Let's take a look at just how fresh these teams are:
In The WestNot only did the St. Louis Blues win their quarterfinal matchup against the San Jose Sharks handedly, but they advanced to the conference semifinals for the first time since 2002. The Sharks have been regulars in the conference semis and finals the past 10 years, and it's nice to see the Blues moving on as a new face in Round Two for the first time since 2002. With lots of young talent and stellar goaltending, the Blues could be looking to make some noise and make their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance since being swept 3 consecutive years in a row upon their inception into the NHL during the 1967 expansion.
The Los Angeles Kings bumped the Presidents' Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks in 5 games, moving onto the second round for the first time since 2001. After 3 straight years of advancing past the first round, the Canucks will be spectators from this point on and watch as the Kings battle it out to earn a birth in the conference finals and a chance to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. While the Kings have been to the Finals before (curse you Kerry Fraser), they also have missed out on the playoffs 11 years since that run so there are some eager Kings fans out there looking for a deep playoff push.
The Nashville Predators advanced to the second round for the 2nd time in their franchise history after knocking out the 2008 Stanley Cup Champion, Detroit Red Wings, who are accustomed to lengthy playoff runs. The Preds are a true expansion success putting up 7 consecutive 40-win seasons in one of the hardest divisions in hockey, and will be looking to get a taste of the Conference Finals action for the first time with one of their best teams in franchise history. However, if the team does not succeed, they will be answering a lot of questions this summer with a plethora of UFAs and RFAs to sign.
The Phoenix Coyotes won their first series in team history defeating the 2010 Stanley Cup Champion, Chicago Blackhawks, and won just their 3rd series in franchise history dating back to 1979-80 when the (first) Winnipeg Jets joined the NHL. For the Coyotes team, it's either been making the playoffs to be knocked out in the first round, or not in the playoffs at all, and with the way the team is playing this year (especially Mike Smith), not many people are complaining about their game.
It's either been a long time since one of these teams have been this far or it is literally uncharted territory for a few teams, so if you're a fan of different Cup competitors you have to be happy with the new blood battling it out in the Western Conference this year.
In The EastAfter back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals in 2008/2009, the Pittsburgh Penguins haven't been able to make it out of the first round these past two seasons. This year, it was the 2010 Stanley Cup finalist, Philadelphia Flyers, putting the Penguins out and they are now looking forward to another lengthy playoff run this year. While the Flyers are a fairly consistent team in the playoffs, the team make-up of their team is much different than their 2010 roster with 7 rookies already making their NHL playoff debuts. They are no doubt a fun team to watch as with Ilya Bryzgalov in net you never know what you're going to get..
The New York Rangers will be looking for their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance since 1994 and their first conference finals since 1997 after knocking out the Ottawa Senators in Round One. While they've made it to the Conference Semi's twice since the lockout, the Rangers are a much different team since then with a lot of depth and Henrik Lundqvist has developed into arguably one of the best goalies in the world. They just missed out on the Presidents' Trophy this year and these playoffs they'll be trying to show that they are the real deal.
The Washington Capitals knocked out the defending Stanley Cup Champion, Boston Bruins, to reach their 3rd Conference Semi-Final in 5 years. They've reached the Conference Finals twice, and the Stanley Cup Finals once, but have never hoisted the Cup in the Caps 36 year history. With a very strong team that underperformed in the regular season, the playoffs could be a chance for them to hit the reset button and really go on a tear. If the Caps are to move on, they will once again depend on 22-year-old Braden Holtby in net, who has definitely been their playoff MVP thus far.
The New Jersey Devils are the most recent Stanley Cup winner left (so don't cheer for them), although reaching the 2nd round is the furthest the Devils have gone since 2007. They are very strong up front with a potent offence, but have an aging Martin Brodeur in net (but it's still Marty Brodeur). They could be a great story moving forward with Brodeur winding down his career but they'll be in tough against Claude Giroux and the net-filling Flyers.
As a hockey fan with no team allegiance in these playoffs, it's fun to cheer for teams you don't usually see, and with practically every team in the Western Conference an underdog, these playoffs are demonstrating that parity is alive and well in the NHL with no clear Stanley Cup favourite among the eight remaining teams.