Lace ‘em up and buckle up, NHL playoff season is here.
Don’t take any stupid penalties, watch those cross-ice passes and just win your shift. First one to 16 victories gets the best trophy in North American pro sports.
Here’s a look at the first-round matchups.
FLYERS vs. RANGERS
Three things: Rangers were essentially forced to trade captain Ryan Callahan to Tampa Bay at the deadline for Lightning captain Martin St. Louis. Callahan had an expiring contract and the two sides couldn’t agree on an extension. Went 12-5-3 after the deal to nab home-ice advantage away from the Flyers in this round … St. Louis had one goal in the 19 games he played for the Rangers, He did have four assists in his last two games … New York has lost four of its last five in Philadelphia, while the Flyers have lost eight in a row at Madison Square Garden.
Fun fact: The last time the Flyers won at MSG was Feb. 20, 2011. Daniel Carcillo, who now plays for the Rangers, had the game-winning goal for the Flyers that afternoon.
The pick: Rangers in 7.
BLUE JACKETS vs. PENGUINS
Three things: Based on how the Penguins manhandled Columbus, this series ought to be a five-game walk — unless Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury’s playoff woes continue. Since winning the Cup in 2009, Fleury is 14-16 in the postseason with an ugly .880 save percentage … Penguins star Evgeni Malkin hasn’t played since March 23 because of a foot injury … So what if Columbus has never won a playoff game? “This team’s into firsts,” said forward Mark Letestu. “We set a franchise record in wins, we’re back in the playoffs now after a long drought (since 2009). This team’s all about setting firsts.”
Fun fact: Though many of their five games were reasonably close, the Blue Jackets led the Penguins this season for just 56 seconds of the 300 minutes played.
The pick: Penguins in 6
CANADIENS vs. LIGHTNING
Three things: Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop missed the last week of the season with a shoulder injury and his availability is uncertain. Replacement Anders Lindback went 3-0 with a 0.67 goals-against average to claim player of the week honors … Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos scored 25 goals in the 37 games since he returned from a broken leg … Montreal goaltender Carey Price hasn’t won a playoff series since 2008. But Price did lead Canada to an Olympic gold and is coming off a career season.
Fun fact: This will be Tampa’s first playoff series without Vincent Lecavalier or Martin St. Louis since 1996 when Brian Bradley was their top scorer and Daren Puppa was their goaltender.
The pick: Canadiens in 6
RED WINGS vs. BRUINS
Three things: This year’s feel-good veteran gunning for his first Stanley Cup is Boston’s Jarome Iginla. Ten years ago, Iginla brought Calgary to a Game 7 loss to Tampa Bay in a wonderful series. Now, at 36 and on the cusp of turning 37, he’s on the Bruins’ top line with David Krejci and Milan Lucic. Iginla had 30 goals for the 12th time in his career … Red Wings forward Gustav Nyquist came into the season with four goals in 40 games. He had 28 in 57 games this year, including one where he skated through the Bruins in early April that made all the highlight reels … “We used to be them,” said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock … All the pressure is going to be on them. They’ve got to win. We’re not supposed to. We’ve got to make it as hard as possible on them.”
Fun fact: This is their first playoff meeting since 1957, when Gordie Howe was in his prime and Bobby Orr was 9 years old.
The pick: Bruins in 7
BLACKHAWKS vs. BLUES
Three things: A slew of injures led St. Louis to cough up the Central Division with six consecutive losses. Instead of getting Minnesota in the first round, they drew the defending Stanley Cup champs … Alexander Steen, David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Vladimir Tarasenko were just some of the key Blues who missed time during the homestretch. Coach Ken Hitchcock expects to have everyone healthy at some point during this series … Chicago stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane also missed the end of the regular season with injuries, but each seems on track for tomorrow’s opener.
Fun fact: The Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup twice in the last four years. In the other two years, they were knocked out in the first round.
The pick: Blackhawks in 6
WILD vs. AVALANCHE
Three things: Ilya Bryzgalov was 7-0-3 with a .923 save percentage and 1.78 goals allowed in his first 10 games. The Wild were going through the motions in the regular-season finale when Bryz gave up five goals in two periods … Colorado (39 points in 48 games last season) went 52-22-8 for 112 points and its first division title since 2003. The Avs became the first team since the league expanded to 21 in 1979 to go from the bottom three in the standings to the top three in one season … Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov set the franchise record with 41 wins. The old mark had been held by current Colorado coach Patrick Roy, who had 40 in 2001, the last time Colorado won the Cup.
Fun fact: Bryzgalov is 8-14 in the playoffs since helping Anaheim win the Stanley Cup in 2007.
The pick: Wild in 7
KINGS vs. SHARKS
Three things: Kings center Mike Richards had one of the worst years of his career and was dropped to the fourth line. He said an illness in December affected his conditioning. Though it no doubt is a demotion, Richards is still playing 16-plus minutes per game … Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl, who had six goals in the first week of the season, is back after missing four months with a knee injury sustained from an illegal hit by LA captain Dustin Brown … San Jose coach Todd McLellan hasn’t announced whether he will go with struggling veteran Antti Niemi or youngster Alex Stalock in net.
Fun fact: LA beat San Jose in seven games in last year’s second round. Five of the seven games were decided by one goal. Of the five games they played this year, four were decided by one goal.
The pick: Kings in 7
STARS vs. DUCKS
Three things: Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen, in his 10th season, will get his first extended playoff look. His backup is Tim Thomas, who backstopped the Bruins to a championship in 2011 … Lindy Ruff, in his first season behind the Stars bench, has Dallas back in the postseason after a five-year drought … This will be the last playoff run for 43-year-old Teemu Selanne, one of the great hockey ambassadors of all time. Selanne had just nine goals in 64 games but was still a respectable plus-8. “There’s no book on how to retire,” Selanne said. “People talk about Michael Jordan playing in Washington at the end, but that doesn’t make him less of a god. The worst thing is to regret it, that you still wanted to play.”
Fun fact: Anaheim had 26 come-from-behind wins, most in the NHL.
The pick: Stars in 7