The end of the NHL regular season has fans excited for the start of the 2014 playoffs, and with just a few games remaining before the start of the postseason (10 games on Sunday), the anticipation is growing with every passing minute.
With the league making wholesale challenges to the playoff structure—there are now four divisions instead of six and two wild-card teams from each conference—how the postseason shakes out will be the ultimate trial by fire for the NHL.
Judging from hockey’s postseason action in years past, the divisional changes will have no bearing on the incredible action on the ice.
Here is all the vital playoff information as we enter the final day of regular-season action.
When: Playoffs begin on Wednesday, April 16
Watch: NBC, NBCSN and CNBC
Live Stream: NHL GameCenter Live (paid subscription)
|Projected First-Round Matchups and Predictions|
|Projected Matchup||Predicted Winner|
|Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings||Boston|
|Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning||Tampa Bay|
|Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets||Pittsburgh|
|New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers||Philadelphia|
|Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars||Anaheim|
|San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings||San Jose|
|Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild||Colorado|
|St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks||St. Louis|
|2014 Stanley Cup Odds|
|St. Louis Blues||+600|
|San Jose Sharks||+900|
|Los Angeles Kings||+1000|
|Detroit Red Wings||+2000|
|New York Rangers||+2000|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||+2800|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||+5000|
Best Potential Matchup: New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers
While the name of the division may be different—it's now known as the Metropolitan Division—the intense rivalry between the New York Rangers (45-31-6, 96 points) and the Philadelphia Flyers (42-30-9, 93 points) is just as heated as always.
These teams flat-out don’t like each other.
New York and Philadelphia played four times this season and split the series with two victories apiece. With the typical mix of intense physical play and offensive prowess from both sides, each of the previous matchups has been entertaining television.
With the chance to advance in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the intensity will be through the roof.
There is a long history between the Rangers and Flyers, and Sam Carchidi of The Philadelphia Inquirer talked about the last time these two teams played in the postseason and the overall record:
There is no love lost between the Metropolitan rivals, but Rangers’ alternate captain Marc Staal told Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News about his team’s success down the stretch and the focus on the task at hand: "I think because we needed to, to be honest. You get down to that stretch there the last month, and we knew we had to string some wins together to get into the playoffs. I think when our best was needed, we gave it, and we’ve been giving it for a while now."
Not to be outdone, several members of the Flyers spoke about the first-round matchup, via the team’s official Twitter account:
While both New York and Philadelphia have outstanding offensive units that can make serious noise, the key in this first-round series will be the special teams units and which franchise thrives in those situations.
Whether it’s the power play or short-handed, the team that wins those battles will win the series.
For Flyers fans, the fact that Philadelphia has scored more power-play goals is a good sign (57). For Rangers fans, though, the fact that their divisional foes committed so many penalties (312 power-play opportunities against) could create the chances to steal the victory.
Regardless of which team wins the series, this will be an intense physical battle.
Prediction: Philadelphia wins series 4-2
*All stats and information via NHL.com. Order based on standings via April 13. Final order determined after postseason.