The Quest for the Cup Begins

As the 2013-14NHL regular season comes to an end, thirty teams have made it through thevigorous eighty-two game season, but only sixteen teams have qualified tobattle for the holy grail of hockey, the Stanley Cup. The 2014 Stanley Cupplayoffs will feature some new faces, while some recent contenders have slippedout of contention. For teams like the Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars andMinnesota Wild, the 2014 playoffs bring a breath of fresh air to the franchises,as it’s been a long journey to the playoffs.

For teams like the Toronto MapleLeafs, Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals and Phoenix Coyotes, it’s agloomy offseason, as they look back at the tapes wondering how they’ve fell outof playoff contention. The playoffs bring out the best in hockey, and this yearshould be no different.
The first placeBoston Bruins are the juggernaut of the Eastern Conference, and will be takinghome the presidents’ trophy at the end of the season as the best team in theregular season. The Bruins will th,

2013. Although the Red Wings have a tall orderon their hands, they’ve had success against the Bruins this season. However,It’s hard not to pick the Bruins in a grueling best-of-seven series.

take on the Detroit Red Wings in the firstround of the playoffs, piece of cake, right? Wrong. With the emergence ofGustav Nyquist, the Red Wings are red hot heading into the 2014 playoffs. Afterthe Wings dropped the Heritage Classic to the Leafs, Babcock put a spell onNyquist and the rest of his team, as Detroit had an incredible end to theseason despite some key injuries to Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. TheBruins’ defensive game is what sets them apart, with captain Zdeno Charaleading the way for the big bad B’s. However, the Red Wings are 3-1 this seasonagainst the Bruins, outscoring them 13-9 in the four meetings and winning thelast three games against the Bruins. The Bruins’ last win against the Red Wingscame on October 5

Verdict: Boston Bruins in 6 games
The Cinderella story in the East has beenRyan Johansen and the Columbus Blue Jackets, as they beat out Alex Ovechkin andthe Washington Capitals to secure their spot in the playoffs. Ryan

Johansen hashad a monster year for the Jackets, potting 33 goals and 63 points en route tothe Blue Jackets’ first playoff berth since 2009. The Blue Jackets had a gutsyeffort in the regular season, with Boone Jenner being rock solid in his firstNHL season along with the help of Brandon Dubinsky and James Wisniewski leadingthe front on defence. However, they’ll need a miracle to advance to the secondround, as they take on Sidney Crosby and the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins. ThePenguins have owned the Blue Jackets this season, going a perfect 5-0 againstColumbus. Sidney Crosby has been the best player in the game this season, andthe Jackets have had zero answers for the Pens’ one-two punch of Crosby andEvgeni Malkin. The only question mark on the Penguins at the moment, isMarc-Andre Fleury. Fleury has had a solid regular season, but since winning thecup in 2009, Fleury has blundered in the playoffs. However, he has one of thebest teams in front of him, so unless Johansen and the Blue Jackets are able tofind a new gear against the Penguins, I don’t see much of a problem for Fleuryand the rest of the Pens.

Verdict: Pittsburgh Penguins in 5 games
The MontrealCanadiens are the lone Canadian team to make the playoffs, and they have anentire nation on their side as they go head to head with Steven Stamkos and theTampa Bay Lightning. The Habs are coming off a very consistent season that sawa remarkable performance from Carey Price, as

he took home gold for his countrywhile playing with a groin injury for half of the tournament. Max Paciorettyhas been the Habs x-factor this season; when Pacioretty is on his game, theHabs can beat anyone in the league, when he’s off, the Habs are just average.Brian Gionta and Tomas Plekanec have failed to be top line producers, and muchof the weight has been put on P.K. Subban, Pacioretty and Price to save the dayfor the Habs. The Canadiens have depth, with Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyukand the newly acquired Tomas Vanek providing some key production to elevate theteam into the playoffs. The Lightning have had a great season under new headcoach Jon Cooper, and have made the playoffs despite missing their star forwardfor four months, that’s pretty impressive. Ondrej Palat is the Lightning’sleading scorer with 59 points, and is a candidate for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’sbest rookie. The Bolts have gotten players to step up and play past theirability, with Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn and Teddy Purcell to make up for thelost production in Stamkos and lift the Lightning to the playoffs. Now withStamkos back and at the top of his game, the Lightning are a revitalized team.Although the Bolts dealt captain Marty St. Louis to the Rangers, Ryan Callahanhas been outstanding since coming from New York, and will need to be front andcenter on the penalty kill against Subban and Markov. The Lightning are 3-0-1against the Habs this season, with Steven Stamkos out of the line-up. With thereturn of Stamkos to the line-up, and the outstanding play of Ben Bishop andthe rest of the Lightning’s depth players, the Canadiens won’t have theproduction needed to get past the Bolts. Regardless, it’s going to be a greatseries.

Verdict: Tampa Bay Lightning in 7 games
The last playoffmatchup in the East features the two teams that recently met at the 2012 WinterClassic and were featured on HBO’s 24/7, the New York Rangers and PhiladelphiaFlyers. While it may not be another Flyers/Penguins rivalry, and the personnelhas changed since the 2012 season, the The two teams have traded wins in the regularseason series, and this series should provide some exciting hockey.

hatred is still there between these twoteams. After an incredibly slow start to the season for both teams, the Flyersand Rangers have looked as good as they could be in the second half of theseason. After a horrible start, Claude Giroux has re-gained his confidence, ashe finished with 86 points, leading the way for the Broad Street Bullies. Forthe Rangers, it’s been a collective effort from Brad Richards, Rick Nash, DerekStepan and the rest of the Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist has had some rough patchesthis season, but he’s managed to recover and finish with good numbers. Lundqvistwas injured in the game recently against the Buffalo Sabres, but he’s expectedto be ready for the playoffs. Despite the Rangers’ veteran prescence and soliddefensive game, the Flyers offensive unit is too much to handle for New York.If Martin St. Louis can find a way to break his slump and return to how heplayed in Tampa this season, the Rangers have a shot.

Verdict: Philadelphia Flyers in 6 games
The Anaheim Ducksare the best in the west, and it’s no fluke. The Ducks have been lead by theirdynamite duo of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry with some aid from their roleplayers in Nick Bonino, For the Stars topull off a major upset, their depth players will have to be able to shut downtheir counterparts and Kari Lehtonen will have to stand on his head. The Starshave had some success against the Ducks, as they rounded out the regular seasonagainst the Ducks with a 2-1 record. Benn and Seguin are a scary combo, butthey’ll need much more around them for the Stars to take down the mighty Ducksin a seven-game series.
Add caption

Andrew Cogliano and Teemu Selanne. The Ducks arerounded out with some rock solid defence and a solid two-way style of coachingfrom Bruce Boudreau. The Ducks will be taking on the Dallas Stars in the firstround, a team that was also carried by their dynamic duo of Tyler Seguin andJamie Benn. The Stars are much like the Ducks in a sense, except for the factthat the Ducks are a much deeper and have much more playoff experience than theStars do (I’m pretty sure Selanne has more playoff experience than the entireStars team combined).

Verdict: Anaheim Ducks in 5 games
If you had topick the central division champions at the beginning of the season, theColorado Avalanche might have been your last pick after attaining the firstoverall pick back in June of 2013. The

Avalanche have become an entirely newteam since they drafted Nathan MacKinnon and hired Patrick Roy as the headcoach, as the team soared to 52 wins in the regular season and are one of thejuggernauts of the western conference once again. The Avalanche are going to bewithout their top scorer, as Matt Duchene is expected to miss the first roundof the playoffs due to injury. The Minnesota Wild clinched the first wildcardspot, as the monster contracts paid to Zach Parise and Ryan Suter finally paidoff. Much like the Ducks, it’s been the depth players for the Wild, as MikkoKoivu, Charlie Coyle, Jason Pomminville and Nino Neiderreiter were the keyparts to the team that elevated the Wild to a playoff team. However, thisnewfound vibe in Colorado will be too much for Parise and Suter to handle, andthe biggest question mark is goaltending for the Wild, as Ilya Bryzgalov hasbeen inconsistent over the past four seasons with his respective teams, matchedup against Semyon Varlamov, who has been one of the best goalies in the leaguethis year and head coach Patrick Roy felt that Varlamov deserves a hart trophyat the end of the season. The Avalanche have handled the Wild very well thisseason, as they’ve posted a 4-0-1 record against the Wild this season. The Wildand Avalanche will have a heated, exciting series, but the Avalanche will getthe last laugh.

Verdict: Colorado Avalanche in 6 games
The mosthyped first round matchup in not just the Western Conference, but the NHL, isthe San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings. While the Anaheim Ducks round outthe battle of California, these

The two teams match up against eachother; theyboth have great depth at all positions and play a very mobile style of hockey.The Sharks will run Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski up the middlewhile the Kings will counter with Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards.The Kings won the season series 3-1-1, but every game was down to the wire andfeatured some of the most exciting hockey all season. Either way, I think thisseries goes down to the wire, and it’s going to take a massive toll on the teammoving forward. The Sharks’ Top-6 on offence is the deadliest in the league,with a group that contains Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Brent Burns, LoganCouture, Joe Pavelski and rookie sensation Tomas Hertl. While the Kings matchupalmost identical to the Sharks, the edge goes to San Jose, as their core hasbeen consistently dominant all season, while the Kings have hit some roughpatches in the season. This series will be the most entertaining of the bunch,and it’ll go right down to the final buzzer.

two teams despise one another.

Verdict: San Jose Sharks in 7 games
Through theregular season, the St. Louis Blues looked to be the team to beat heading intothe post-season. The Blues had the most depth scoring on both offence anddefence and a stellar defensive

system implemented by head coach Ken Hitchcock.However, the Blues have stumbled as of late, even after the acquisition of RyanMiller and Steve Ott. The Blues have lost their last six games heading into theplayoffs, and have been shutout twice in those six games. The Blackhawks are asstrong as ever, and the defending cup champs may be the third seed, but don’t letthat fool you. With Toews, Kane, Sharp, Hossa, Keith and Seabrook all ready togo for the post-season, the Blackhawks are set to go on another run for thecup. Although the Blues have been hyped up as the best team in the West and theeventual cup champions, they are going to give all they got in order to getpast the reigning cup champions. Again, this series will go down to the wire,as both teams are powerhouses in their division and match-up very well againstone another. However, the Blackhawks playoff experience and veteran core willhave the upper hand on the inexperienced Blues team, who still hasn’t seen muchplayoff hockey compared to the Hawks. As much as the Blues have been hyped upas “the team to beat”, their recent struggles, the injury to T.J. Oshie and theslump that Alex Steen is stuck in, the Blues will be on the uphill climbagainst the almighty Blackhawks.

Verdict: Chicago Blackhawks in 7 games
Regardless of theoutcomes of this first round, the new playoff format sets up an intriguing newview of NHL playoff hockey. It seems like only the best of the best havequalified to compete for the cup, and each team has a formidable opponent in theirway. The playoffs are the best time of year for hockey fanatics, and even ifyour team didn’t make the cut, the quest for the cup always provides someentertaining hockey. Thirty teams started off in October, and we’re down tosixteen contenders ready to battle through the bruises to hoist the mostcoveted trophy in hockey.
Follow me on twitter! @TBennz

Your sports. Your teams. The ISN Daily Digest.

Sign up to the ISN Daily Digest and sit back while we pick the previous day’s best headlines and speed them straight to your inbox every morning.
Email address
First Name*
We abide by all applicable emailing laws including 100% CAN-SPAM/CASL/US CAN-SPAM Act compliance. No spam!