The Stanley Cup Playoffs is the most magical postseason in sports. Here are nine storylines to watch:
1. Can the Playoffs Help Fans Forget About the Lockout?
The NHL and NHLPA came off their most successful year ever in 2011-12 and headed into the off-season with the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement looming. Despite the passion for the game exuded by fans, players, and organizations, the lockout was a staunch reminder of the success the league ultimately depends on for its bottom-line. The NHL and NHLPA did little to show its remorse for the strife it put its fans through other than get back on the ice without a peep. Most of us have moved on, but this season will always be marred in controversy regardless of who wins.
2. Teams Snap Playoff Droughts:
Two historic franchises, Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders, have finally ended playoff droughts. The last time the Leafs made the playoffs Facebook was just founded and President Barack Obama was still an Illinois state senator. The Leafs, the NHL’s most valuable franchise, have the added pressure of the longest streak without winning a Stanley Cup at 44 years. My apologies in advance, Leafs fans.
3. Will Trade Deadline Moves Pay Off?
Lots of teams made big moves at the trade deadline. The Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Pittsburgh Penguins, and St. Louis Blues all made key acquisitions that could prove to be pivotal over the long-haul of the playoffs.
4. The Original Six:
The Original Six franchises have all made the playoffs for the first time since 1996. Since the current playoff format was implemented in 1994, this has only happened three times (1994, 1996, and 2013). The NHL’s brass has to be pleased with its longest-standing franchises reunited in the playoffs.
5. Canada’s Cup?
Not that Canadians need the reminder, but a Canadian franchise hasn’t won the Stanley Cup since 1993 when the Montreal Canadiens hoisted hockey’s holy grail for the 23rd time in franchise history. Canadian teams have came up short in the Stanley Cup final four times in the last nine years: Calgary (2004), Edmonton (2006), Ottawa (2007) and Vancouver (2011). This year, four franchises (Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, and Vancouver) give hope for Lord Stanley’s trophy to return to the great white north.
6. Can the Los Angeles Kings Do It Again?
Winning back-to-back championships in any sport is extremely difficult. The Los Angeles Kings (and their amazing social media team) enter the playoffs as the #5 seed in the Western Conference with the same roster from its unprecedented journey into hockey lore for its first ever Stanley Cup. Not to mention the first-ever 8th seed to win the Cup. They will be a team to watch.
7. Watch the Hot Teams:
No team is entering the postseason quite like the Washington Capitals. The Capitals were basement dwellers until hockey started making sense again as the team ended the season on a relentless tear winning 11 of their last 13 games. Don’t count out the Detroit Red Wings either, who made a huge push of their own to lock up the 7th seed in the West.
8. Can Anyone Stop Chicago or Pittsburgh?
Chicago started the strike-shortened season off with an unprecedented 24-game streak without a regulation loss and easily locked up the Western Conference by 11 points. Its counterparts in the East, the Pittsburgh Penguins, who ran off a 15-game winning streak of their own, have occupied the #1 seed for much of the season. The Penguins skated top seed without its top player, Sidney Crosby, and injuries to other key players.
This is stating the obvious, but teams who stay out of the infirmary usually win. The Penguins have been without Sidney Crosby — the league’s best player — since March 30. Plagued by a concussion that limited his playing time the past two seasons, Crosby’s injury history has any Penguins fan nervous. The team has proven they can win without him, but his return is crucial to their Cup chances. Likewise for the Ottawa Senators, who will see two marquee players, Erik Karlsson and Craig Anderson, returning to the lineup for the playoffs.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are most wonderful time of the year for hockey fans across the globe. Here’s the always chilling video montage from CBC’s ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ that gets the heart pumping. Who’s your 2013 Stanley Cup champion?