St. Louis Blues: Winners in five of their final six games of the regular season, the Blues claimed the Central Division title -- no easy feat considering that was the runaway winner for toughest division. The Blues face the dangerous Minnesota Wild in the first round, but at least they’ll have forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen back in the lineup as they try to topple Devan Dubnyk and a scrappy Wild squad.
Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars: Credit to the Stars for stringing together four straight wins to end the season on a high note, showing some serious promise for next season. And kudos to Benn for capturing the scoring title, garnering the type of recognition he truly deserves as one of the game’s elite forwards. Benn scored 35 goals and finished with 87 points to snag the Art Ross Trophy, recording four points in the Stars' season finale and 10 points over the final three games.
Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks The Hawks enter the postseason having dropped four straight, but Crawford has been impressive in keeping the team afloat during some serious offensive lulls. Crawford finished the season with a 32-20-5 record, .924 save percentage and 2.27 goals-against average.
Los Angeles Kings: Fatigue ultimately spelled the demise of the defending Stanley Cup champs, the Kings running out of gas down the stretch and missing the playoff cut entirely. Though just about everyone expected the battle-tested Kings to pull it together and make a charge down the stretch, the team just didn't have it. And it sounds as if players may be tired of coach Darryl Sutter as well, with the reports over the weekend that the team locked Sutter out of the locker room during a recent players-only meeting on the road. Kings general manager Dean Lombardi confirmed the incident Sunday but expressed faith in his team. Interesting that the Kings were the best possession team in the league yet could not snag a postseason berth.
Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars: Seguin had a sensational season, and it's easy to wonder what could've been for the Stars had he not been sidelined by a knee injury for several weeks. However, the young superstar was disciplined for showing up late to practice in the final week of the season. Stars coach Lindy Ruff said the matter would be dealt with internally and he delivered on that promise, scratching Seguin for the season finale.
Nashville Predators: The Preds limped to the finish line, dropping three straight in the final week of the regular season. Things are not getting any easier from here as Nashville faces Chicago in the first round. At least the Preds get the Hawks while Chicago is still awaiting Patrick Kane's return. That may be the only consolation in drawing one of the toughest matchups in the playoffs, though the Hawks faded down the stretch as well.
Kane on the mend: Kane missed the final 21 games of the season with a broken clavicle and will not be available to play when Chicago opens its first-round series against the Predators, but coach Joel Quenneville has left the door open for the possibility that Kane could return at some point during the first round.
Miller back in action: Ryan Miller made his return from a knee injury this weekend, starting for the Vancouver Canucks in their season finale against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday. Miller showed considerable rust -- not exactly a surprise given the time he missed -- surrendering five goals on 28 shots in the Canucks' 6-5 win. Fortunately for the Canucks, Eddie Lack’s stellar play in Miller’s absence will allow him some time to recover and shake off the cobwebs.
What to Watch For:
Playoffs in the Peg: Postseason hockey is coming back to Winnipeg, and we cannot wait to see the type of atmosphere that will await the Anaheim Ducks in the MTS Centre in Game 3 of their first-round series against the Jets. What a great story for the organization to secure a postseason berth despite playing in a stacked Central Division. Jets coach Paul Maurice has to be among the top candidates for this season's Jack Adams Award as coach of the year.
Goaltending questions: Frederik Andersen appears to be in line for the Ducks' starting netminder job when the team opens its series against the Jets, though no doubt coach Bruce Boudreau could turn to youngster John Gibson should Andersen falter. Gibson missed the team's season finale with a minor injury, but he will have some time to rest and recover before postseason play begins.
Flames continue run: No one expected the Calgary Flames to sustain their surprising run, especially after captain Mark Giordano went down with injury with six weeks left in the regular season, yet here they are, prepping for a first-round meeting with the Canucks. Bob Hartley has done one heck of a job with these overachieving Flames. Perhaps they have another upset left in them?