Stars getting healthy just in time for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Battle of Pennsylvania, Hitchcock's big decision, the NHL Draft Lottery, a coach's return, the No. 60 and a sleeper pick are all in the first playoff edition of Trending This Week.
Jonathan Toews and the Chicago Blackhawks might have received a gift from the NHL on Sunday. The Blackhawks quarterfinal-round series against Phoenix won't begin until Thursday, which means Toews will have one more day to evaluate his health before deciding if he is going to play in Game 1 at Jobing.com Arena.
Toews missed the past 22 games of the regular season with a concussion, and said, as recently as late last week, that he is still feeling some symptoms when he's on the ice. However, he is targeting a return to the lineup for Game 1 against the Coyotes.
EJ Express: Stamkos reaches 60 goalsBy EJ Hradek - NHL.com Analyst
A two-goal night in his hometown Toronto can put the Lightning star in rarefied goal-scoring air. READ MORE ›
Daniel Sedin and the Vancouver Canucks weren't as lucky because their first-round series against the Kings begins Wednesday. It might not matter, though, because Sedin was back on the ice with his teammates Monday, skating on the top line with brother Henrik and Alex Burrows. He missed the past nine games of the regular season with a concussion, but there's a good chance he'll be back for Game 1 against the Kings.
The Canucks won eight of nine without Daniel, but it's silly to think they're not a better club with him. They scored 2.67 goals per game in the past nine games, but their season average is 2.94. Vancouver's power play was just 4-for-39 during the past nine games. The drought dropped the Canucks' power-play percentage down to 19.8 percent from 21.3 percent, where it was before Duncan Keith's elbow connected with Sedin's head.
In other injury news, Philadelphia's Danny Briere (back) and Niklas Grossmann (lower-body) and Jeff Carter (foot) of Los Angeles practiced Monday and appear to be on target to return for the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Briere and Grossman missed the Flyers' final two games and Carter missed the L.A.'s final five. Penguins forward James Neal (lower body) should also be just fine to open the series against the Flyers after sitting out the final two games of the regular season.
Red Wings center Darren Helm (knee) also hopes to play this week, but might have to wait until Game 2 on Friday.
The animosity between hockey fans, players and coaches in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh has arguably never been greater because of the star power on both sides, the familiarity the teams and fans have with each other, the recent war of words, and the fact that this will be the third time in the last five seasons that they have met in the playoffs.
It should spark some crazy fireworks in the next two weeks.
Of the 40 players expected to dress in Game 1 Wednesday, 19 of them played in the last playoff series between the two in-state rivals (2009 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals). Twelve of the 19 are Penguins, which speaks to the consistency of the organization. Arron Asham and Max Talbot have switched sides since that last playoff meeting between the rivals.
However, the Flyers most important player, goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, is brand new to this rivalry and will actually be making his Consol Energy Center debut Wednesday.
Bryzgalov played three games against the Penguins this season; all at Wells Fargo Center. He never played in Pittsburgh this past season while with the Coyotes, and since the Penguins and Flyers did not play in the preseason, Bryzgalov has actually never even been inside the new building.
Maybe you can point to Detroit with Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek in 2007-08 as the last time two goalies made season-long cases to be the No. 1 going into the playoffs. But, even their numbers, striking as they were, paled in comparison to what Halak and Elliott accomplished this season in winning the Williams Jennings Trophy.
Osgood and Hasek each played in 40-plus games five seasons ago and combined to allow 184 goals with nine shutouts. That's good, no doubt, but Halak and Elliott shared the role this season, with each appearing in at least 38 games, and combined to give up 165 goals with 15 shutouts.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock chose Hasek as his Game 1 starter against Nashville, but switched to Osgood midway through Game 4. The Red Wings went on to win the Stanley Cup with Osgood starting the final 18 games.
The Blues will happily take a slow start by one of their goalies if it means the other will lead them to a Stanley Cup championship. But first Hitchcock has to decide which one of them will get first crack.
Don't expect him to reveal his answer until Thursday morning.
Thirteen of the 14 teams that didn't make the Stanley Cup Playoffs can start their offseason plans in earnest Tuesday as the 2012 Scotiabank NHL Draft Lottery will take place at TSN's studios in Toronto. Colorado can technically start its plans as well, but the Capitals will take its place in the Draft Lottery because they acquired the Avs' first-round pick this past summer in the Semyon Varlamov trade.
The five teams that have a shot at getting the No. 1 pick and the opportunity to select Sarnia's Nail Yakupov are Columbus, Edmonton, Montreal, New York Islanders and Toronto. Yakupov is the clear-cut front-runner to be the No. 1 pick. He is NHL Central Scouting's top-ranked North American skater.
The Blue Jackets have a 25 percent chance of landing Yakupov, who would give the Jackets a huge lift in their rebuilding plans and perhaps make trading captain Rick Nash a bit easier to swallow.
The Oilers, who have an 18.8 percent chance of winning the lottery, have selected first in the past two drafts and wound up with Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. They're in good position to get another talented young player that will move them closer to being a contender.
Montreal has a 14.2 percent chance; the Islanders have a 10.7 percent chance; and the Leafs have an 8.1 percent chance.
It's possible that the first ping-pong ball to come up belongs to any of the other nine teams in the lottery, but they won't have a chance at the No. 1 pick because, per NHL rules, no club may move up more than four positions from where it is in the draft order.
The Devils-Panthers series might not be in the conversation right now because it won't start until Friday and there really isn't any rivalry to speak of there, but let's not overlook the obvious storyline.
Pete DeBoer is returning to Florida as the opponent after spending the three previous seasons trying and failing to get the Panthers into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
He says his old team is just another opponent now because it has been a full season since he was there and so much of the Panthers' personnel is different. Both are fair points and DeBoer also deserves credit for not taking the bait and making the story about himself and his return to the team that gave him his first chance to be a coach in the National Hockey League.
But, even DeBoer's own players aren't fooled.
Devils captain Zach Parise told NHL.com after the game this past Saturday that he would venture to guess that playing the Panthers means a great deal to DeBoer. Parise even said, "He probably won't tell you guys (the media), but it probably means a lot. How could it not?"
Parise is probably right.
Unlike current Panthers coach Kevin Dineen, DeBoer was never really given all the tools necessary to win in Florida. His first team earned 93 points and his second wasn't eliminated from playoff contention until late March, but there was a regime change entering his third season. Panthers general manager Dale Tallon spent his first season (and DeBoer's last) evaluating before making trades at the NHL Trade Deadline to start a rebuild.
That rebuild did not include DeBoer.
Now the tables are turned.
DeBoer will bring his new team into his old barn Friday looking to set a course toward the Eastern Conference Semifinals. He won't say it, but odds are DeBoer relishes the opportunity to knock out his old team and prove that with enough talent and belief he is a good playoff coach in the NHL.
Steven Stamkos' remarkable personal feat of scoring 60 goals this season.
In the 40 seasons since Esposito scored his 76 goals, the 60-goal plateau has been reached 38 more time, by 20 players. While mathematically it works out to virtually one per season, the fact is that it is an increasingly rare accomplishment.
Stamkos and Alex Ovechkin (65 in 2007-08) are the only two players to reach 60 goals since 2000. Ovechkin was the first to score at least 60 since both Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux did it in 1995-96. It happened eight times in the 1970s, another 17 in the 1980s, and 12 times in the 1990s.
On 12 occasions since 1970-71 the Hart Trophy winner scored 60 or more goals. This isn't to say Stamkos should be the Hart Trophy winner, but it would be a serious injustice if he isn't at least one of the three finalists.
The Los Angeles Kings were topsy-turvy all season and now they're up against a Vancouver team that is playing its best brand of hockey heading into the playoffs. The Kings have maybe the tallest task of any of the 16 in the playoffs. Nobody expects them to win.
What if they do?
With Jonathan Quick in net, Anze Kopitar in the middle of a surging top line, and a defense that is among the best in the League, the Kings have the personnel to do some damage in the playoffs if they get past the Canucks. They'll need a healthy Jeff Carter, who missed the final five games of the regular season with a foot injury, but even as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference the Kings should be a feared opponent.
Granted, just getting out of the first round will be an enormous task. The Canucks are beatable, yes, but they enter the playoffs having won the Presidents' Trophy because of wins in eight of their final nine games. They surged without Daniel Sedin and in spite of the fact that their power play was dreadful.
It almost seems like a forgone conclusion that Vancouver will dispatch the Kings, but Quick is capable of stealing a game or two in Vancouver this week and, if he does, then look out for the Kings. They would not face a tougher opponent than Vancouver for the rest of the playoffs if they somehow manage to pull off the first-round upset.
It's still a big if, though.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl