Ride the mullet, baby!Chicago Kaner Mullets vs. Minnesota Mild
Is there any doubt? When you have one of the all-time greatest seasons in NHL history, if you're going to get upset it's most likely later on (Ken Dryden 1st round heroics leading to a 1971 Conn Smythe performance aside).
The more interesting aspect is twofold. The Wild with their big name signings of Zach Pariseeeee (not Pariseez-eh anymore, eh) and Ryan Suter leapt from 24th overall last season to 15th. The two teams that lost those stars--well, they didn't fare so well with both missing the playoffs. The Nashville Predators fell from 5th overall to 27th. The New Jersey Devils (also thanks to losing Ilya Kovalchuk for a crucial stretch of the season) dipped down from 9th to 23rd.
The other fold is the Wild kept us from enjoying the Bob for another week or so plus would have rubbed even more poison oak into the Philadelphia Flyers' wounds. Ex-Flyer goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was insanely great for the Columbus Blue Jackets (.932 save percentage matching his .932 save percentage with SKA St. Petersburg during the lockout so we should have saw that coming). That other Russian goalie the Flyers pinned their hopes on. Well, at least he's funny.
So there ya go, why bother talking about the Blackhawks until they play some team that's actually scored more goals than they've given up. Sorry, State of Hockey, but when you have an actual exciting team, get back to us neutrals.
Anaheim One Cup Ducks vs. Detroit Dead Things?
Wow, how the mighty have fallen? All it took was losing one Norris Trophy defenceman.
Even so, ominous for the Dux is not so much all this vaunted experience the Wings have, it's the fact the Wings know how to win in Anaheim w/o Nicklas Lidstrom. The Wings took both regular season games in the City of Disney.
Throw in the fact Jimmy Howard has outplayed the Fasth/Hiller tandem and maybe the Dux got one of the worst matchups possible despite a season that was truly terrific but overlooked a little given the Hawks' 23-game unbeaten run.
Personally, I think the Gordie Howe Houston Aeros WooHA era movie more than made up for losing Lidstrom. Then again that's just me. (Say, was that one of Steve Sanders's girlfriends from "Beverly Hills: 90210"?)
Vancouver Sedins vs. San Jose Chokers
Talk about your classic underachievers. This is two for the price of one in this series. Vancouver will look to the fact it defeated the Sharks in 2011 in the Western Conference Final. The Sharks will look to the fact they maybe got unlucky in 2011 in meeting the Canucks that late. Usually, the Sharks are one team the Canucks have so much trouble with. From '07/08 through the '09/10 seasons the Sharks were 10W-2L vs. the Nux. The Nux turned the tables in '10/11 and '11/12 with 6W-2L as well as the 4W-1L in the '11 playoffs.
This season the Sharks are back on top of the Nux winning all three contests.
Don't even mention Sieveongo should Schneids not be 100 percent.
Luongo still hasn't been traded!
St. Louis Bouwmeesters vs. LA Defenders
Finally, Jay Bouwmeester gets to see if he can grow a beard and against the defending champions to start it all off. Sadly, LA won all three meetings between the two during the season. Defending Cup champs tend not to lose to any team in rd. one (the '12 Boston Bruins say what as do the '11 Blackhawks), especially if they improve over the previous season.
The Kings who became the only team lower than 9th overall (at 13th best in the '11/12 overall standings) to actually get to the Final and win the danged Cup. Let's strip back all the BS and that was one extremely lucky Luc Robitaille Cup run fueled again by insane Hab era Patrick Roy-like goaltending. Now on paper the Kings did and do have a good well-balanced team and leapt up to 7th overall. If they had Jeff Carter all season back in '11/12 maybe the Kings would have not had to put on that late-season blitz just to get into the playoffs.
Anyway, of the teams making a leap in the regular season after a Cup victory since '95 let's have a look:
'97 Colorado Avalanche
Jumped from 2nd overall to the Presidents Trophy and made it back to the Western Conference Final where the Detroit Red Wings avenged the Kris Draper face rearrangement.
'98 Detroit Red Wings
Moved up from 5th to 3rd overall and repeated as Cup champs even sadly without Vladimir Konstantinov on D but inspiring the Yzermans nonetheless.
'01 New Jersey Devils
Went from 4th to 3rd and got back to the Final where they lost to the Avs.
(Does anyone even remember this Final? Was it the one where Alex Tanguay got two goals in Game 7? Yep, the Bourque Cup.)
There you have it. Bet on the Kings getting to the Western Conference Final...or not. The only worrying factor is the Kings are still only 7th overall. They're not exactly the Avs, Wings or Devils powerhouses of the '90s and '00s yet.