It’s too early to start thinking about Stanley Cup final matchups. Way too early. Like, ridiculously early.
And yet… it’s impossible to sit through another league’s championship showdown without being tempted to look ahead at what the NHL might serve up. Yesterday’s Falcons/Patriots Super Bowl ended up being an all-time classic, even though it wasn’t exactly a matchup stuffed with history or storylines. So while hockey fans know that we’re still in for plenty of twists and turns as the rest of the regular season and the first three rounds of the playoffs play out, it’s hard not to peak ahead and wonder… what if?
For example, a matchup between the top teams in each conference right now would mean Minnesota facing Washington. There isn't all that much NHL history between the two cities (although there's a little). But the pairing would give us a matchup between Bruce Boudreau's current team and the one he first made his name with. That would give us a chance to relitigate every moment of Boudreau's tenure with the Caps, including his alleged feud with Alexander Ovechkin. And as an added bonus, Boudreau might have to go through his other former team, the Ducks, in the conference final to get there.
We could also get a matchup between the Wild and the Blue Jackets, which would represent a meeting of two expansion cousins who entered the league together in 2000. Or maybe the Blue Jackets face Jeff Carter and the Kings, their old trading partners. Or perhaps Minnesota could face Pittsburgh, which would be a quasi-rematch of the 1991 Penguins/North Stars series that gave us some memorable moments. Then again, it also gave us a Minnesota team that was being broken up in a dispersal draft days after the series ended, so maybe we should stay away from that one.
If you'd prefer a more recent Cup final rematch, Pittsburgh/San Jose looks like it's in play. So is Kings/Rangers, as well as Bruins/Blackhawks, although that last one is hanging by a thread as Boston struggles. Or we could reach back to 1992 for Blackhawks/Penguins, which seems like it would pretty much be the league's dream series in terms of the teams they like to promote.
From a Canadian perspective, the standings say that our best bet would be Montreal/Edmonton. Those two franchises combined to appear in eight straight Stanley Cup finals from 1983 to 1990, but somehow never actually faced each other. Then again, you could probably get more excited for a McDavid/Crosby showdown between the Oilers and Penguins. And of course, there's always the outside chance of a Montreal/Nashville series that might generate just a little bit of spotlight on a certain pair of defencemen.
Will we actually get any of those matchups? Probably not — there are dozens of realistic possibilities, and like we said, it's too early to start narrowing down the field all that much. After all, as the Patriots and Falcons reminded us yesterday, a lot of unexpected things can happen before everything is said and done.
Road to the Cup
The five teams that look like they're headed towards Stanley Cup–favourite status.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets (33-13-5, +42 true goals differential*): This is their lowest ranking since first breaking into the top five back in early December. Could they be headed off the list altogether? See below.
4. San Jose Sharks (33-17-3, +22): Despite a weekend overtime loss to the lowly Coyotes, they remain the league's hottest team over their last 10, with eight wins and seventeen points.
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