Pens, Rangers start Wednesday
The Associated Press
The New York Islanders will open the playoffs at the Florida Panthers, and that means Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers will face Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins for the third consecutive year.
The Eastern Conference playoffs were settled Sunday night with the Islanders’ 5-2 loss to Philadelphia. The Islanders are seeded seventh and will take on the Atlantic Division champion Panthers starting Thursday night. The Rangers stayed in third in the Metropolitan Division, and will face the second-place Penguins on Wednesday night.
In the Western Conference, the Anaheim Ducks vaulted ahead of Los Angeles to clinch their fourth consecutive Pacific Division title with a 2-0 win at Washington. The Ducks will open the postseason on Friday night against seventh-seeded Nashville. The Kings dropped to second in the Pacific and will face third-place San Jose in a series starting Thursday night.
Both games played Sunday night were rescheduled because of snowstorms, extending the NHL’s regular season by a day.
The other playoff matchups were already set.
Alex Ovechkin and the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals will open against Philadelphia on Thursday. The Flyers closed the season with a 15-6-2 run in which they passed four teams in the standings and clinched their playoff berth with a 3-1 win over Pittsburgh on Saturday.
The Capitals coasted into the postseason, closing with a 3-3-3 record. The record didn’t bother coach Barry Trotz, who rested numerous regulars, including Ovechkin and goalie Braden Holtby, against Anaheim.
“There’s a lot of great reasons to feel good about going into the playoffs right now,” said Trotz, noting that Ovechkin led the league with 50 goals and Holtby won 48 games to tie Martin Brodeur’s NHL season record. “It feels like we’re in a total freefall, and it’s really not that way.”
The East’s other matchup has the Atlantic Division’s second-place Tampa Bay Lightning facing third-place Detroit starting on Wednesday in a rematch of an opening-round series last year. The Lightning rallied from a 3-2 series deficit to beat the Red Wings en route to reaching the Stanley Cup Final, which they lost to Chicago.
In the West, the top-seeded Dallas Stars will open against the Minnesota Wild. It marks the first time the Stars, who relocated to Dallas from Minnesota in 1993, will face the Wild in the postseason. The Stars won nine of their last 11 while overcoming injuries to key forwards Tyler Seguin (Achilles tendon) and Patrick Eaves (lower body).
The Wild closed by losing their last five games, and went 15-11-1 after coach Mike Yeo was fired and replaced by John Torchetti.
The other West matchup features the Central Division’s second-place St. Louis Blues facing the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks starting Wednesday. It marks the 12th meeting between the two franchises, with Chicago having won eight times.
The Ducks’ victory capped an impressive run that began immediately following the NHL’s Christmas break. Anaheim opened the season 1-7-2 and was 12-15-6 following a 3-2 overtime loss at the Rangers on Dec. 22.
Starting with a 4-2 win over Philadelphia on Dec. 27, the Ducks closed the season 34-10-5.
Their run was just enough to catch the crosstown rival Kings. Los Angeles squandered a chance to clinch the Pacific Division following a 4-3 shootout loss to Winnipeg on Saturday in which the Kings blew a 3-0 lead.
The Ducks and Predators will meet for the first time in the playoffs.
The Kings will face the Sharks for the fourth time. The Kings have won two of three series including a first-round matchup in 2014, when Los Angeles became the NHL’s fourth team to overcome a 3-0 series deficit.
The Panthers set a franchise record with 47 wins to earn their fifth playoff berth and second in the past 15 seasons. They have never met the Islanders in the postseason.
The Islanders are seeking to end a first-round playoff drought. New York hasn’t won a playoff series since a second-round matchup against Pittsburgh in 1993.
The Lightning went 7-9-1 in their final 17 games and enter the playoffs minus captain Steven Stamkos (blood clots) and defenseman Anton Stralman (broken left leg).
The Red Wings, who earned their 25th consecutive playoff berth, have concerns of their own.
Detroit’s top three scorers have combined for just two goals and 13 assists: Henrik Zetterberg (six assists), Pavel Datsyuk (seven assists) and Dylan Larkin (two goals). And now Detroit faces the added distraction of Datsyuk revealing he intends to retire from the NHL after the playoffs and continue playing in his native Russia.