Football fans across the U.S. and Canada have gone wild watching the NFL playoffs this weekend, but it's the NHL that's home to the greatest postseason tournament in sports. The Stanley Cup playoffs never fail to deliver each spring, and this weekend's NFL action has me wondering what matchups I'm hoping for this spring.
Here are the five matchups I'd most love to see this postseason.
1. Pittsburgh vs. Chicago
More than any other matchup, I'd love to see this just because of the talent level -- assuming Pittsburgh is healthy when the season ends, what a showdown this would be! You've got Crosby, Malkin, Letang and Neal against Kane, Toews, Sharp, Hossa, Keith … the list goes on. There are so many great players on both teams, and with two major markets and two great teams, I just think it would be a real home run for the NHL. It would put the League's best foot forward -- a win-win situation.
Even more amazing is that not only have both of these teams won a Stanley Cup in the last five years, they're both so young. If Crosby gets healthy -- and keep in mind that most of these guys are signed long-term, so there isn't going to be a lot of changeover of talent -- you could see these teams play each other in the Final multiple times over the next seven or eight years.
2. Vancouver vs. Boston
I would love to see these two teams play again. That game they played a couple of weeks ago -- you could see that these two teams genuinely don't like each other. There are a lot of stories and sidebars in this series, a lot of agitators on both sides, and you've got both organizations throwing barbs at each other. It would be a tough, nasty series. I loved the one last year, and I think it would be an even better seven-game series this year.
This time around, Vancouver would have to be tougher and I think we might even see Cory Schneider play. That's another interesting thing: Who plays goal for Vancouver? Schneider played that game in Boston recently and played very well. In addition, both teams are going to be active at the deadline. I think that Vancouver knows it would have to get tougher -- and don't forget, Shawn Thornton didn't play last year and Tyler Seguin was just an extra guy. Boston's a lot better than last year, too.
3. Detroit vs. Toronto
This might just be because I'm a traditional guy, but I'd love to see this matchup. Toronto looks like a playoff team at least, and then you look at the history of the two organizations and their proximity. Toronto is an up-and-coming team, while Detroit is trying to milk a few more great years out of the players it has. You can talk about so many stories here, like how many more kicks does Nicklas Lidstrom have left at the can. I just think it would be a “can't miss” for hockey fans who love the tradition of the League.
It would also be nice to see Toronto play a meaningful game in June. Toronto has never played in June. When the Leafs won the Cup in 1967 it was just two rounds, meaning the Final was over in early May. Toronto is fun to watch, too. Phil Kessel is fun, Joffrey Lupul is fun, they're quick to score goals -- and Detroit is playing great right now, they're as good as any team in the West. Jimmy Howard's really solidified their goaltending situation. At the start of the year I would never have said Detroit was a team that could win the West, but after watching them play Chicago and Vancouver, they're just as good as both of those teams. It's not a stretch now to think Detroit could come out of the West, and it would be exciting to see them face a historic rival in the Final.
4. Philadelphia vs. San Jose
I think this would be a great matchup. It would be a ton of goals from a great group of forwards on both teams. Jaromir Jagr back in the final back would be great to see. I'd love to see Joe Thornton in the Final, finally, and I'd love to see San Jose finally get the underachiever tag off its back. It'd be a gritty series, and I just think it would be a fun series to watch with the firepower the Flyers have up front and the firepower of San Jose up front. This would be a very high-scoring Final series -- just great fun to watch from start to finish.
5. Los Angeles vs. New York Rangers
I would love to see the two biggest markets in the U.S. The Rangers haven't been there since 1994, the Kings haven't been there since 1993, and both are very good teams. The Rangers right now are better than the Kings, but Darryl Sutter's got these guys playing a lot better. Talent-wise I would give the edge, strictly on talent, to the Kings -- they have a very talented lineup. Goaltending, you have to give the edge to the Rangers with Henrik Lundqvist -- but even then Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier are as good a tandem as there is in the NHL and they're playing better now than they have all season. Most of all, though, I would just love to see the top two markets in the United States get fired up about hockey.
John Tortorella would be fun for the media and Sutter's a good quote -- he tells it like it is. It would be great to see these two teams face off on the ice, but the best part might be the star power of the two cities. Can you imagine the people you'd see at the games in L.A. and the people you'd see at the games in New York? You'd get the stars of New York against the stars of L.A. all series long. And beyond the cities they play in, let's not forget that they're both good teams. The Rangers are, I think, next to Boston the best team in the East, and the Kings are a team that's going to get a lot better in the last 40 games. It would be a great show.