Stanley Cup playoffs: 5 matchups to watch in 1st round

Crosby faces old nemesis Marc Staal, snipers Kane, Tarasenko duel

On Feb. 10, the New York Rangers met the challenge head-on and passed.

Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, who entered the first of a four-game season series with 12 points in his previous four games, failed to record a shot on goal and extend an 11-game points streak. The Rangers defence, led by Dan Girardi and Marc Staal, smothered Crosby and company, and outhit their longtime rivals 46-25.

Crosby was on the ice for all three New York goals in the 3-0 loss while Staal was a plus-two with three blocked shots and two hits. With Rangers defenceman Ryan McDonagh unlikely to start the playoffs, Staal might be in Crosby’s face a lot in the first-round series between the teams.

It is one of many head-to-head matchups to keep an eye on early in the post-season.

Sidney Crosby vs. Marc Staal

Even with the New York Rangers’ top defensive pair of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh not expected to be 100 per cent for the start of their series against Pittsburgh, it might not disrupt head coach Alain Vigneault’s plan for Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. Marc Staal is the Rangers blue-liner who has given Crosby a hard ride in recent years, dating back as far as 2009 (see video below) and holding Sid the Kid to a goal and three points in seven games in the 2014 conference semifinals.

Crosby had three goals and four points in as many games against New York in the regular season and has been on fire since Mike Sullivan took over as coach, scoring 30 of his 36 goals in the past 53 games.

Jaromir Jagr vs. John Tavares

Call it the teacher versus student battle of the first round. Jagr, who led the Florida Panthers in scoring this season with 66 points at age 44, will try to guide them as they seek their first playoff series win since 1996. The Jagr-Aleksander Barkov-Jonathan Huberdeau line can dominate games with its creative passing and ability to control the puck. Jagr has 199 points in 202 NHL playoff games.

Tavares, 25, is brimming with confidence after recording nine points in his final four regular-season games. The seven-year centre lacked a star winger on his line but managed 33 goals and has five goals and 11 points in 13 post-season contests for the Islanders, who most recently won a playoff round in 1993 against Jagr and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Patrick Kane vs. Vladimir Tarasenko

It’s the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues meeting in the playoffs for the second time in three years, a first-round series featuring the NHL’s Art Ross winner in Kane with his 106 regular-season points against Tarasenko, who finished fourth in goal-scoring with 40, six behind Kane. The 27-year-old Kane had five points in five games in the season series and carries a five-game points streak (seven goals, 12 points) into the playoffs, a far cry from his franchise-record 26-game run that ended in mid-December.

Tarasenko, 24, was a beast against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, scoring five times and adding two assists in five outings. Two of the goals were overtime winners while another forced the extra period.

Ryan Getzlaf/Corey Perry vs. Shea Weber/Roman Josi

Undoubtedly one of the reasons Anaheim forward Ryan Getzlaf was thrilled to have Nashville defenceman Shea Weber as a teammate for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia was because he didn’t have to go one-on-one against him on the ice. That won’t be the case Friday when the NHL veterans go head-to-head in California, with Ducks’ standout right-winger Corey Perry likely skating alongside Getzlaf. While neither finished inside the top 30 in league scoring, Getzlaf (63 points) and Perry (62) are always a threat to score.

The steady Weber is a perennial Norris Trophy favourite and has seven consecutive 82-game campaigns of 40-plus points. His defence partner, Roman Josi, set a single-season scoring record for Predators defencemen with 61 points and was a first-time all-star.

Jonathan Quick vs. Martin Jones

The former Kings goalie tandem of Jonathan Quick and Martin Jones will be at opposite ends of the ice when Los Angeles meets San Jose in Round 1. Quick has much more playoff experience with 76 Stanley Cup playoff appearances to Jones’ two. Jones was the backup when Quick led the Kings to a Cup victory in 2014. Quick, who was also the playoff MVP during their championship run in 2012, set a single-season franchise record for wins with 40 this season and boasts a 2.22 goals-against average in the NHL playoffs.

Jones’ playoff resume is made up of two brief relief appearances, but he did learn about competition level while playing behind Quick. The North Vancouver, B.C., native is fresh off a strong regular season, with a 2.27 GAA and .918 save percentage.

Article Written By: Doug Harrison