Los Angeles (AFP) – The Pittsburgh Penguins are trying to win their third straight Stanley Cup and the expansion Vegas Golden Knights get their first taste of the postseason as the puck is ready to drop on the NHL playoffs.
The battle for first place in the Eastern Conference went down to the wire as the Boston Bruins failed to lock down the top seed on the final night of the regular season, when they lost 4-2 on Sunday to the Florida Panthers.
Boston had trailed the Tampa Bay Lightning by one point and needed a win over the Panthers to vault into first place.
The loss to Florida means the Bruins will open the playoffs against another Original Six team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are trying to end a 51-year Stanley Cup drought.
Tampa Bay shutout Boston 4-0 last Tuesday to record their first win this season over the Bruins.
Tampa opens their playoff series at home against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday, the same night Boston and Toronto kick off.
The playoffs begin Wednesday with the Penguins on tap to play the Philadelphia Flyers and the Golden Knights taking on the Los Angeles Kings.
The Sidney Crosby-led Penguins are trying to become the first team in 35 years to win three straight Stanley Cups since the New York Islanders won four consecutive in the early 1980s.
Pittsburgh is more than just Crosby. They have some of the best depth in the league at forward, an experienced defence and a proven goaltender in Matt Murray.
Crosby said the success of their special teams is going to be crucial in the playoffs.
“That’s an important part of us winning — special teams,” he said. “Definitely the power play. We take a lot of pride in it. It was good that we were able to create good things throughout the year and help us win.”
Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid claimed his second straight Art Ross Trophy for being the league’s top scorer. McDavid, of Canada, finished with 41 goals and a career best 108 points.
Russian forward Alex Ovechkin failed to reach 50 goals but still bagged 49 and as a consolation he picked up his seventh career Rocket Richard Trophy as the leading goal scorer.
One of the closest races this season is for the Hart Trophy which is given to the league’s most valuable player. Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon, Flyers forward Claude Giroux, Boston’s Brad Marchand, and New Jersey Devils winger Taylor Hall are in the running.
– Barzal’s breakout –
The New York Islanders’ Mathew Barzal scored 85 points in 82 games to finish 20 points ahead of his next closest player in rookie scoring. The breakout season should earn Canadian Barzal the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year.
The biggest shock so far has been the Golden Knights’ inaugural season which saw them set several records for a first year team and win the Pacific Division title.
Vegas is the NHL’s first expansion team to make the playoffs in its first season at any level since 1967-68, when an entire division was comprised of six expansion teams, guaranteeing four of them a berth in the postseason.
McDavid’s Oilers didn’t make the playoffs, with the league missing out on a chance to showcase its best player on the bigger stage.
Several teams head into the postseason missing key players including the Anaheim Ducks who will be without defenceman Cam Fowler and maybe goaltender John Gibson to start.
American Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild has been lost to a broken leg and Colorado Avalanche defenceman Erik Johnson is also injured.
The league said so long to Vancouver Canucks stars Daniel and Henrik Sedin, as the Swedish twins retired after 17 all-star seasons.