The Colorado Avalanche rose from the dregs of a 29th-place finish last season to win the Central Division title, and the St. Louis Blues collapsed late in the regular season and lost their chance to finish atop the Central, Western Conference and the NHL overall.
The Boston Bruins' reward for having the league's best record is a first-round matchup with the ever-dangerous Detroit Red Wings, who overcame a flood of injuries to earn the second wild-card spot in the East. The series, which starts Friday, will be the first playoff meeting between these two Original Six teams since 1957, when Gordie Howe was throwing elbows and ruling the corners.
Some excellent teams will exit early from the playoffs, which will begin Wednesday. At least two West teams that earned at least 100 points are sure to be gone after the first round because they're playing teams that also had 100 points or more.
The Kings and San Jose Sharks will meet for the third time in four seasons, starting Thursday in San Jose. Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi has struggled lately, meaning Alex Stalock could be the starter. The Kings, locked into third in the Pacific Division for a while, rested several workhorse defensemen down the stretch and still won the Jennings Trophy, awarded to the goaltender(s) on the team that allows the fewest goals.
Only Jonathan Quick's name will be engraved — he's the only Kings goalie who played the minimum 25 games — but his teammates claimed a share of it.
"It's one of those awards that I think represents who we are as a group," Dustin Brown said. "It's one of those awards that probably doesn't get a lot of media play but it's a big part of the success we have here."
The Ducks, No. 1 in the West, will face the Dallas Stars, who won the second West wild-card spot to reach the postseason party for the first time since 2008. The Ducks had their best record in club history (54-20-8) and most points (116), but they're now focused on erasing the sting of their first-round loss to Detroit last spring.
"I don't think there's any limits how good this team can be," winger Teemu Selanne said Sunday, after the Ducks honored him in his final regular-season contest. "Everybody has to play at least their own level and some guys have to a little overachieve if you want to win the whole thing. But I think we have all the tools….
"The way we played last year in the playoffs, we want to make sure everybody is going to remember that because there is a next level to go, and this team can do it."
The defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, who finished without injured forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, will face the battered Blues, who lost most of their top forwards to injuries and lost their last six games.
It was a huge stumble for the Blues, but Coach Ken Hitchcock said he expects to have a different lineup for the series opener, Thursday at St. Louis. "This break will do us really a lot of good, and we can get re-energized, refocused and come back and get ready to play," he said.
Fiery Coach Patrick Roy led Colorado's turnaround from worst to first. Colorado will face wild-card entry Minnesota, starting Thursday in Denver.
"After the last few seasons that we've had, it was nice to have a change of mentality in the room. I think you have to give the coaching staff a lot of credit for that," Avalanche goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere said Sunday, after what was likely the last regular-season game of his career.
"The one thing we don't accept anymore is losing, and it's nice to be able to come out successful on most nights."
It's nicer to win when it counts most. The Pittsburgh Penguins, No. 2 in the East, were 5-0 against Columbus during the season. The Penguins should carry that into the teams' playoff series.
"That's the beauty of the playoffs. You never know," Selanne said. "Especially the teams who have been playing do-or-die games the last couple weeks, they're going to be hot."
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