The Stanley Cup playoffs are fast approaching and the playoff picture is becoming a little clearer. There are still several teams on the bubble, as wild cards have yet to be decided, but we more or less have an idea of which teams will make the dance. We also have some favourites established in both conferences, thus stirring up exciting thoughts amongst fans. With the divisional realignment that took place, we will likely see many old rivalries rekindled in the playoffs. We'll also see some series where well established rivalries will write yet another chapter. We'll see some new rivalries formed, as teams like the Colorado Avalanche and the Columbus Blue Jackets appear set to return after an absence from spring hockey. Without further ado, here are the 5 playoff series us hockey fans would love to see.
5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
While we have seen this series in three of the past six seasons, no one would object to seeing it again. These Pennsylvanian rivals have built their hatred for each other by facing off so often. Another playoff series wouldn't disappoint in terms of intensity and quality of play.
Philadelphia has won four of six series in their playoff history with Pittsburgh. They took the series in 1989, 1997 and 2000. The Pens came back with victories in 2008 and 2009 before the Flyers upset the Pens in 2012 in six games.
If you'll recall, that 2012 series was perhaps the wildest series that entire postseason. The Penguins had one of the worst defensive series in recent memory, allowing 30 goals in six games. They put up 26 goals themselves, as goaltending was non-existent.
The series was also infamous for the brawls and physical play that ensued. Aaron Asham, James Neal and Craig Adams were all suspended over the course of that series.
After a disappointing 2013 season, the Flyers have stormed back this year, after getting off to a slow start. They've gotten solid goaltending from Steve Mason and Claude Giroux has exploded after starting the season in a rut.
While the Penguins are one of the Eastern Conference favourites, and certainly the favourites to come out of the Metropolitan division, they have just one win over the Flyers this season, with Philly taking three of the four meetings. They'll meet one more time on the last weekend of this regular season and it could easily be a preview of perhaps a second-round series. Seeing these teams clash in the division's final round will be quite a sight.
4 Colorado Avalanche vs. Chicago Blackhawks
This feels like a rivalry that's quietly been stewing and would explode in a playoff series.
The Colorado Avalanche, despite an abysmal 2013 season were the team to snap Chiacgo's 24-game point streak. This year the Avs have continued to give the defending champions fits. They've taken four of five meetings with the Hawks this year and would undoubtedly be a challenge for them in a playoff series.
The Avs are the new kids on the block. Led by rookie NHL head coach Patrick Roy, their young stars are shining, with Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog and of course last year's top draft pick Nathan McKinnon. Semyon Varlamov has even had a stellar season in nets.
The Blackhawks are the established stars, even though they're still relatively young. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brandon Saad, etc... That's a lot of talent and seeing these teams collide would provide an abundance of talent and could lead to a classic series.
The two teams have only met in the playoffs twice in their history, including 1996 when the Avalanche won their first cup. It was the series known as the feud between Jeremy Roenick and Patrick Roy, when Roy famously said, "I have two Stanley Cup rings plugged in my ears." The Avs also won their meeting with the Blackhawks in 1997.
The St. Louis Blues seem to have the Central division locked up, which would leave Colorado and Chicago as the second and third seeds set to clash in the first round. It'd be quite a statement for the Avalanche to knock off the champs in round one. It's also be a strong message for the Blackhawks to dispose of the upstart Avalanche. A great recipe for a playoff series.
3 Anaheim Ducks vs. Los Angeles Kings
This potential encounter could really do wonders for hockey in southern California. The two teams have met 116 times since the Ducks came into the league in 1993, but they have never squared off in the postseason. The teams are practically dead even in head-to-head history, with the Kings holding the lead with a 53-52-11 record.
From a hockey standpoint, it'd be a great encounter as well. The Ducks are second in the league in goals scored, while the Kings have allowed the fewest goals. Who would prevail in a seven-game series?
What's also intriguing about this possible matchup is that the rivalry needs a playoff series to really capture interest from hockey fans in the sunbelt. The rivalry has been dubbed the Freeway Face-Off.
Each franchise now has a Stanley Cup and has built a small, but loyal fan base. A playoff series here would probably help expand both. We saw the teams compete in the Stadium Series this year, as the Kings hosted Anaheim at Dodger Stadium.
The Ducks have won the last three meetings, but the regular season records go out the window in the playoffs. Right now, it appears that we will get this series, with the Ducks holding their ground in second place in the Pacific Division, while the Kings have a comfortable lead over the Coyotes for third and final spot in the division. The Kings and Ducks appear to be set for a first-round series and that'd be a fresh meeting and a rivalry can be elevated.
2 Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins
Duh. This one doesn't need much explanation. Perhaps the most intense rivalry in the NHL, playoff series between the Habs and Bruins rarely disappoint. Montreal has gotten the better of the Bruins for the past couple of regular seasons, but Boston has bested Montreal in the last two playoff meetings, sweeping the Canadiens in 2009 and winning an epic seven-game series in 2011.
They've met an astounding 33 times in the postseason with Montreal taking 24 of those series. The Habs also recently halted the Bruins' 12-game winning streak.
The Bruins have to be considered the favourites in the East, being the defending conference champions and having swept the Penguins last year. They took two of three with Pittsburgh this year. The Bruins seem to match up well with Pittsburgh, while the Canadiens seem to know how to frustrate Boston.
This would be a second-round matchup, as Montreal and Tampa Bay seem set to meet in round one. No matter how many times we see it, witnessing a Montreal/Boston series never gets tiring.
1 St. Louis Blues vs. San Jose Sharks
Two snake-bitten franchises, but two incredibly talented teams. Both teams have dominated the Western Conference this year, with the Blues in control of the Central and the Sharks at the top of the Pacific.
Blues fans undoubtedly still have nightmares of Owen Nolan blasting a shot past Roman Turek from centre ice. That of course was the series-winning goal in 2000, when the Sharks upset the Presidents Trophy-winning Blues in seven games.
The Sharks also bested the Blues in 2004 in five games en route to a conference final appearance. The Blues finally got one over on the Sharks by winning in a five-game opening round series two years ago.
However, in all three of their playoff meetings, one team was a clear favourite. The Sharks were an over-achieving eighth seed when they shocked the Blues in 2000. The Sharks were then a second seed in 2004 whereas the Blues were a seventh seed. In 2012, the situation was reversed when the Blues took it.
This year, both teams are powerhouses and the Blues have pulled out all the stops to make a run at the cup, trading for Ryan Miller. The Sharks stood pat this year, but they have a boatload of talent, with Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Jason Demers and a very underrated Antti Niemi in nets.
The Sharks and Blues are both very balanced teams. San Jose is seventh in goals scored and have allowed the fourth-fewest goals. The Blues are in the top 10 in each category as well, fourth in goals and third in goals against. They also have the ninth best powerplay and fourth best penalty kill. Balance has been the key to the success of both these teams this season.
If both win their divisions, any chance this series has of taking place would be in the Western Conference final. These teams have never met that far into the postseason and if they were to make it there, we'd be guaranteed to have one of these teams get over the hump and make the Stanley Cup final. The Sharks have never made it and the Blues haven't since 1970.
If you're looking for the best hockey matchup and would like to see the most talented teams collide in the playoffs, this is the series for you. With the disappointing playoff history of both these franchises, let's hope they do make it to this point, because this could be a series for the ages if we were to see it happen.