Chicago / St. Louis showdown highlights Stanley Cup Playoff first round

The annual two-month long battle of attrition to obtain Lord Stanley’s Cup will get going later this week, with 16 teams, eight from the Eastern Conference and eight from the West, set to battle in the divisional semifinal round.

One of the more anticipated series will involve the long-time rivals St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks, as the Blues continue to have outstanding regular seasons, only to be thwarted in playoff time by a Chicago squad that has won the Stanley Cup three of the past six seasons.  This year, by virtue of their second (Blues) and third (Blackhawks) place finishes in the National Hockey League’s Central Division, the teams will meet in a Best of 7 series, with Game #1 to be played on Wednesday night in downtown St. Louis, with an 8:30 drop of the puck on NBC Sports Network.

The Blues/Blackhawks survivor will meet either the Minnesota Wild or Dallas Stars in the second round of the playoffs.  For the first time, Minnesota’s old franchise (Dallas) will meet their new franchise (Wild) in a playoff series.  The Stars, winners of the Central Division, will be heavily favored in this best of 7, although, given the natural animosity between the franchises, cities, and fans, this series could be extra spicy, particularly when it heads from Dallas to St. Paul for Games 3 and 4.  The Minnesota North Stars left the Twin Cities for Dallas after the 1992-1993 season, a move that left then-owner Norman Green a hated man in the hockey-loving state of Minnesota, and left a very sour taste for Dallas in the Minnesota fan base.  The NHL moved back into the “State of Hockey” seven years later, with the Wild moving into the new X-Cel Energy Center in downtown St. Paul.  Game 1 between the Wild and Stars will be Thursday night in Dallas, with opening face-off at 8:30 on NBC Sports Network.  Minnesota has the #2 Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, matching the Wild with the Stars, the #1 overall seed in the west.

In the Pacific Division first-round series, the division champion Anaheim Ducks will draw the #1 wild card in the west, the Nashville Predators.  Game #1, from “The Pond” in Anaheim, California, will be 9:30 on Friday night on NBC Sports Network.  The Pacific’s #3 seed, the San Jose Sharks, travel down California’s coast to play the Los Angeles Kings in a quickly intensifying rivalry.  Game #1 will be at the Staples Center in downtown L.A., Thursday night at 9:30 on CNBC.

In the Eastern Conference, the Washington Capitals have the overall #1 seed, and will draw a long time rival in the first round, as the Philadelphia Flyers will be in the nation’s capital for Game #1, Thursday night at 6 o’clock on NBC Sports Network.  Two marquee franchises in the Metropolitan Division meet, with the New York Rangers earning the #2 seed in that division, earning home ice advantage for their first-round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Game #1 from Madison Square Garden in midtown Manhattan will be Wednesday night at 7 o’clock on the USA Network.

The biggest surprise team from the regular season, the Atlantic Division champion Florida Panthers, will have home ice for their series against the #1 wild card seed, the New York Islanders.  Game #1 from suburban Miami will be 7 o’clock Thursday night on CNBC.  After two games in Florida, the series will shift to the Islanders home digs at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Sunday night.  The Panthers/Islanders winner will meet either the Tampa Bay Lightning or Detroit Red Wings in a second-round matchup.  The Bolts and Wings are meeting in the first round for the second straight year (Tampa Bay won in 7 games last year), with Game #1 set for Tampa, Wednesday night at 6 o’clock on NBC Sports Network.

Chicago beat Tampa Bay in six games to win the 2015 Stanley Cup championship, its third since 2010.  The Los Angeles Kings have won two Stanley Cups in that span as well.