Let the Real SSG Hockey season begin.
The Tampa Bay Lightning (winners of the first SSG President’s Trophy for most points – 114) and the St.Loius Blues will have the top seeds in their Conference Playoffs that begin this Wednesday.
The sixteen team tournament breaks down as follows:
Atlantic Division matchups:
Washington Capitals (90 pts) at Tampa Bay Lightning (114 pts.)
By virtue of having the last Wild Card spot the Capitals go into the Atlantic division bracket against the top seed Lighting, who are led by the league’s top goal scorer Steven Stamkos (47). Alex Ovechkin and the Caps fought off the New York Islanders late in the season to make it into the playoffs and hope to ride some of that momentum against the favored Lightning. If they have any hope of upsetting Tampa they will have to stay out of the penalty box to avoid the Lightning’s potent power play, though that may not help either as Tampa Bay also has FOUR of the top five players in +/- rating which measures only 5 on 5 play. Ouch.
Montreal Canadiens (89 pts) at Detroit Red Wings (103 pts.)
The Canadiens also held off a late season charge by the Boston Bruins to nail down third place in the Atlantic and the right to travel to Detroit to play the Wings in the other match up. Though Pavel Datsyuk led Detroit in points, as usual, and is the obvious leader on the team, newcomer Tomas Tatar led the team in goals with 36 and he’ll hope to continue that success in the post-season. The Canadiens’ Max Pacioretty, who had 39 goals in the regular season, will have to be in top form to upset their rivals from Motown.
Metropolitan Division match ups:
Pittsburgh Penguins (92 pts) at New York Rangers (110 pts)
By edging out the Capitals in the last week of the season for the first Wild Card spot, the Penguins earned the right to play arch rivals the New York Rangers in the first round. The Rangers may be the worst possible draw for the high powered Pens, led by the SSG scoring leader Sidney Crosby, as New York carries the league’s stingiest defense into the post season, having only allowed 189 goals – the only team under 200. Goalie Henrik Lunqvist finished with 40 wins for New York and Rick Nash tallied 44 goals for the Blue shirts.
Columbus Blue Jackets (93 pts) at Carolina Hurricanes (107 pts)
Yes you read that correctly. In a first round matchup that pits two teams that not many experts picked for the post season, the Carolina Hurricanes, who flirted with the top spot for most of the year, will play host to the late surging Columbus Blue Jackets, who finished 3rd in the division ahead of the Penguins and Capitals. Carolina’s Cam Ward has been stellar all season in goal with a 2.24 GAA and 37 wins, while Eric Staal led the team with 71 points. Ryan Johansson had a very similar 72 points to lead the Jackets and Sergei Bobrovsky was a stone wall between the pipes with .922 save pct. and a 2.29 GAA. Should be a very interesting series of two teams that are near mirror images of one another.
Central Division match ups:
Colorado Avalanche (93 pts) at St.Louis Blues (108 pts)
The Avalanche were over taken on the very last day of the season by the Winnipeg Jets for the 1st Wild Card spot and as a result Colorado will now have to play the top seeded St.Louis Blues in the first round. The Blues were the highest scoring team in the SSG with 277 points and they were led by Vladimir Tarasenko (41 goals) and Alex Pietrangelo (75 points). The Avalanche, however, can take some confidence into the series as they beat the Blues just one week ago in the next to last game of the season. Center Matt Duschene was tops for the Avs in all three offensive categories and Semyon Varlomov anchor them in goal.
Minnesota Wild (97 pts.) at Chicago Black Hawks (105 pts)
These two arch rivals seemed like they were slated to meet in the post season all year. Surprisingly, the Black Hawks top goal scorer in the regular season was NOT the usual Patrick Kane or even Jonathan Toews. Tuevo Teravainen led the team with 28 goals. Toews did lead the team in overall points however, with 74. The Minnesota Wild, always consistently solid, will go into Chicago with a 23 year old as their top scorer – Nino Niederreiter – and also call upon the experience of Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek. It could come down to a battle of goalies – Devan Dubnyk for Minnesota and Corey Crawford for Chicago.
Pacific Division match ups:
Winnipeg Jets (93 pts) at Los Angeles Kings (100 pts)
The good news is that the Jets are one of the hottest teams entering the playoffs, worked their way into the 7th spot, and they recently beat their opponents the Kings handily. The bad news is that leading scorer Andrew Ladd will miss at least two rounds of the playoffs if the Jets get that far. The Los Angeles Kings will have to turn up the intensity as they have sat contentedly atop the Pacific division most of the year with the likes of Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter at the helm. This is one of the most intriguing and unexpected match ups of the first round.
Vancouver Canucks (90 pts.) at San Jose Sharks (91 pts)
These two teams have gone back and forth for months between 2nd and 3rd in the Pacific and in the the end the Sharks squeaked out home ice advantage and will hope to use it in round one versus the Canucks. Joe Thornton was the Sharks leading scorer by far and ALSO second on the team in hits to Brent Burns. He will be one of the Canucks main targets in this match up as they try to ride the tails of Daniel Sedin, who was their leader in all three offensive categories. This evenly matched series could easily come down to a game seven and maybe the outcome was determined the other day when San Jose finally won the season long race for second.