Five NHL Playoff Matchups We Want to See

With the playoffs less than a week away, matchups are beginning to take shape on both sides of the coast. While some first round matchups seem all but set, for the most part the standings continue to change on a daily basis with several teams still fighting on a nightly basis for highly contested points to keep their playoff hopes alive. With the stage set and time running out for many clubs, here are five playoff matchups we want to see during the 2011-12 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs:

5.) Florida Panthers vs Washington Capitals

It’s been widely speculated that the team who wins the Southeast Division will be the only one to make the playoffs thanks to the NHL’s bracket structure where the division winner automatically receives one of the top three seeds. As it stands right now, the Florida Panthers currently occupy the division lead – and the third spot overall in the Eastern Conference – while the Washington Capitals are barely clinging to the 8th and final spot in the East. Since these two have been fighting for the division lead for a good portion of the season, what better way to seek supremacy than in a head-to-head, seven game series to determine who the better team really is this season?

Both teams are fairly evenly matched with Washington averaging slightly more goals scored per game at 2.64 while Florida averages 2.38. However, the teams are closer in goals allowed per game with Washington allowing 2.78 per game while Florida allows 2.63 on average. Florida has a slightly better power play conversion rate while Washington has the better penalty kill percentage.

Will We See It? Probably not. Even if both teams make the playoffs, they won’t meet in the first round and the likelihood that either team makes it past the first round is slim.

4.) Pittsburgh Penguins vs Philadelphia Flyers

This is one of those playoff matchups that always seem to elicit excitement because, frankly, these two just don’t like each other. As cross-state rivals, both have had good success over the past several years and playoff matchup between the two usually makes for entertaining hockey. Plus, looking at the statistics for each team, this would be an incredibly even matchup with both teams sporting very similar stats.

The Penguins and Flyers currently lead the NHL in goals for per game, with both averaging over three goals a game, and both are incredibly close in goals allowed per game as well. The Flyers have a slightly higher success rate on the power play with a 20.2 conversion rate while the Penguins are at 19.3 percent, but Pittsburgh has a better penalty kill percentage at 88.2 percent compared to Philadelphia’s 82.2 percent. Looking at how close both teams are in stats, this could make for one of the most exciting playoff matchups of the season and could go a long way in determining who represents the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Will We See It? You betcha. If the playoffs started today, this would be your first round matchup. Although a week is left in the season, it appears as if neither team really has wiggle room to fall or move up the standings, meaning this should be a first round matchup next week.

3.) Los Angeles Kings vs San Jose Sharks

The Pacific Division might be one of the closest playoff races in the NHL with four of the five teams separated by two points. Los Angeles currently occupies the division lead and the third overall spot in the Western Conference with 90 points while San Jose is battling hard to break into the 8th spot in the West. Both teams feature a lot of star power, although both teams have underachieved in similar fashion this season despite high expectations coming into this year.

San Jose holds the edge on goals scored per game, averaging 2.60 goals per game to Los Angeles’ 2.26, but LA hold the edge in goals allowed with s.04 per game compared to San Jose at 2.51. San Jose has a much better power play, converting on slightly better than 20 percent of their opportunities compared to 15.4 percent for LA, but the Kings have a better penalty kill at 86.7 percent compared to San Jose’s 78.2 percent.

Will We See It? No. This matchup largely depends on San Jose even making the playoffs in the first place. Beyond that, both teams would face a very tough uphill climb to advance in the playoffs and, like I said before, neither of these teams has exactly performed to expectations this season.

2.) Vancouver Canucks vs Detroit Red Wings

Over the past two years, The Canucks and Red Wings have consistently been two of the best teams in the Western Conference, along with the San Jose Sharks and occasionally the Chicago Blackhawks. While the Wings and Sharks have met in the playoffs the last two years, somehow these two teams have managed to avoid each other on the road to the Finals over the past few years.

However, during that time some bad blood has brewed between both clubs that only a playoff series could really push to the breaking point. Things escalated some this year when Vancouver forward Ryan Kesler was “Kronwalled” by Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall.  It was also the Canucks who ended Detroit’s record-breaking home winning streak when they defeated the Wings in the shootout several weeks ago and seemed to send the Wings on a bit of a downward spiral that they can’t seem to break out of.

Detroit and Vancouver are ranked fifth and sixth respectively in goals scored per game and rank fourth and seventh respectively in goals allowed per game. Detroit is better five-on-five, but Vancouver has a big edge on special teams where they rank third on the power play and sixth on the penalty kill. A matchup between these two would likely be a fun, high-scoring affair to watch.

Will We See It? If the standings stay the same, the only way we’ll see this matchup is if they meet in the Western Conference Finals. That would be a heck of a series though.

1.) Pittsburgh Penguins vs New York Rangers

The Penguins and Rangers are two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference and a matchup between these two teams very well could determine the 2012 Stanley Cup Champions.

Offensively, the Penguins lead the league in goals scored per game while the Rangers sit 11th overall. Defensively, the rangers rank third in the league in goals allowed per game while the Penguins rank 17th. This is a series that could come down to goaltending. Rangers’ goalie Henrik Lundqvist has had a Vezina-caliber season with 38 wins, including eight shutouts, and a 1.92 goals against average along with a .932 save percentage. Lundqvist ranks in the top three in the league in all four of those categories. Marc-Andre Fleury, on the other hand, has 41 wins on the season with three shutouts and a 2.37 goals against average along with a .913 save percentage. Both goalies have started in over 60 games this season and their performance in a series between these two teams would be crucial to determining the potential winner.

Will We See It? There are two circumstances in which this matchup will happen – the top four seeds need to win each series in the East, setting up a first versus fourth seed matchup between the Penguins or Rangers, or else these two meet in the Conference Finals to determine who moves on to the Stanley Cup Finals. Personally, I’d prefer to see the latter happen to up the stakes and the intensity for both teams.

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