins (Game 5)||Saturday, April 26||3 p.m.||NBC|
|Bruins at Red Wings (Game 6) *If necessary||Monday, April 28||TBD||TSN|
|Red Wings at Bruins (Game 7) *If necessary||Wednesday, April 30||TBD||TSN|
|Blue Jackets at Penguins (Game 5)||Saturday, April 26||7 p.m.||NBCSN|
|Penguins at Blue Jackets (Game 6)||Monday, April 28||TBD||CBC|
|Blue Jackets at Penguins (Game 7) *If necessary||Wednesday, April 30||TBD||CBC|
|Wild at Avalanche (Game 5)||Saturday, April 26||9:30 p.m.||NBCSN|
|Avalanche at Wild (Game 6) *If necessary||Monday, April 28||TBD||TSN|
|Wild at Avalanche (Game 7) *If necessary||Wednesday, April 30||TBD||TSN|
|Kings at Sharks (Game 5)||Saturday, April 26||10 p.m.||NBCSN|
|Sharks at Kings (Game 6) *If necessary||Monday, April 28||TBD||CBC|
|Kings at Sharks (Game 7) *If necessary||Wednesday, April 30||TBD||CBC|
Breaking Down Friday's Games
New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers
The New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers have been huge rivals for the past several decades, so it is no surprise that their first-round series has been heated. While none of their three meetings has been particularly close on the scoreboard thus far, the bad blood has been apparent.
New York enters Game 4 with a 2-1 advantage, but things are looking up for Philly as it looks to even things up on home ice. The Flyers offense was stagnant in Games 1 and 3 against Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist; however, Philadelphia may now be better equipped to compete with the Blueshirts in a low-scoring game.
According to Comcast SportsNet, Steve Mason will start in goal for the Flyers in Game 4:
Mason has been out of action with an upper-body injury, but he dressed as Ray Emery's backup in Game 3. He saw some game action in relief of Emery, and he believes that he is ready to take the reins, per Sarah Baicker of CSNPhilly.com.
For a goaltender, it's a matter of if you're tracking the puck well off the sticks around your body. Toward the end of (Thursday's_ practice I felt really sharp, especially on the power play stuff there. I was moving well, seeing the pucks through screens. ... If that's a gauge for myself, I feel pretty good.
Mason certainly isn't an elite goaltender, but he was quite reliable for the Flyers all season long. There is little doubt that he will make life a bit more difficult for the Rangers. Unless the likes of Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Vincent Lecavalier and others really get things going from a scoring perspective, though, the Flyers may be poised for an early exit.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues
The Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues may very well be the NHL's two best teams, and that has been on full display throughout their first-round series. With the Colorado Avalanche winning the Western Conference's Central Division, Chicago and St. Louis have been placed in a difficult position in that one of them will be knocked out right away.
As evidenced by the way the series has played out thus far, neither team is willing to go down without a fight. After taking a 2-0 series lead, the Blues proceeded to drop the next two games in Chicago. St. Louis was mere minutes away from going up 3-1 in the series, but a Bryan Bickell goal late in the third period in Game 4 sent it to overtime.
From there, Patrick Kane flashed his playoff heroics once again as he scored to give Chicago the victory. According to ESPN's John Buccigross, Kane has been one of the premier playoff performers in the league over the past few seasons:
Chicago enters Game 5 with all of the momentum, but the home team has won every game, so the Blues may be able to recuperate and regain their grip on the series.
The Blues were expected to have the edge in goal with Ryan Miller going up against Corey Crawford, and while Crawford hasn't necessarily been spectacular, Miller has played less-than-stellar hockey as well.
If Miller doesn't find his vintage form soon, then the defending Stanley Cup champions could very well live to fight another series.
Dallas Stars vs. Anaheim Ducks
Through the first two games of their series with the Dallas Stars, the Anaheim Ducks held a 2-0 advantage and seemed destined to potentially sweep their underdog opponents. The Stars have managed to flip the script, though, and the pressure is now firmly on Anaheim's shoulders with the series knotted at 2-2.
Anaheim was heavily favored to get through a wild-card team in the Stars, but Dallas has provided more of a fight than the Ducks might have bargained for. Not only do the Stars have momentum due to the fact that they have won consecutive games, but they also face the possibility of taking on Anaheim in Game 5 with the Ducks being without their best player.
Center Ryan Getzlaf was the league's second-leading scorer during the regular season, and he missed Game 4 due to an upper-body injury. His status for Game 5 is unclear, but the Stars may have the advantage if Getzlaf is forced to sit again, per James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail:
The Ducks certainly have some firepower even without Getzlaf, particularly in the form of Corey Perry, but Getzlaf is the straw that stirs the drink. Dallas has been an extremely underrated team all season long, and it definitely has the ability to upset the Ducks regardless of whether or not Getzlaf plays.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter