Quest for Lord Stanley's Cup begins Wednesday

Quest for Lord Stanley's Cup begins Wednesday

Quest for Lord Stanley's Cup begins Wednesday
April 8th, 2007

New York, NY (Sports Network) - The NHL regular season came to a close on Sunday with a dramatic flourish, setting the stage for the league's 89th chase for the Stanley Cup, which begins on Wednesday.

While the Western Conference playoff picture was decided on Saturday with Calgary gaining the eighth seed after a Colorado loss, the Eastern Conference playoff picture was still incomplete on the final day of action.

The New York Islanders, who edged New Jersey in a shootout on Sunday, vaulted over Toronto and claimed the eighth and final spot in the East. If New York failed to win, the Maple Leafs would have remained in the eighth position and gained the playoff berth. Now, it is the Isles who have the unenviable task of facing the NHL's top team, the Buffalo Sabres, in the first round starting on Thursday.

There will be a new champion crowned in June from the field of 16 playoff teams, as the defending champion Carolina Hurricanes did not make the postseason -- the first team to suffer that fate since the 1995-96 New Jersey Devils.

No team has won back-to-back titles since the Pittsburgh Penguins accomplished the feat in 1991 and 1992.

In addition, three clubs from Canada (Ottawa, Vancouver, and Calgary) will try to be the first team located North of the Border to be Stanley Cup champions since Montreal took home its last Cup in 1993.

Buffalo set a franchise record with 53 wins this season, and took three of the four meetings between the Isles. There will be plenty of intrigue as Islanders head coach Ted Nolan faces the team which employed him for two seasons (1995-97). The clubs have met three times previously in the postseason, the last coming in 1980.

New Jersey, the second seed and Atlantic Division champions, faces seventh- seeded Tampa Bay starting on Thursday. The Devils took the lone previous postseason matchup, a six-game triumph in the conference semifinals in 2003. The Lighting won three of four games in the regular season, and boast the league's top goal scorer, Vincent Lecavalier.

Southeast Division winner and three seed Atlanta squares off with the six seed New York Rangers beginning on Thursday. The Thrashers look to make a good impression in the first-ever playoff series, while the Rangers are trying to erase the memory of last year's opening-round sweep at the hands of the Devils.

The 4-5 matchup between Ottawa and Pittsburgh starts on Wednesday and will be the first game of the playoffs. These teams may burn out the red lights at either end of the rink. The Penguins boast the Art Ross Trophy winner in Sidney Crosby (120 points), while the Senators have a 50-goal and 100-point scorer (Dany Heatley) and two others with more than 80 points (Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson). Pittsburgh won three of the four games this season.

In the Western Conference, top-seeded Detroit faces Calgary for the second time in three seasons starting on Thursday. The Flames upset the Red Wings in 2004 on their way to the Stanley Cup finals, and split four games this past regular season.

No. 2 seed and Pacific Division winner Anaheim plays Minnesota starting on Wednesday in a series with contrasting styles. The Ducks, a fast-skating, skilled team provide a counterpoint to the slick, yet defensive style of the Wild. The clubs split the season series, but Minnesota looks to exact a measure of revenge for the Ducks' four-game sweep in the 2003 Western Conference finals.

Vancouver and Dallas collide in the 3-6 starting on Wednesday, and the matchup features two stingy defenses. The Stars finished second in the conference with 197 goals against, while the Canucks gave up one more goal and finished third. The Canucks won the lone prior playoff series, a five-game triumph in 1995.

Nashville-San Jose, which will start on Wednesday, rounds out the playoff picture in the West, a rematch of last season's opening round series which went to the Sharks in five games. The Predators won three of four in the regular season, and are a small, speedy club. However, the Sharks have size to go with speed, and are loaded for a deep postseason run with the NHL assist leader in Joe Thornton and Stanley Cup winner Bill Guerin.

Each series, including the Stanley Cup finals, is a best-of-seven. The teams are re-seeded after each subsequent round to ensure the highest ranking team plays the lowest ranked.

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