Each Friday throughout the regular season Kevin Weekes will be bringing you his Friday Four in his Weekes on the Web blog. He will be blogging about four players, teams, plays, trends or really four of whatever in the NHL that have caught his eye.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs start in less than a week and I'm thinking about potential matchups that I want to see at some point this spring. It doesn't have to be in the first round, it can be in a later round, and here are the top four matchups that I'd like to see that I think are legit:
1. Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
You'd have to watch this series with your seatbelt on. The pace, the speed, tempo would be unreal. Both teams are super-fast. Tampa Bay was able to neutralize Montreal in the regular season because the Lightning are as fast as the Canadiens.
I think the New York Rangers overall are the fastest team in the NHL, but Tampa Bay and Montreal have to be right up there right behind them.
In saying all of that, we're talking about two excellent goalies here as well.
Canadiens goalie Carey Price is a lock for the Vezina Trophy and I think he's equally deserving for the Hart Trophy, if not more deserving, as Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin. If it was me I'd let them share it.
Lightning goalie Ben Bishop was a Vezina finalist last year and now he's healthy. Same with Price. Both guys had injury issues last season in the playoffs; Bishop didn't even play. Bishop and Price are like third defensemen for their teams with how they play the puck.
As far as star power, Montreal has a three-headed monster that obviously starts with Price. I also think P.K. Subban is having another Norris Trophy-type season, and obviously Max Pacioretty has been amazing. Let's see if he's healthy, but he's had an amazing season. He's fast and he gets a breakaway seemingly every game.
That's a three-headed monster for Montreal, make no mistake about it.
For Tampa, I already mentioned Bishop, who is one of their star pieces, but of course there is also Steven Stamkos, who is a top-five player and one of the best scorers in the world. He's also healthy, motivated, hungry, ready and dialed in.
But the best part about the Lightning is Stamkos doesn't have to cheat to score goals because they have so much depth, and they have the "Triplets" line with Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov. That to me was the best line in hockey this season, or at least the most consistent line, with Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Jiri Hudler of the Calgary Flames a close second.
All that said, the Lightning have more depth and they're more explosive offensively. When you have a guy like Stamkos and you're not dependent on him to score every night, that tells you how deep the team is.
The Lightning also have very good support players. Alex Killorn has been excellent. Brian Boyle can score. And their defense is probably the most improved or second-most improved behind the Washington Capitals in the NHL this season. Victor Hedman is a star. Unfortunately they've had injuries, but if they're healthy that defense for the Lightning is excellent.
The Lightning are one of the most entertaining teams to watch, and for people that love speed and skill and pace and star power, this would be a great series.
2. New York Rangers vs. New York Islanders
I've worn both jerseys, played in that market, and I know how it feels to be on either side of that rivalry. This would be epic for New York.
You look at what Alain Vigneault has done this year with the Rangers, I think he's cemented himself as one of the great coaches in our League. I go back to what he did with Vancouver. I called a lot of those games on Hockey Night in Canada, and I saw how fun that team was to watch; this Rangers' team plays a very similar style and they're similar in that they're very deep.
The Rangers are the fastest team in the League and everybody contributes. They come at you in waves. They obviously have Henrik Lundqvist in goal and Cam Talbot has been an amazing story. They're unselfish. They have an excellent defense. There is so much skill.
For Rick Nash, this is the best I've ever seen him play, and I mean that as a three-zone player. He does whatever you want him to do. What a player.
Now for hockey fans and for our League and our game, are you kidding me, Rangers vs. Islanders, with the way the Islanders have improved this year and with the season that John Tavares is having? How great would this be?
The Islanders aren't afraid of anybody. These guys push the pace every game. They come to play every game. Yes they've stumbled down the stretch, but they're legit. They've got a relentless forecheck. Their puck pressure is great. They can generate offense. They have the best fourth line in hockey with Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin when they're healthy.
The key, though, is Jaroslav Halak has to play the way he's capable of playing to keep them in games and to allow the Islanders to be confident enough to play the style they want to play.
He's had a record-setting season for that franchise, which says a lot given who has played there, including Billy Smith, but Halak has to play like the all-star he was this season. I remember what he did for Montreal a few years ago. He's a guy who has played under the bright lights. He's a guy who kept Price on the bench in Montreal, which is not an easy task.
This would be a great series if it ever came to pass.
3. Chicago Blackhawks vs. Winnipeg Jets
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is from Winnipeg. That's the first thing on the agenda. That's a Winnipeg man playing in front of family and friends. He stunned them and bloodied their noses last week in what was a pivotal game for Chicago. He broke their hearts with that game-winner.
On top of that, Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien will be back. That's right, a former Chicago Blackhawks player, an X-factor in them winning the Stanley Cup in 2010. That's the second key thing for this series if it came to pass.
Jets captain Andrew Ladd is more mature with a bigger role than he had in Chicago, but he's another one who won the Stanley Cup with Chicago and he also won one with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Jets forward Michael Frolik is another player who would be facing his former team, and he's been excellent since coming to Winnipeg.
For the Jets, great coaching from Paul Maurice and his staff this year. Just excellent coach. They brought accountability, belief, professionalism -- all the things that were hit and miss with the Jets for years.
Not to be outdone, Mark Scheifele has emerged and is continuing to become a good player. Adam Lowry can jam and get his nose dirty in and around the net. Chris Thorburn does the same thing. They have a good fourth line. Their back end is much improved. On defense, Tyler Myers has been a nice fit and I think Jacob Trouba has been real impressive with tons of upside.
The Jets also have two goalies that can play. Ondrej Pavelec has hit his stride and has his game tight at the right time, reclaiming the job from Michael Hutchinson, who has had a great rookie season.
So now, Chicago, well we already know. The Blackhawks stars are stars every single night. Also a wrinkle is Patrick Sharp, he's from Thunder Bay, Ontario, and the closest team to Thunder Bay in the NHL is Winnipeg. So Sharp essentially will be playing in front of family and friends.
Goalie Corey Crawford has been excellent and he's found his game after coming off the injury a while back. As I've been told by people in the Blackhawks' organization, Patrick Kane will be back sooner than people think he will.
Overall, this would be a fun series because there are just so many ties between the two teams.
4. Calgary Flames vs. Anaheim Ducks
This could be a fun series because the Flames have done so well against the Pacific Division this season and it would be interesting to see if they could knock off the best in the division in a seven-game series.
The Flames have been amazing all season long and I don't think I've seen a coach and maybe even a person transform himself the way Bob Hartley has in this great way. If you have let me know, but I don't think I've seen it.
I played against Hartley 20 years ago in the American Hockey League, and to see him now, his composure, his practices, the way he conducts himself and deals with the players, it's a whole different Bob Hartley and it's very, very impressive to see.
For what Hartley has done with this team and how far this team has come, it's really just beyond amazing when you think about it.
You start with Gaudreau, Johnny Hockey, who to me is a lock if not a favorite for the Calder Trophy. Look at how well he's played in that market. He's the first Flames rookie since Jarome Iginla to get 50 points in his rookie season. That tells you everything.
Monahan has scored 30-plus goals on Gaudreau's line. Monahan saw that Gaudreau was stealing some of the thunder and was basically like, 'Hey, let me regain that, let me steal that back from you, it's not going to happen on my watch.' They each deserve their love and neither gets outshined. I think that friendly competition serves them real well.
Hudler's leadership has been as important as his production. And they have two goalies that can play well in Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo, just the way the Ducks have Frederik Andersen and John Gibson.
As for the Ducks, there are legitimate aspirations for them to win the Stanley Cup, but Calgary would not let them get through anything lightly. The Flames would give the Ducks all they can handle. This would not be a walk in the park for the Ducks.