At the moment, the two best teams in the NHL-the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks- reside in the Western Conference. So far, those two teams have rolled through the playoffs as Chicago swept Minnesota and Anaheim beat Calgary in five games. All signs point to an instant classic Western Conference Final between those two powerhouses. In the Eastern Conference during the second round, two runaways have turned into exciting series. Tampa Bay was up 3-0 on Montreal but the Canadiens have fought back to win the last two games. Meanwhile, the Rangers found themselves down 3-1 to the Capitals but they have forced a winner-take-all Game 7. It has been a weird round but it only promises to get better as things progress in the NHL playoffs.
No. 2 Montreal at No. 3 Tampa Bay (Game 6 Tuesday, 7:30, NBCSN)
The Lightning’s incredible dominance over the Canadiens this season was something else so it figures that it had to end at some point. It feels like Game 6 is a must-win for Tampa Bay because it’s hard to see them going to the Bell Centre for a Game 7 (after losing the previous three games) and coming out with a win. More troubling for the Lightning is that center Ryan Callahan had an emergency appendectomy on Monday so he’s out for at least Game 6. Montreal is the last Canadian team left in this postseason and in case you forgot, they are trying to win their first Stanley Cup since 1993.
No. 1 New York vs. No. 4 Washington (Game 7 Wednesday, 7:30, NBCSN)
New York has set an NHL record with 12 straight one-goal playoff games while Washington always seems to go seven games in all their playoff series so it is only fitting that this matchup of Metropolitan Division rivals has gone the distance (as everyone expected). The Rangers have been the best team in the NHL for months now but Washington has really improved its overall game under first-year head coach Barry Trotz. The stakes couldn’t be any higher as they meet on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden in what should be a final great chapter to this fantastic series.
No. 1 Anaheim vs. No. 4 Chicago (TBD)
Even if you are a casual fan, I guarantee that you will be converted by watching this upcoming series. Both of these clubs are loaded with talent and each play a physical, straight ahead style that is something to behold. It would be a big surprise if this is over in either four or five games. Hopefully it goes seven games because the league couldn’t really find a better showcase for playoff hockey than this. Ducks star forward Corey Perry (7 goals, 8 assists) shook off a nasty knee-to-knee hit in Game 5 vs. Flames and actually scored the overtime game-winner