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

Wild-card primer: who makes it and who misses in the East and West?

Loui Eriksson (Andre Ringuette/Getty Images)

When the NHL changed the playoff format to include wild-card teams last season, it’s unlikely even they could have imagined a scenario in which the races for the final playoff berths in each conference would be this tight.

With less than 10 games remaining on the schedules of all playoff hopefuls, only six points separate teams in the Western Conference, while a three-team race separated by five points in the Eastern Conference could come down to the final night.

What’s on the horizon for each of the teams, and who stands the best shot at making it in? 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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Rumor Roundup: Stars, Flyers and Senators buzz

Kari Lehtonen (Getty Images)

Since last season, the Dallas Stars’ fortunes have risen or fallen based upon the goaltending of Kari Lehtonen. In 2013-14, Lehtonen’s solid performance (33-20-10, 2.41 GAA, .919 SP) was instrumental in the Stars reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The 31-year-old’s struggles this season (30-14-10, 2.87 GAA, .906 SP) put the club’s playoff hopes on thin ice.

It’s also prompted some questions over Lehtonen’s future in Dallas. There’s been speculation Stars GM Jim Nill could consider finding a more reliable starter, but replacing his current one (who’s earning $5.9 million annually for three more seasons) won’t be easy. Lehtonen also has a partial no-trade clause. Read more

Surging Sens get another win for “The Hamburglar” – and Curtis Lazar bites down on a thrown burger

One of the hamburgers thrown toward the ice after Ottawa's 6-4 win over Boston sits on the dasher board at Canadian Tire Centre. (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

Is there any better story right now than the hard-charging Ottawa Senators? A playoff afterthought as recently as early February, the Sens are riding the popularity and success of first-year goalie Andrew “The Hamburglar” Hammond, winning games and, after Thursday’s thrilling 6-4 win over the Bruins, pulled within two points of Boston for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference – all with ailing GM Bryan Murray looking on and serving as an inspiration.

Heck, things are going so well for Ottawa (which has won five in a row and eight of their past nine) right now, Senators rookie Curtis Lazar decided to try his luck with one of the hamburgers fans were throwing onto the ice by the dozen after the game had ended:
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Bracket busters: which NHL playoff Cinderellas could cause April madness?

Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Why does college basketball get to have all the fun?

There’s something magical about the first four days of the NCAA tournament every year. Are you one of the people who enjoy the rounds of 64 and 32 more than the rest of the bracket and gradually tune in less and less, almost forgetting to watch the national title game? There’s a reason for that. The earlier rounds produce the upsets, the Cinderella stories that steal our hearts.

The home stretch of the NHL season has produced a few exciting Little Teams That Could, too. Which have the best potential to pull insane upsets come April, should they squeak into the bracket? A few come to mind immediately, one of which makes analytics advocates wet themselves, another of which is out to steal your Royale With Cheese.

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Andrew ‘Hamburglar’ Hammond makes miraculous glove save, ties 76-year-old record

Jared Clinton
Andrew Hammond (Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images)

Andrew Hammond‘s run in goal for the Senators is starting to seem like a feel-good Disney movie.

The man affectionately called the ‘Hamburglar’ was at it again Tuesday night for the Senators, and he did what he’s done best since stepping between the pipes for Ottawa in mid-February. With the Senators on a penalty kill early in the third period, Hurricanes defenseman Ron Hainsey found a wide-open Jordan Staal on the opposite side of the ice. Hainsey fired a pass across to Staal, who then proceeded to settle the puck down before wiring it on goal.

The puck looked destined for the back of the net. Or, at least, it did until Hammond came sliding across for a miraculous glove save: Read more