Top five best-case-scenario first-round NHL playoff matchups

Brian Elliott, Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews. (Dilip Vishwanat/NHLI via Getty Images)

With the end of the NHL’s regular-season approximately two weeks away, attention has settled on the possible first-round playoff showdowns. Many, if not most of the specific post-season berths won’t be finalized until closer to the final games on Apr. 11, but it’s not too early to start crossing fingers in the hope that some teams will wind up facing particular opponents and provide viewers with maximum entertainment value right out of the gate. Here are the top five best-case scenario first-round matchups this year:

5. Montreal vs. Ottawa. There are a few ways the Senators can take on the Canadiens in the first round, and most of them involve the Habs fending off Tampa Bay to retain top spot in the Atlantic Division, while the Sens hold on to the final wild card berth. Both results are entirely possible, and if it does happen, Canadian TV executives will be shimmying down the avenue as they celebrate the massive ratings that are sure to ensue. Read more

CHL playoffs: The most intriguing first-round matchups

Quebec's Anthony Duclair  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

The CHL playoffs begin tonight and it’s going to be a lot of fun. Connor McDavid has one last chance to win it all with the Erie Otters in the Ontario League, but the powerfully-built Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds have designs of their own. Out in the Western League, Kelowna and Brandon seem to be on a collision course for the final, while the Quebec League has the added wrinkle of sending two teams to the Memorial Cup – one being the host Quebec Remparts, who won’t want to crawl in through the back door.

Here’s a look at all the first-round matchups in the CHL, with a bit more info on one series per league that has me riveted from the get-go.

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Top five goalies to be absolutely petrified of in the NHL playoffs

Devan Dubnyk has helped turn things around for the Minnesota Wild since being acquired on Jan. 14. (Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images)

One of the things that keeps NHL GMs awake at night is the prospect of facing a white-hot goaltender in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Your team could be a President’s Trophy winner, but if you follow up regular-season domination with a showdown against a netminder who gets in your players’ heads via consistently outstanding performances, the only thing you can do is sit by helplessly and wish you had a goalie who had as much impact on the outcome of games.

This season, there are five (or so) of those type of performers quite capable of giving opponents nightmares in the playoffs. Here are the top five goaltenders to be absolutely petrified of (unless they play for your favorite team) in the 2015 post-season:

5. Andrew Hammond, Ottawa Senators. The man known as “The Hamburglar” has the city of Ottawa in the palm of his hand thanks to his unreal 14-0-1 record – and if he can lead the Sens to a Wild Card post-season berth, there’s every chance his magic continues and he plays an instrumental role with a special playoff run. People are going to be waiting for his Cinderella start to go full pumpkin, but the 27-year-old Hammond is playing with house money in this first chapter of his NHL career. As a soon-to-be restricted free agent, he’s also got a clear financial incentive to stay hungry and capitalize on the opportunity the fates have provided him.

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Watch Carey Price make a skate save without facing the play

Jared Clinton
Montreal Canadiens v New York Islanders

The way Carey Price is playing this season is almost unfair. He leads the league in every single goaltending category, he’s the biggest reason for the Canadiens success and now he’s just showing off by making saves without even facing the play.

During Tuesday’s game against the Nashville Predators — and maybe his only true Vezina Trophy opponent, Pekka Rinne — Price gathered a loose puck in front of his crease and attempted to clear it around his net to defenseman P.K. Subban. Unfortunately for Price, Subban was a little further away than Price had expected and the puck ended up on the tape of Predators winger Kevin Fiala.

Fiala, who was playing in his first career NHL game, got his “Welcome to the NHL” moment when Price slid across his crease facing away from the play to make a skate save: Read more

Preds’ Mattias Ekholm tripped, but scores gorgeous goal from knees on Habs superstar Carey Price

Adam Proteau
Mattias Ekholm (John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm did something Tuesday very few NHLers have been able to do this year – put a puck past Canadiens superstar goalie Carey Price – and he did so from his knees, moments after being tripped.

The teams had yet to score in Nashville as they approached the midway point of the first period. But Ekholm recorded the first goal of the night after picking up the puck just outside Montreal’s blueline, splitting through a pair of Habs defenders – and after one of them (center Tomas Plekanec) tripped him on the way by, he still managed to beat Price blocker side for his sixth goal and 16th point of the season: Read more

Prospect Hot List: Casey Fitzgerald’s deep hockey roots

Casey Fitzgerald (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

Since I did a big NCAA dig on Monday, it’s time to focus on some other circuits. Major junior playoff brackets are set and there will be some barnburners – Quebec vs. Cape Breton is intriguing, while a potential second-round match between Erie and the Soo Greyhounds is dizzying to think of. But the big story right now is Youngstown of the United States League. The Phantoms just broke a USHL record by winning 17 straight – and Chicago gave them a good game in that last one. But enough about teams, here are the players making noise in the prospect world right now.

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Carey Price touched by gesture of boy from his hometown in heartwarming video

Jared Clinton
Carey Price (via Air Canada/YouTube)

Before he was a star NHL goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens, Carey Price was just a boy growing up in a small British Columbia community called Anahim Lake, with a population of little more than 1,000.

In making the NHL, Price put Anahim Lake on the map, and the town proudly displays Price’s name on its sign and the local school supports the Canadiens goaltender with passion. So, for Trent Leon, the chance to meet his idol was a once in a lifetime experience, and for Price, it was an emotional meeting with a young man who gave him a gift he couldn’t have appreciated more: Read more