The season is more than halfway over. We’ve finished the All-star game and with the trade deadline being the only major event left, it won’t be long until we’re getting into the playoffs. We’ll be seeing huge hits, shot blocks, and my favorite; desperation saves. However, who will be making these desperation saves this year? As it stands, before trade deadline, the match ups are quite interesting. We may be in for the lowest scoring playoffs in years with so many good net minders making appearances this year, I’m sure of this for many reasons.
The Western Conference is a surprising mixed bag and I certainly think we will see some changes before the playoffs actually start, especially at the bottom of the tree.
Anaheim Ducks vs Vancouver Canucks features a well-known goalie in a new location, Ryan Miller of the Vancouver Canucks, and a new up-and-comer, Frederik Andersen of the Anaheim Ducks. Not only are the Ducks making a very strong argument to be Stanley Cup Contenders this year, the Vancouver Canucks are making a huge turn around after a train wreck of a season under ex-coach John Tortorella. This should make for a very interesting series since both teams have qualified for the playoffs 7 out of 9 times, but also since franchise player Ryan Kesler was traded from Vancouver to Anaheim. Although Ryan Miller is one of the better goalies of this generation with 5 playoff seasons notched on his belt among international appearances, I feel like Frederik Andersen (appearing in his first playoff season last year) and the Ducks are going to be a very hard team to beat.
Nashville Predators vs Winnipeg Jets features another well-known goalie in Pekka Rinne, who is having a Vezina-calibre season after succumbing to injuries during most of the 2013-14 season. The Winnipeg Jets are finally making a playoff push this season since being moved from Atlanta in the summer of 2011. This is mostly due to the strong tandem performance of Ondrej Pavelec and Calder candidate Michael Hutchinson. However, I do not think this tandem is enough to topple the well-built juggernaut that is the Nashville Predators.
St. Louis Blues vs Chicago Blackhawks is certainly a great matchup for this year. Both teams are playing strong, although recently Chicago’s play has gone down. I doubt they’re worried at their position with Corey Crawford in net for them; at 6 playoff appearances all with Chicago, it certainly won’t be anything new for Crawford. As for St. Louis, Brian Elliot only has 3 appearances in the playoffs. It will be some tough hockey to keep up with the talented and experienced scorers of the Blackhawks.
San Jose Sharks vs Calgary Flames isn’t going to last in my opinion. I don’t believe this is the matchup we’ll see, but for discussions sake, this puts Antti Niemi of 5 playoff seasons appearances against Jonas Hiller’s 3 appearances. Both are excellent goalies and have great playoff experience, but I think the Sharks have the slight upper hand being the better team but Jonas Hiller can be a very surprising goalie at times.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Boston Bruins is the first matchup of the Eastern Conference (as it stands) and would certainly be exciting. Tuukka Rask has solidified himself as the main goaltender for Boston, putting up impressive and consistent numbers each season in addition to his 3 playoff seasons. After being traded by the Ottawa Senators, Ben Bishop broke out last season to help the Tampa Bay Lightning to their first playoff appearance in two years. Although they fell flat on their face, getting swept by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs, this season they are really proving that they serious contenders by leading the Eastern Conference in points. Boston has seemed like it is the most reliable horse in the NHL for the past 5 seasons, but their strong defense system is starting to falter and their lack of scoring is going to get the best of them against the goals-for leading Tampa Bay Lightning.
New York Islanders vs Washington Capitals is exciting because of how similar the teams are: two of the best players in the NHL with John Tavares and Alex Ovechkin, two of the biggest goalie surprises this season in Jaroslav Halak and Braden Holtby, and both teams lighting up the standings and top teams after failing to make the playoffs last season. This will be an exciting series because of the talent on both teams, and it is sure to be a shooting gallery just like the Pittsburgh Penguins vs New York Islanders series two seasons ago.
Montreal/Detroit is a very expected matchup, perhaps not against each other but we were all fairly sure we would be seeing these two in the playoffs. Carey Price is of course arguably one of the greatest goalies in today’s hockey and has 6 appearances in the playoffs so he is not shy to that kind of hockey. Jimmy Howard isn’t far behind with 5 playoff appearanes, and he is certainly no slouch. It’s likely however we may see Petr Mrazek make his debut with injury issues and durability being a factor.
Pittsburgh/New York may be my personal favorite match up and I really hope to see it this year. Henrik Lundqvist is a fantastic goalie and pushes himself as far as he can go in the playoffs. His 8 appearances give him a strong experience edge over the younger Marc-Andre Fleury, but Pittsburgh has some very high flying shooters that can be difficult for the Rangers to handle.
With this year’s playoff race looking like it will be a very tight one, these match ups are all subjects to huge changes. I do believe a majority of these teams will be in the playoffs, they just may not be facing each other in this fashion. There may be some changes, but mostly in the lower positions.
Would you be interested in these playoff matches? Personally I get excited for a first round Pittsburgh/New York series with Lundqvist and Fleury being some very exciting goalies to watch on very exciting shooters like Rick Nash, Evgeni Malkin, and Sidney Crosby. Is your favorite goalie in the playoffs? If not, who are you looking forward most to watch in the playoffs? Let us know in the comments!
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