New York, NY (Sports Network) - The NHL playoff schedule was released on Sunday and the chase for the Stanley Cup begins on Wednesday with three games, including the Western Conference's top seed, the Vancouver Canucks, hosting the Los Angeles Kings.
Click here to see the TV Schedule for the 1st Round
The Canucks surged late to take home the Presidents' Trophy for the second straight year. Last season, the Canucks were pushed to seven games in the first round before beating Chicago at home in extra time. The Kings have not made it out of the quarterfinal round since 2001 when they beat Detroit before losing to Colorado in the semifinals. Since then, LA has lost three straight first-round series.
The most interesting matchup of the first round could be between Pennsylvania rivals Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. That best-of-seven series starts Wednesday night in the Steel City.
There is no love lost between these two squads as they have played each other twice in the past week, including last Sunday's fight-filled fest and Saturday's season finale. The Flyers won four of the six games this season and are 5-1-0 at Pittsburgh's new home, the CONSOL Energy Center, which was opened last season.
Pittsburgh, which finished with 108 points and the fourth seed, will seek to eliminate the Flyers, which finished with 103 points and the fifth seed, for a third straight time in the playoffs.
The matchup of the middle teams in the Western Conference will see the Nashville Predators open up as the home team against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday. Nashville, which earned its first-ever playoff series win last season, finished the season with 104 points to take the fourth seed. Detroit defeated Chicago on the final day of the season to take home the fifth seed. Each team won three times in the season series.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins will face the Washington Capitals, starting Thursday. The Bruins defeated the Canucks in seven games last season for their sixth championship. They won the Northeast Division with 102 points while the Capitals claimed the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference on the final day of the season with 92 points. Washington won three of the four games against the Bruins this season, including both contests in Boston.
The New York Rangers, who are the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, will take on Ottawa starting Thursday. New York finished atop a division for the first time since winning the inaugural Atlantic title in 1994, but this is a tough matchup for the Rangers. The Senators, who return to the postseason after finishing in 13th place in the East with just 74 points last season, beat the Rangers in three of the four meetings.
The Florida Panthers won their first-ever Southeast Division title Saturday and claimed the No. 3 seed. They will face the sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils, starting Friday.
It will be the Panthers' first appearance in the playoffs since they lost to New Jersey in the first round in 1999-2000. Conversely, the Devils, who ended the season on a six-game winning streak, return to the postseason after a one- year hiatus. The Devils have lost three straight opening-round series.
Also in the Western Conference, St. Louis earned the No. 2 seed by virtue of winning the Central Division with a 109-point total, two behind Vancouver. The Blues will battle San Jose in the first round, starting Thursday.
The trouble for the Blues has been getting out of the first round. They've lost three straight first-round series, last advancing to the conference semifinals in 2002. The Sharks have two straight trips to the conference finals, but will have their hands full for this series as they were swept in four games by the Blues. That included a pair of shutouts.
The Coyotes clinched their first-ever division title and the No. 3 seed with a victory over Minnesota Saturday night. Phoenix, which had 97 points in the Pacific Division to edge San Jose by one and LA by two, face the Chicago Blackhawks in the postseason, starting Thursday.
Since moving to Phoenix, the Coyotes have never advanced past the first round of the playoffs, losing in the quarterfinals eight times, most recently last year to Detroit. As for the Blackhawks, they were ousted by Vancouver in the first round in 2011, one year after winning the Stanley Cup.
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