NHL Playoffs: 10 Matchups We Want to See
As the 2010-11 season begins to dwindle down to a handful of games, many NHL fans are itching to see if their beloved team qualifies for the playoffs and which team they will face in the first round.
Past rivalries, and the current regular season, often influence the tone of each and every playoff series.
Every NHL team has a natural rivalry but some rivalries are better than others, often captivating not only their direct fan base, but also the imaginations of the entire NHL community.
Lets take a look at the top 10 playoff matchups we’d like to see come April.
Boston Bruins Vs. Montreal Canadiens:
There is no question that even before the Zdeno Chara/Max Pacioretty incident that these two franchises hated each other.
The Bruins and Canadiens have engaged in many playoff battles over the years. In fact, the Bruins and Canadiens have met a total of 31 times in the playoffs, with Montreal holding a 24-7 series lead.
This season the Canadiens have continued their dominance over the Bruins by winning four of the first five matches. Montreal holds a 343-258-103 record against the Bruins, a fact that must not sit well with the Bruin's fan base.
Clearly, with so much hate between these two franchises historically and the added hatred that came as a result of the Chara/Pacioetty incident, there will certainly be an element of venom should these two Original Six franchises meet in this years playoffs.
Chicago Blackhawks Vs. Vancouver Canucks:
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The Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks have met in the past two Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Chicago dismissed the Canucks with relative ease in both series, beating the Canucks by a combined final score of 9-2 in a pair of deciding games, which gave the Hawks a 4-2 series victory in each case.
While the Blackhawks are not the same team that emerged as the 2009-10 Stanley Cup Champions, they still employ some of the most dangerous players on the planet, including Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith.
The Canucks employ their own NHL superstars, including the likes of the Sedin Twins (Daniel and Henrik), Roberto Luongo and Ryan Kessler.
Needless to say, after being bounced from the playoffs in each of the past two seasons by the Blackhawks the Vancouver Canucks organization and their fans are looking for a measure of revenge in the form of a playoff victory over the hated Hawks.
Toronto Maple Leafs Vs. Anyone:
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While I will be the first to acknowledge that a Toronto Maple Leafs/Montreal Canadiens playoff series would be a dream come true, for many Leaf fans it would be satisfying enough to see the Blue and White in the playoffs, period.
From a league standpoint, there is no question that the Toronto Maple Leafs have global marketing power. Even though the Leafs may not have the most talented roster or the biggest star power, there is no question that any series the Buds were involved in would get huge ratings.
The Maple Leafs are the most popular franchise on the planet. That said, for many fans, they also happen to be the most hated franchise on the planet!
Love and hate make for good television, it also makes for good hockey. Whether you love the Leafs or hate them, you're probably going to tune in to see how it all turns out.
Pittsburgh Penguins Vs. Philadelphia Flyers:
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There is no question that there is a lot of hate between these two franchises and their fan bases.
With that said, there has also been a lot of great hockey played between these two franchises, especially of late.
Both teams entered the NHL in 1967, quickly establishing a hate for each other. The proximity of the Penguins and Flyers makes them intrastate rivals, which only serves to further the hate these two franchises have for each other.
The Flyers lead the all-time regular season series with a record of 136-86-30 against the Penguins. The Flyers also owned the Penguins in the playoffs in the early days, with playoff series victories in 1989, 1997 and 2000.
That said, the Penguins have taken the past two playoff series, including the Eastern Conference final in 2008 and the Eastern Conference quarter-final in 2009.
The Flyers and Penguins employ some of the biggest stars in the NHL. While there are no guarantees that the likes of Flyers’ defenseman Chris Pronger or Penguins forwards Sidney Crosby will be ready to go for the playoffs, even without these two stars the rivalry would be enough to draw hockey fans in from coast-to-coast.
Montreal Canadiens Vs. Washington Capitals:
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Everyone remembers last years Eastern Conference quarterfinals where the eighth seeded Montreal Canadiens defeated the top-seeded Washington Capitals in seven games.
The Canadiens defeated the Capitals largely because of the tremendous goaltending they got from the departed Jaroslav Halak, who played out of his mind against the high-flying Capitals.
Montreal’s defenders deserve a lot of credit for what they accomplished against the Capitals as well, but wouldn’t it be interesting to see Carey Price attempt to dominate the Capitals the way Halak did last year?
Nobody was more dejected after Washington’s loss to Montreal than Capitals captain and NHL superstar, Alex Ovechkin. With last years playoff loss still on his mind, you’d have to think we would see a highly motivated Ovechkin, which could lead to some of the best offensive hockey in recent memory.
The Capitals have been one of the NHL’s best teams down the stretch. Given how hot the Caps have been, there has never been a better time for revenge, which would satisfy the fans of Washington and everyone who felt that the Canadiens victory was some sort of fluke.
Edmonton Oilers Vs. Calgary Flames:
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Affectionately known as “The Battle Of Alberta”, the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers have long been heated enemies, both in the regular season and in the playoffs.
When you play each other as much as the Flames and Oilers have over the years, there are bound to be fireworks. For some, it is the proximity of the two franchises that makes this matchup so intriguing, for others, it is the memories from seasons past when the Flames and the Oilers always managed to ice two of the better teams in the NHL throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.
The Oilers and Flames all but dominated the 1980s winning a total of five Stanley Cup Championships between them, with the Oilers winning four and the Flames winning one.
Let’s face it, a “Battle Of Alberta” would thrill a large Western-Canadian audience, which would boast ratings and bring back a lot of memories of better times when these two franchises often met in the Western Conference Finals where they would engage in heated battles for the right to represent the West in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Flames are an older squad that, with a little luck may find themselves in this years playoffs. The Oilers represent a lot of hockey’s future, employing numerous young stars such as Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi.
Everyone loves to watch the grizzled veterans play the NHL next generation of stars, the Flames and Oilers could provide that for NHL fans.
San Jose Sharks Vs. Detroit Red Wings:
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The San Jose Sharks and Detroit Red Wings currently occupy the second and third spots in the Western Conference Standings. Given their current standings, it appears as if we will have to wait until the later rounds if we want to see the Red Wings and Sharks renew their heated rivalry, but it says here it would be worth the wait.
The Sharks have been one of hockey’s best teams in the regular season for upwards of a decade, yet they are yet to taste a Stanley Cup victory.
Comparatively, the Red Wings have been equally great in the regular and also boast three Stanley Cup victories in the past 13 seasons.
San Jose is best known to Detroit fans as the team that knocked the heavily favored Red Wings out of the first round of the 1994 playoffs.
Since then the two teams have met a total of three times with the Red Wings taking two series (1994-95, 2006-07) and the Sharks taking last seasons Western Conference semifinal by a 4-1 margin.
Detroit and San Jose rarely engaged in epic physical battles over the years, choosing instead to play skillful hockey, which, while not completely void of hard-nosed hockey, tend to be won or lost by their goaltenders.
There is a lot of respect between these two clubs, but with San Jose running out of time and the Red Wings not getting any younger either, it would be nice to see these two rivals go at it again.
New York Rangers Vs. Los Angeles Kings:
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From a selfish point of view, the NHL would love to see one of it’s biggest markets (New York) and one of it’s most important emerging markets (Los Angeles) go head-to-head in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Both of these teams employ a number of stars, including Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty and New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
Both teams have had their fair share of ups and downs this season, both teams have the ability to pull off an upset or two in this years playoffs.
Let’s face it, the TV ratings could be huge if these two teams ever faced off in the Stanley Cup Finals and with Sean Avery in the lineup, you just know this series would get interesting in a hurry!
Pittsburgh Penguins Vs. Washington Capitals:
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This years Winter Classic match saw the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals play in the NHL version of the “mud bowl” when warm weather and rain conspired to slow down the players and put a damper on one of the biggest rivalries in NHL history: Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin.
Washington’s David Steckel hit Crosby in the head at that game, leading to Crosby being out of action since January 1st.
Let’s face it, if there wasn’t already enough hatred between these two franchises there sure is heck is now!
Prior to the Steckel hit the Penguins and Capitals engaged in a heated playoff battle in 2009 which saw the Penguins win a memorable series in seven games.
The Steckel hit aside, ever since Crosby and Ovechkin entered the NHL the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals have developed a tremendous rivalry, which includes the personal battles between Crosby and Ovechkin to be the NHL’s biggest star.
Like Magic and Bird before them, Crosby and Ovechkin engage non-hockey fans to watch them, just as Magic and Bird captivated non-basketball fans.
Let’s face it, when the games two best players are engaged in a seven game series, you are going to get a lot of attention!
Philadelphia Flyers Vs. Vancouver Canucks:
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The only way this matchup would ever happen is if both the Philadelphia Flyers and the Vancouver Canucks made the Stanley Cup Final.
The Flyers and Canucks currently sit first in their respective conferences, which could satisfy ever sports fans lust to see the “best” teams play each other for the Cup.
Another interesting angle would be the extreme differences between both the cultures of these two teams and their playing styles.
While the Flyers do employ a tremendous amount of skill players, they are widely known as a scrappy in-your-face team that is not afraid to do everything they can to intimidate their opponents.
Other the other hand, with the Sedin Twins (Henrik and Daniel) in toe, the Canucks might just be the most skillful team in the NHL. The Canucks have never been confused as a “tough team”, which would put skill against toughness.
Sure the Canucks have their fair share of tough players, but this is not an organization that has the reputation for making toughness a priority, whereas the Flyers' organization has been known for their toughness for decades.
While not a traditional rivalry, Vancouver vs. Philadelphia would be a very entertaining series with plenty of story lines to keep our interest.
This matchup would also satisfy the East vs. West mentality and would also see a Canadian team going up against an American team, which would be nice for a change.