The Kings became the first champion to miss the playoffs the following season since Carolina in 2007. They were joined on the sidelines by the Boston Bruins — last season’s top seed in the East — and the San Jose Sharks. That opened the door for the Ottawa Senators in the East and the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets to make it in the West. Calgary advanced for the first time since 2009; playoff hockey returned to Winnipeg for the first time since 1996 and the first version of the Jets.
The division winner with the best record in each conference plays the wild-card team with the fewest points, and the other division winner faces the other wild-card team. Within each division the second- and third-place teams face each other. The first-round winners within each bracket will meet to determine the four conference finalists. Shown below, the winners across the top and across the bottom face each other in a conference semifinal (seeds are by bracket). Those winners meet in the conference final.
A look at the matchups:
DUCKS VS. WINNIPEG JETS
DUCKS 51-24-7, 109 points
Season series: Ducks, 3-0-0
WINNIPEG 43-26-13, 99
Power play: Ducks 15.7% (28th), Jets 17.8% (17th).
Penalty killing: Ducks 81.0% (15th), Jets 81.8% (13th).
Outlook: The Jets won six of their last 10 to grab the last West playoff spot. They have speed and do their scoring by committee: nine players scored at least 15 goals. Defenseman Tyler Myers has been a force since arriving from Buffalo in a trade, and goaltender Ondrej Pavelec (2.28 goals-against average, .920 save percentage) was brilliant down the stretch. However, Pavelec has never played an NHL playoff game. The Ducks added speed in deadline-beating trades to augment their size, and they’re formidable up the middle, led by Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler. Coach Bruce Boudreau must avoid over-tinkering with his lineup. The third defense pair often is scary but Boudreau can lean heavily on the other duos.
Pick: Ducks in six.
Game 1: Thursday at Ducks, 7:30
Game 2: Saturday at Ducks, 7:30
Game 3: Monday at Winnipeg, 6
Game 4: April 22 at Winn., 6:30
Game 5: April 24 at Ducks, TBD
Game 6: April 26 at Winnipeg, TBD
Game 7: April 28 at Ducks, TBD
VANCOUVER CANUCKS VS. CALGARY FLAMES
VANCOUVER 48-29-5, 101
Season series: Calgary, 2-1-1
CALGARY 45-30-7, 97
Power play: Canucks 19.3% (ninth), Flames 18.8% (13th).
Penalty killing: Canucks 85.7% (second), Flames 80.6% (20th).
Outlook: Canucks Coach Willie Desjardins did a good job cleaning up after the mess made by former coach John Tortorella. Vancouver, which missed the playoffs last season, finished with three straight wins, but goalie Ryan Miller didn’t have much time to regain his timing after suffering a knee injury. The Flames, though playoff newcomers, played pressure games the last month of the season. They had a better goal differential than the Canucks (+25 to +20) and get ample scoring from their defensemen to supplement the top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler. The Flames’ youthful exuberance will prevail.
Pick: Flames in six.
Game 1: Wednesday at Vancouver, 7
Game 2: Friday at Vancouver, 7
Game 3: Sun. at Calgary, 7
Game 4: April 21 at Calgary, 7
Game 5: April 23 at Vancouver, TBD
Game 6: April 25 at Calgary, TBD
Game 7: April 27 at Vancouver, TBD
ST. LOUIS BLUES VS. MINNESOTA WILD
ST. LOUIS 51-24-7, 109
Season series: Minn., 2-1-1
MINNESOTA 46-28-8, 100
Power play: Blues 22.3% (fourth), Wild 15.8% (27th).
Penalty killing: Blues 83.7% (eighth), Wild 86.3% (first).
Outlook: The physical, grinding Blues led the West with 248 goals but goaltending remains a question. Will they go with rookie Jake Allen (2.28, .913) or veteran Brian Elliott, who is 6-10 in 18 career playoff appearances? The dynamic Tarasenko and productive Alexander Steen (24 goals, 64 points) missed some late-season games because of lower-body injuries but are expected to be ready. Minnesota was 28-9-3 since Jan. 15, coinciding with its desperation trade for goalie Devan Dubnyk (2.07, .292). The rest was history, as the Wild earned 100 points for the first time since 2006-07. The Wild’s tremendous speed will challenge the brawny Blues.
Pick: Wild in seven.
Game 1: Thursday at St. Louis, 6:30
Game 2: Saturday at St. Louis, noon
Game 3: Monday at Minnesota, 5
Game 4: April 22 at Minnesota, 6:30
Game 5: April 24 at St. Louis. TBD
Game 6: April 26 at Minnesota, TBD
Game 7: April 29 at St. Louis, TBD
NASHVILLE PREDATORS VS. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
NASHVILLE 47-25-10, 104
Season series: Chicago, 3-1
CHICAGO 48-28-6, 102
Penalty killing: Predators 80.8% (18th), Blackhawks 83.4% (10th).
Top scorers: Predators, Filip Forsberg 26-37—63; Blackhawks, Jonathan Toews 28-38—66.
Outlook: Coach Peter Laviolette gave the Predators more freedom on offense, but the key to their playoff return was the excellence of goalie Pekka Rinne (2.18, .923) after hip surgery. Forsberg is a contender for rookie of the year, and defensemen Roman Josi and Shea Weber are Norris Trophy candidates. The Blackhawks had some slumps but goalie Corey Crawford (2.27, .924) shared the Jennings tTrophy (team that allowed the fewest goals). Winger Patrick Kane, who had 64 points in 61 games before fracturing his collarbone, might be available. Chicago’s experience and Toews’ leadership will be decisive.
Pick: Blackhawks in seven.
Game 1: Wednesday at Nashville, 5:30
Game 2: Friday at Nashville, 6:30
Game 3: Sunday at Chicago, noon
Game 4: April 21 at Chicago, 6:30
Game 5: April 23 at Nashville, TBD
Game 6: April 25 at Chicago, TBD
Game 7: April 27 at Nashville, TBD
NEW YORK RANGERS VS. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
N.Y. RANGERS 53-22-7, 113
Season series: Rangers, 3-0-1
PITTSBURGH 43-27-12, 98
Power play: Rangers 16.8% (21st); Penguins 19.3% (10th).
Penalty killing: Rangers 84.3% (sixth); Penguins 84.4% (third).
Outlook: The Rangers — who lost last season’s Stanley Cup Final to the Kings in five games — didn’t miss a beat while goalie Henrik Lundqvist (2.25, .922) recovered from a vascular injury, and they easily secured the overall No. 1 seed. Defenseman Kevin Klein (broken arm) might return to bolster a deep corps. Left wing Nash (career-high 42 goals) helped the team to a league-best +60 goal differential. The Penguins likely will be without vital defenseman Kris Letang (concussion). They nearly slipped out of a playoff spot by losing seven of their last 10 games. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (2.32, .920) had an exceptional season, but his playoff history is spotty.
Pick: Rangers in five.
Game 1: Thursday at New York, 4
Game 2: Saturday at New York, 5
Game 3: Monday at Pittsburgh, 4
Game 4: April 22 at Pittsburgh, 4
Game 5: April 24 at New York, TBD
Game 6: April 26 at Pittsburgh, TBD
Game 7: April 28 at New York, TBD
WASHINGTON CAPITALS VS. New York Islanders
WASHINGTON 45-26-11, 101
Season series: Wash., 2-0-2
N.Y. ISLANDERS 47-28-7, 101
Power play: Capitals 25.3% (first); Islanders 18.7% (16th).
Penalty killing: Capitals 81.2% (14th); Islanders 78% (26th).
Outlook: Ovechkin scored 25 of his league-leading 53 goals on the power play, which could do serious damage against the Islanders’ weak penalty killing. Center Nicklas Backstrom went from -20 defensively last season to +5, with a league-high 60 assists. A key will be how goalie Braden Holtby (2.22, .923) holds up after making a league-leading 73 regular-season appearances. The Islanders sagged late, going 4-8-3 in their last 15 and losing home-ice advantage in their final season at Nassau Coliseum. Goalie Jaroslav Halak, fifth in the NHL with 38 wins, solved a longstanding problem. Center Tavares finished second in the scoring race.
Pick: Capitals in six.
Game 1: Wednesday at Washington, 4
Game 2: Friday at Washington, 4
Game 3: Sunday at New York, 9 a.m.
Game 4: April 21 at New York, 4:30
Game 5: April 23 at Wash., TBD
Game 6: April 25 at New York, TBD
Game 7: April 27 at Wash., TBD
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING VS. DETROIT RED WINGS
TAMPA BAY 50-24-8, 108
Season series: Tampa Bay, 3-1
DETROIT 43-25-14, 100
Penalty killing: Lightning 83.7% (ninth); Red Wings 80.9% (17th).
Outlook: The Lightning led the NHL in goals (262) and home wins (32) while setting club records for wins and points. Stamkos is the marquee player, but watch second-line center Tyler Johnson, undrafted mainly because he’s only 5-foot-9 but enormously talented and productive alongside Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat. Detroit battled injuries to finish third in the Atlantic Division and make its 24th straight playoff appearance. Goaltending is an issue, and it looks like rookie Petr Mrazek will start instead of faltering veteran Jimmy Howard. Tampa Bay, with a healthy Ben Bishop in goal, appears deeper.
Pick: Lightning in six.
Game 1: Thursday at Tampa Bay, 4:30
Game 2: Saturday at Tampa Bay, noon
Game 3: April 21 at Detroit, 4
Game 4: April 23 at Detroit, 4
Game 5: April 25 at Tampa Bay, TBD
Game 6: April 27 at Detroit, TBD
Game 7: April 29 at Tampa Bay, TBD
MONTREAL CANADIENS VS. OTTAWA SENATORS
MONTREAL 50-22-10, 110
Season series: Ottawa, 3-1
OTTAWA 43-26-13, 99
Power play: Canadiens 16.5% (23rd); Senators 16.8% (22nd).
Penalty killing: Canadiens 83.7% (seventh); Senators 82.9% (11th).
Outlook: Montreal goalie Carey Price (1.96, .933, 44 wins) shared the Jennings Trophy (team allowing fewest goals) and likely will add the Hart (MVP) and Vezina (top goalie). But against Ottawa he was 1-1 with a 3.02 goals-against average and .887 save percentage. Team scoring leader Pacioretty, the NHL’s plus/minus leader at +38, is questionable because of an upper-body injury. Ottawa was 14 points out of a playoff spot in early February but went on a 23-4-4 roll. Goalie Andrew "Hamburglar" Hammond (1.79, .941 in 24 games) has been astonishing, but he has no NHL playoff experience.
Pick: Price will make difference. Canadiens in seven.
Game 1: Wednesday at Montreal, 4
Game 2: Friday at Montreal, 4
Game 3: Sunday at Ottawa, 4
Game 4: April 22 at Ottawa, 4
Game 5: April 24 at Montreal, TBD
Game 6: April 26 at Ottawa, TBD
Game 7: April 28 at Montreal, TBD
All games 5-7 if necessary; times PDT