After 21 weeks of hockey and more than it's fair share of bad news, we are finally left with the sixteen participants in the NHL’s second season. This year the playoff rounds will feature four changes from last year’s lineup; as Montreal, San Jose and Calgary return to the playoff derby, while Nashville makes its debut. The newcomers adding a sense of anticipation and just a little bit of hope to their fans in this years playoff run.
The last day of the regular season sorted out the seeding for the first round as Boston and Dallas found the success they needed to move up a notch in the final order. With the final whistle late Sunday afternoon, the league released its 2004 playoff schedule. And while five of the six Canadian teams made the first round, two of them will not advance to the second one.
With the Boston win over New Jersey Sunday, the stage was set for a renewal of the Battle of Ontario; Ottawa will travel to Toronto on Thursday night, to open up what should be a hard hitting, entertaining and possibly very uncivil war. An old time original six match up gets underway on Wednesday night, when the Montreal Canadiens travel to Boston to take on the Bruins, a long time rivalry it should prove to be an entertaining way to kick off the playoffs this year. Two regional rivals, New Jersey and Philadelphia will renew acquaintances in the East with the Flyers hosting the Devils on Thursday night. On that same night the surprising Tampa Bay Lightning will host the New York Islanders in the final Eastern division playoff game, hoping to keep up their high octane run into the playoff season.
Over in the West the heavily talented Detroit Red Wings will welcome the Nashville Predators into the fray for the first time, opening up their series from the Joe on Wednesday night. On Thursday San Jose will host the St.Louis Blues. The sharks traveling from non participation last year to 2nd Place in the West this year, while the St. Louis Blues who could be the most talented 7th place team to ever qualify for the playoffs. The slumping Colorado Avalanche will face off with the streaking Dallas Stars on Wednesday , possibly not the match up they had hoped for a month ago and the suddenly red hot Vancouver Canucks will welcome the Calgary Flames back into the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons with game one on Wednesday night.
The wait comes to an end, on 7th of April, Wednesday night from Boston. If the games go the distance, we could still be watching hockey on the 7th of June. Whether we still have a Canadian team to cheer for will be determined as the next two months move along.
Over the next two days HockeyNation will take a look at the match ups and offer an opinion or two on which teams will be carrying through and which ones will be carrying clubs. It only takes one goal to make the difference between score and fore!