Matchups, matchups, matchups. Rivalries, both geographically and competitively over the years make for intriguing story-lines and terrific games. When it comes to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, there are some historically great rivalries that only get magnified come the postseason. This season, there are five probable matchups that every hockey fan should be itching to see come spring. In no particular order, they are:
New York-New York, Islanders vs Rangers
Last seen in 1994, the Islanders and Rangers rivalry fell out of prominence with the Islanders having been a basement dweller for the majority of the 2000’s. Fortunately for Islanders fans, the name Rick Dipietro is now a name of the past as the Islanders are once again competitive. In fact, led by star center John Tavares, and new defense cogs Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk, the Islanders have smashed the Rangers in all three meetings this regular season. Each time they have defeated the Rangers by a three goal margin. Watching these two teams in the playoffs again will be a treat for all hockey fans. The history is there with the Islanders beating the Rangers multiple years in a row during their 1980’s string of Stanley Cups and the Rangers beat the Islanders en route to winning it all in 1994. This time around, the rivalry can be renewed with tons of animosity from the Rangers who cannot be happy with being blown out by their cross-town rivals. The Rangers went to the Cup final a year ago, could they really be swept in the first round? Even if this series ends up in a sweep, it would be one of the most mind boggling, and entertaining sweeps in recent years. The Islanders? The Islanders are back? No matter the outcome of this series, it will be a big draw for hockey fans around North America. Right now the Islanders lead the Metropolitan division and the Rangers are tied for third so there is a good chance we will get to see this matchup, possibly in the first round.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Montreal Canadiens
This series has revenge written all over it. Last season the Canadiens swept the Lightning out of the playoffs in the first round. This season however, it is the Lightning that are widely considered the best in the East. During the sweep last year all the games were highly entertaining with lots of scoring. In total there were 26 goals scored in the four games, with three of the games decided by just one goal, including a ridiculously entertaining Game 1 that ended in overtime. The Canadiens feature one of the league’s best goaltenders in Carey Price but the Lightning feature arguably the top offensive firepower in the league. Each team boasts one of the top stars in the game with Lightning forward Steven Stamkos and Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban. While the series only went four games last year, it was incredibly entertaining hockey and with that aforementioned revenge on the minds of the new and improved Lightning squad, this should be a heck of a series, hopefully six or seven games this time around. Currently Tampa and Montreal are one and two in the Atlantic division and could likely be a second round matchup.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Washington Capitals
It has been a few years since we have gotten to watch Sidney Crosby vs Alex Ovechkin in the playoffs. The last time we saw this matchup was all the way back in the 2009 postseason. Remember Game 2 when both Crosby and Ovechkin had hat tricks in a 4-3 Capitals win? The Penguins went down two games to none but ended up winning the series in seven games en route to winning the Stanley Cup. Last season Ovechkin had a notoriously weak defensive year and the Capitals didn’t even make the postseason. However, under new head coach Barry Trotz, Ovechkin has improved his two way game and the Capitals are once again in playoff position. Crosby on the other hand has been able to stay away from injuries in recent years and he and Evgeni Malkin are once again powering the Penguins to a playoff position. This natural rivalry of first overall picks from 2004 and 2005 is an awesome one to watch, arguably the two biggest stars in the game today. Currently the Penguins are in second place in the Metropolitan and the Capitals are tied for third. We very well could finally see the next chapter of Sid vs Ovi.
San Jose Sharks vs Anaheim Ducks
While the Kings and Sharks have played three postseason series the last four years, Sharks-Ducks is the more seasoned rivalry. In the late 2000’s the Kings were struggling and the Sharks and Ducks were extremely bitter playoff rivals. Anaheim won the 2007 Stanley Cup featuring one of the most hated villains in Sharks history, that of course being defenseman Chris Pronger. Two years later, the Ducks, still featuring Pronger, upset San Jose as an eighth seed beating the President’s Trophy winning Sharks in six games. With Pronger gone, Ducks forward Corey Perry now leads the animosity between these two teams. He is notorious in Sharks territory for cheap shots on former Shark goaltender Evgeni Nabokov and Canadian Olympic teammate and current Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic. These two teams are known to rack up the penalty minutes with tons of fighting majors and roughing minors, and it is not just the goons. Ryan Getzlaf and Joe Thornton fought to start Game 6 back in that 2009 playoff series and earlier this year Getzlaf and Perry each got into multiple altercations with Sharks players Mirco Mueller, Tommy Wingels, and James Sheppard. San Jose has had the Ducks number in recent regular seasons including this year where they went 4-0-1. All four wins ended up in multiple goal margins of victory, part of the reason why the Ducks have been quick with the fists in lopsided scores. These two teams are incredibly fun to watch, the hate is real and the Sharks still owe Anaheim payback for 2009. Right now the Ducks somehow comfortably lead the Pacific division despite being dominated by second place San Jose who is 10 points back. The rest of the Pacific behind Anaheim is super tight so Sharks-Ducks could be equally likely to be seen in the first or second round.
Chicago Blackhawks vs St. Louis Blues
Another revenge series plain and simple. The Blues and Blackhawks have called the Central division home for years and like the Sharks and Ducks have become bitter rivals. Last season the Blackhawks stormed back from down 2-0 to beat the Blues four straight times in the first round. During the middle of that series Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook knocked out Blues captain David Backes with this vicious head shot. It may be cliché but these two teams plain don’t like each other and it has the potential to get nasty, chippy, and as physical as any series. Chicago is more known for speed than physical play but they do employ big boys like Bryan Bickell and the aforementioned Seabrook. The Blues on the other hand have Backes, Alex Pietrangelo, Barret Jackman, Ryan Reaves and others who love to use their size. The Blackhawks have what the Blues want and that is Stanley Cup success. St. Louis has never won the Stanley Cup in their 44 year history. One has to imagine that it will taking beating their rival Blackhawks to finally break through. Right now St. Louis sits in second place in the Central division with Chicago right behind them in third and that means if the playoffs ended today we would have a first round rematch.
Agree with these choices? Which series do you most want to see? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
Andrew has been credentialed to cover the Sharks since 2010 and the 49ers since 2012. He graduated with his BA in Broadcast Electronic Communication Arts in 2013 from San Francisco State University.