“We’re a tight group. When we play the way we’re capable of playing, we’re a tough team to beat,” Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith said. “We got away from that a little, but we got back on track before the playoffs started. We were happy with the way we finished.”
Under the direction of new coach Ken Hitchcock, the Blues rallied from a poor start, finishing with 49 wins and a Central Division title. The latter was not easy, either. In that five-team division, only Columbus did not finish with at least 101 points. They will meet a Sharks team that closed with four straight wins.
“We’re healthy now. It shouldn’t be difficult to focus. The last 10 to 14 days, we knew we were going to make the playoffs. We were getting players back and were trying to find our footing,” St. Louis general manager Doug Armstrong said. “We’ve found it now. We worked very hard all season to get home-ice (advantage), and now we want to make sure we maintain it.
“I think this team is ready.”
The East postseason mix was completed when the Panthers defeated the Carolina Hurricanes, 4-1, securing the Southeast Division crown and the No. 3 postseason seed. They will meet the No. 6 New Jersey Devils.
It’ll be a reunion of sorts for both franchises. Florida center John Madden began his career in New Jersey and won two Stanley Cup titles there. And Panthers goaltender Scott Clemmensen was once a backup to New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur. On the other side, Devils coach Peter DeBoer held the same title with Florida just last season.
“Certainly I’ve been thinking about it, but we’re not worried about that. We know what (DeBoer) brings and what type of style they play,” Florida center Stephen Weiss said. “They’re going to be tight defensively, you’re not going to have a lot of ice and we’re going to have to earn all of our chances.”
New Jersey, which missed the postseason for the first time since 1996 last year, won six straight games to close.
“It’s one of the things we talked about. We wanted to get into the playoffs playing well. We’ve played as good of hockey as anyone else in the league,” Brodeur said. “Now, the regular season is over.”
The Rangers, who reserved the East top seed on Tuesday, will meet the No. 8 Ottawa Senators, who drifted to the last seed after losing three in a row to close. New York will have home-ice advantage against any team not named Vancouver.
“I think we will look forward to starting the new season. It’s always a long year and a big grind,” Senators forward Daniel Alfredsson said. “We’ll have three or four days to get our legs going. We’ll bounce back and play some better hockey.”
“I think it’s going to be a rough series. It won’t be easy,” Flyers forward Claude Giroux said. “We’re a young team with a lot of injuries and we’ve got to make sure we go out there and outwork the Penguins.”View Entire Story
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