The enigmatic Pittsburgh Penguins and equally perplexing New York
Rangers should provide fans with more anxious moments while the
Chicago Blackhawks continue the defence of their Stanley Cup crown
against the Minnesota Wild.
The bruising action during the first round, where three of the eight
best-of-seven series went the distance, appears likely to carry over
into the conference semi-finals with already intense rivalries set
to turn red hot.
Boston, who eliminated the Detroit Red Wings in five games, and
Montreal, who swept the Tampa Bay Lightning, are well rested for
what should be a wildly entertaining showdown of Original Six teams
clashing in the playoffs for a 34th time — a record in North
American professional sports.
"It'll be like trench warfare," Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien
said ahead of Thursday's opening game. "Montreal-Boston is one of
the great rivalries in sports, and we're going to be writing a new
Montreal hold a 24-9 edge in their playoff meetings with Boston but
it is the Bruins who have come out on top in the last two series, in
2009 and 2011.
The top-seeded Bruins are considered the NHL's most complete team
while Montreal, the only Canadian club to qualify for the playoffs,
carry the Stanley Cup hopes of a hockey-mad nation.
A berth in the Eastern Conference Finals could be decided by a
goaltending duel between netminders who backstopped their respective
countries to Olympic medals earlier this year.
Montreal's Carey Price helped Canada to a gold in Sochi and is
enjoying one of the finest seasons of his career while Rask, a
bronze medal winner with Finland in Russia, is a finalist for the
Vezina Trophy, given to the NHL's top netminder.
Goaltending will also be in the spotlight in the East's other
While New York's unflappable Henrik Lundqvist is a calming presence
in the Rangers net, Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury has been prone to
costly postseason gaffes and does not inspire the same confidence.
But the Penguins have other concerns, including a lack of production
from NHL scoring champion Sidney Crosby, who failed to find the back
of the net during a six-game series win over the Columbus Blue
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Rick Nash, the Rangers' leading goal scorer in the regular season,
has also gone missing, failing to score during his team's seven-game
series versus the Philadelphia Flyers.
Los Angeles and Anaheim have both won Stanley Cups and are familiar
Western Conference foes, even clashing outdoors earlier this year at
Dodgers Stadium but this marks their first meeting in the playoffs.
The Kings reached the West's semi-final in dramatic style, becoming
just the fourth NHL team to win a best-of-seven series after losing
the first three games.
After surrendering 16 goals in the first three games to the San Jose
Sharks, Kings netminder Jonathan Quick allowed five over the next
four to lead the Los Angeles fightback.
Kings defenceman Drew Doughty's dominating performance has put him
into the early discussion for the Conn Smythe Trophy, given to most
valuable player in the playoffs, while teammate Anze Kopitar is tied
for the playoff lead with 10 points.
The Ducks, who eliminated the Dallas Stars in the opening round, are
led by a pair of hard-nosed forwards in Ryan Getzlaf, a Hart Trophy
finalist as the most valuable player in the regular season, and
Corey Perry, the 2011 MVP.
The Blackhawks began their march to a Stanley Cup last season with a
first-round win over Minnesota and find the same Wild team standing
in their way yet again. Minnesota needed overtime in Game Seven to
beat the Colorado Avalanche and reach the second round.
After spending big money on free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter,
the Wild are looking for a return on their investment against a
Chicago team that are coming off a bruising first-round win over the
St. Louis Blues.
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews is back to full fitness after sitting
out the end of the regular season with an injury while defenceman
Brent Seabrook returns after serving a three-game ban for an illegal
hit on Blues forward David Backes.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto;
editing by Frank Pingue)
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