The puck finally drops today in the NHL as thirteen marquee match-ups get underway at 3 p.m. E.T. After such a long wait, it should be an exciting day of hockey as the story lines resume and the immediate push for the playoffs begin
Out west the Los Angeles Kings will begin their Stanley Cup title defense at home against the Chicago Blackhawks. GM of the Kings, Dean Lombardi, spent all offseason studying past dynasties, in hopes of finding the magic formula for a repeat. The last team to win back-to-back Stanley Cups were the Detroit Red Wings in 1996-97 and 1997-98. Last year’s defending champs, the Boston Bruins, were knocked out of the playoffs by the Washington Capitals in the first round, albeit in seven games. The Blackhawks are looking to get back to the finals for the second time in four years. In 2010 they ended their 49-year title drought when they beat the Philadelphia Flyers for the Cup. Captain of the Blackhawks, Jonathan Toews, did not practice Friday, but is expected to play today.
This afternoon back east, the Philadelphia Flyers host the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Winnipeg Jets host the Ottawa Senators. Both the Flyers and Penguins are legit contenders in the Eastern Conference while the Jets and Senators are not. Doesn’t matter in Canada though, hockey is back. Beginning just their second year back in Winnipeg, the Jets will continue to revive their fan base. And in Ottawa, the Senators will be giving out free beer to their fans at their home-opener Monday night against the Florida Panthers. With or without this ingenious promotion, Senator fans will certainly be excited to see their team play again.
In the night games there will be no shortage of excitement. The defending Eastern Conference champion, New Jersey Devils, will jump across the river to play on the road against the New York Islanders.
Other regional games continue further north as the Boston Bruins host their rival New York Rangers. Both the Bruins and Rangers will pose serious threats in the East this year. Another rivalry game will be north of the border as the Montreal Canadiens host the Toronto Maple Leafs. Both teams have chances to make the playoffs, but realistically neither will contend. The Canadiens are the last team from Canada to have won a cup, back in 1993. And the Maple Leafs have the longest title drought in the NHL, their last cup win being way back in 1967.
Two other night games that should be good are the St. Louis Blues hosting the Detroit Red Wings and the Vancouver Canucks hosting the Anaheim Ducks. Two seasons ago the Canucks came oh so close to bringing the cup back to Canada when they lost in seven games to the underdog Bruins. They will be the favorites in the West to reach the finals again this year.
So here we are, finally. After 119 days, hockey fans can now watch their favorite teams go at it, with dreams of Stanley Cup glory just six months away. Drop the puck!
Chicago at Los Angeles (3 p.m.)
Pittsburgh at Philadelphia (3 p.m.)
Ottawa at Winnipeg (3 p.m.)
New York Rangers at Boston (7 p.m.)
New Jersey at New York Islanders (7 p.m.)
Washington at Tampa Bay (7 p.m.)
Toronto at Montreal (7 p.m.)
Carolina at Florida (7:30 p.m.)
Phoenix at Dallas (8 p.m.)
Columbus at Nashville (8 p.m.)
Detroit at St. Louis (8 p.m.)
Colorado at Minnesota (9 p.m.)
Anaheim at Vancouver (10 p.m.)