Pittsburgh Penguins & Anaheim Ducks Headline Opening Night of the 2014 NHL Playoffs
- Sign up to receive the lastest news from LATINONE
The quest for the Stanley Cup begins Wednesday night, with six National Hockey League (NHL) teams set to open the playoffs under a new format that has even some of the players slightly confused.
"I still haven't figured it out, to be honest with you," said Pittsburgh Penguins D Brooks Orpik to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I understand the first round. I don't know where it goes from there."
Under the previous postseason format, the top eight teams in each conference qualified into the playoffs with teams being re-seeded throughout each round. The new format still qualifies eight team into the postseason, however, the first three teams from each of the two divisions in the conferences receive automatic bids (six teams) and the last two spots are left as wild-card slots for the two teams with the best records regardless of division - and would face the top seeds in the postseason. Re-seeding of teams throughout the playoffs has been eliminated altogether.
"I think I just heard about it a week ago, to be honest with you," said Penguins C Brandon Sutter said of the realignment and playoff format changes approved in March of 2013. "Some guys aren't too sure about it. I think I've got it down. I don't know why they changed it."
Game 1: Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins
Regardless of format changes, the Penguins, who won the Metropolitan Division with a 51-24-7 record, open up the playoffs against the Blue Jackets - the top wild-card team in the standings, whom Pittsburgh swept throughout the regular-season. Pittsburgh has struggled going into the playoffs, finishing the season 7-7-3, and dealing with injuries, including a hobbled C Evgeni Malkin, who has been dealing with a foot injury since March 23rd. Even with all the injuries, the Penguins offense features Sidney Crosby, this year's Art Ross Trophy - given to the league's point leader at the end regular season player. Crosby led the NHL with 104 points (36 goals, 68 assists) - joining Malkin (two), Jaromir Jagr (five), and Mario Lemieux (six) as the multiple Art Ross Trophy winners for the organization.
The Blue Jackets, who won a franchise-record 43 wins to earn the top wild-card spot (43-32-7), will need goalie Sergei Bobrovsky - last year's Georges Vezina Trophy award winner, given to the best goaltender in the league - to play lights-out against the Penguins potent offense. Columbus is hopeful that Bobrovsky's .945 save percentage and 1.82 goals-against average for the month of April will carry over into the postseason.
Game 1 of Pittsburgh Penguins-Columbus Blue Jackets can be seen on the NBC Sports Network at 7:30 p.m. or online at NBC Sports Live Extra.
Game 1: Montreal Canadiens at Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning, who finished second in the Atlantic division, take on the divisions third place team, the Montreal Canadiens, who will be relying on gold medal-winning goaltender Carey Price to guide them through the playoffs. Carey had two solid outings in the Sochi Olympics, including shutting out Team USA in the elimination round to move on to the gold medal game.
The Lightning had to overcome Steven Stamkos' leg injury as well as losing team captain Martin St. Louis after trading him to the Rangers for Ryan Callahan, and must now deal with Vezina Trophy candidate Ben Bishop's injury, who will be out of Game 1 against Montreal with an upper-body injury. Bishop, who is 37-14-7 record this season and has .924 save percentage, will be replaced by back Anders Lindback, who went 8-12-2 with a save percentage of .891 and a record of 8-12-2 for the season.
Game 1 of Tampa Bay Lightning-Montreal Canadiens can be seen on the CNBC at 7:00 p.m. or online at NBC Sports Live Extra.
Game 1: Dallas Stars at Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks earned the best record in the Western Conference, taking the Pacific Division with a record of 54-20-8, and are a favorite to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. The Ducks finished strong, going 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, but have ambiguity at the goaltender position, with head coach Bruce Boudreau having to decide between Jonas Hiller, Frederik Andersen and prospect John Gibson - who has won all three of his NHL starts, posting .954 save percentage and 1.33 goals-against average, but no clear starter. Boudreau is leaning with starting Andersen - also a rookie - who went 20-5 record, with 2.29 goals-against average, for the season.
The Stars, who clinched the last playoff spot in the Western Conference last Friday, finished the year with a 40-31-11 record, and will lean on forwards Jamie Benn and former Stanley Cup winner Tyler Seguin to use their speed against a Ducks team that can wear you down physically. The Stars must be careful on the defensive end, showing a propensity to turn over the puck in key situations (the Stars are fifth in the league in giveaways).
Game 1 of Dallas Stars-Anaheim Ducks can be seen on the NBC Sports Network at 10:00 p.m. or online at NBC Sports Live Extra.
- Sign up to receive the lastest news from LATINONE