After an action-packed final day of the NHL regular season on Saturday, the Stanley Cup bracket is finally decided.
The 2015 NHL playoff landscape looks drastically different to last year's, as the defending Stanley Cup champions Los Angeles Kings and perennial contenders Boston Bruins are nowhere to be found.
In the Eastern Conference, while the Bruins were out, the Pittsburgh Penguins were in, as their 2-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres clinched the second wild-card spot. The Ottawa Senators earned the first wild card with their 3-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.
As for the Western Conference, the Anaheim Ducks clinched their second straight title and will face the Winnipeg Jets in the first round. The St. Louis Blues' 4-2 win over the Minnesota Wild set the matchup between Nashville and Chicago.
Let's take a look at the playoff matchups. The schedule for the first round will be released at 4:30 ET on Sunday, April 13.
|Stanley Cup Playoff Matchups|
|New York Rangers||M1||Pittsburgh Penguins||W2|
|Washington Capitals||M2||New York Islanders||M3|
|Montreal Canadiens||A1||Ottawa Senators||W1|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||A2||Detroit Red Wings||A3|
|Anaheim Ducks||P1||Winnipeg Jets||W2|
|Vancouver Canucks||P2||Calgary Flames||P3|
|St. Louis Blues||C1||Minnesota Wild||W1|
|Nashville Predators||C2||Chicago Blackhawks||C3|
Another Team from Southern California Could Win It All
With their 2-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night, the Anaheim Ducks clinched the top spot in the Western Conference and will face the Winnipeg Jets in the first round.
This is the second straight Western Conference title for the Ducks, while the wild-card Jets are in the playoffs for the first time in 19 years.
After 19 years, the last team Winnipeg wants to face in the first round is Anaheim.
Ducks Captain Ryan Getzlaf returned to the lineup Saturday after resting the last two games, putting him at full strength heading into the playoffs. He is a major reason why the Ducks could go all the way. Twelve of his 24 goals have either tied a game or given the Ducks a lead and six were game-winners, as Kyle Shohara of the team's official website points out.
"It’s going to be a battle," head coach Bruce Boudreau said of Anaheim's matchup against Winnipeg following the win over the Coyotes, via the team's website. "It’s going to be a man’s series. They have a physical team. We can get physical if we need to be. It’s going to be a hard-nosed series."
Blackhawks Could Struggle Early
The St. Louis Blues beat the Minnesota Wild 4-2 on Saturday and set up a first-round series between the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators. The Predators have not made the playoffs since the 2011-12 season.
As the higher seed, Nashville will have home advantage. The Predators have gone 28-9-4 at home this season—the second-most home wins in the NHL. Thus, home ice becomes a distinct weight on Nashville's scale in this matchup, even though the Blackhawks bested the Predators in regular-season matchups.
These teams haven't met since late December, and most of their matchups this season were extremely close, with three of their four meetings being decided by one point.
The Blackhawks finished the regular season 0-4-0, continuing their slump on Saturday with a 3-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. Even though their fate was sealed by St. Louis' win and they were resting Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith, the team looks lethargic heading into the playoffs.
Chicago will need goaltender Corey Crawford to be more than consistent in order to fend off the Predators. Though he fought back from injuries in December to help the team to the playoffs, Chicago allowed an uncharacteristic number of shots in the final games of the season.
“When we play Nashville it’s always been tough games,” Keith said, per Chris Kue of the Chicago Tribune. “They’ve got speed, they’ve got skill, they’ve got size and they’ve changed their system around a little bit. It seems like they’re trying to play a more offensive, up-tempo-type game.
A Canadian Team Could Reach the Final for the First Time Since 2011
This isn't much of a bold prediction, given a whopping five Canadian teams have qualified for the playoffs: Winnipeg, Vancouver and Calgary in the Western Conference and Montreal and Ottawa in the Eastern Conference.
Of those five teams, two are wild cards (Winnipeg and Ottawa), one is a No. 3 seed (Calgary), one is a No. 2 seed (Vancouver) and Montreal is a No. 1 seed.
The Canadiens have a legitimate shot of running their way through the Eastern Conference. The team recorded 50 wins for the first time since the 1988-89 season. After clinching the Atlantic Division in a shootout over the Maple Leafs, the Canadiens will have home advantage through at least the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Of course, in order to reach the final, Montreal must first make it past Ottawa in the first round. The Senators are extremely hot, having won five of their six games in April to close out the season.
Adding to the Senators' improbable run is the fact that they'll be looking to rookie Mark Stone to help carry them. Stone has six goals in his last five games heading into the postseason.
With five teams representing the country—as opposed to just one, Montreal, last year—Canada has a good chance of being represented in the Final.