Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins and Alex Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals are the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference and could be on a crash course to meet in the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Crosby and Ovechkin would face off in the second round, marking just the second post-season meeting between the two stars.
The Penguins won eight in a row and 14 of 15 before resting Crosby and defenseman Kris Letang in their regular-season finale. They open the playoffs against Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers. The Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals face the Philadelphia Flyers, who charged from 12th in the East to a wild-card spot in the second half of the season.
Only one of those four teams can emerge from the brutal Metropolitan Division, which represents half of the bracket in the wide-open East. On the Atlantic side, division champion Florida faces the New York Islanders and the banged-up Tampa Bay Lightning play the Detroit Red Wings, who are in the playoffs for the 25th consecutive season.
Washington clinched home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs with seven games to spare.
Coach Barry Trotz said it might have felt like the Capitals were “in a total free-fall,” but that was not the case as they finished the season 5-3-3 with almost nothing to play for.
Pittsburgh, on the other hand, are rolling into the playoffs without star center Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Olli Maatta.
Here are some things to watch in the Eastern Conference as the playoffs begin:
NEW CATS ON THE BLOCK: Led by the goaltending of Roberto Luongo and the play of the ageless Jaromir Jagr, the Panthers are in the playoffs for the first time since 2012 and for just the fifth time in franchise history. This will be the first taste of the Stanley Cup playoffs for youngsters Aaron Ekblad, Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad, so no one quite knows how Florida will handle the pressure and intensity.
LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE: The defending East-champion Lightning will not have forward Steven Stamkos and defenseman Anton Stralman for at least the first round, and a handful of other players, including defenseman Victor Hedman and forward Ryan Callahan, are not 100 percent. Tampa Bay have to hope Vezina Trophy-caliber goaltender Ben Bishop is at his best to make another deep run.
NEW YORK: The Islanders had a chance to essentially pick their playoff road, and their lackluster loss to the Flyers with several top players resting means they will face Florida instead of Pittsburgh. Captain John Tavares has the ability to carry the Islanders on his shoulders, despite a bevy of injuries, and he just might do that playing alongside Frans Nielsen.
NEW YORK II: Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is nearing the end of his prime, but his team has the playoff experience to surprise. New York have eliminated the Penguins in each of the past two seasons, and if defenseman Ryan McDonagh returns from an upper-body injury, this team is no pushover.
FIRED UP FLYERS: After FaceTiming with ailing owner Ed Snider after clinching a playoff berth, the Flyers learned of his death on Monday morning following a two-year battle with cancer.
Philadelphia players have already said they are dedicating the 2016 playoffs to Snider, giving them fresh motivation after expending so much energy just to make the post-season.
DRIVING AMBITION: ‘I was excited by playing at the Olympics ... Who knows what’s going to happen? Hopefully, I could have a chance to win a medal,’ Tiffany Chan said After just three tournaments this year, a chance of Olympic glory postponed and two weeks alone in quarantine, golfer Tiffany Chan could be forgiven for feeling sorry for herself. Instead, Hong Kong’s first LPGA Tour player is sporting a broad grin and taking the positives from the game’s COVID-19 shutdown, determined to establish herself in the fiercely competitive world of women’s golf. The talented 26-year-old kept herself fit physically and mentally during the lockdown, and is happy to be back on the fairways since the easing of coronavirus restrictions last month. “When I came back to Hong Kong [in March], I actually did
Eleven-year-old skateboarder Sky Brown, who is hoping to become Britain’s youngest Olympian next year, fractured her skull and broke bones in her left hand after falling from a ramp during a training session in California. Brown posted a video of the accident on Instagram, but reassured supporters that she was fine. “I don’t usually post my falls or talk about them ... but this was my worst fall. I just want everyone to know that it’s OK — don’t worry, I’m OK,” she said. “I’m going to push boundaries for girls with my skating and surfing. I’m going for gold in 2021
Zhu Ting stands tall in China — and not just because she is 1.98m tall. The 25-year-old farmer’s daughter has emerged from a poor village life to become a totem of the country’s sporting ambitions. As captain and figurehead of China’s women’s volleyball team, the reigning Olympic champions, Zhu is one of the country’s biggest stars. State television once feted her as “an invincible and dominant superhero.” A nurse fighting the COVID-19 pandemic in March posted a photograph of herself wearing a white protective suit with a picture of the volleyball star drawn on it — also scribbled were the words: “Proud that
A feel-good campaign allowing fans to have cardboard cutouts of themselves at Australian rugby league games has been hijacked by pranksters, with a notorious serial killer among those making an appearance — while one TV show edited an image of Adolf Hitler into the crowd. The NRL launched “Fan In The Stand” to coincide with the sport’s return at the weekend after its season was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Supporters are barred from stadiums under strict health protocols, but can pay A$22 (US$15) to have their photograph printed on a life-size cutout and placed in the stands of