Published On: Sun, Mar 4th, 2018

3 playoff series we'd love to see this spring

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About a month remains in the regular season, and with the playoffs now just around the corner, it’s not too soon to daydream about tantalizing potential matchups.

With that in mind, here are three playoff series we’re dying to take in this spring:

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Florida Panthers

You’ve heard of the Battle of Alberta, but how about the Battle of the Sunshine State?

The red-hot Panthers have surged in recent weeks, and sit just one point outside of a playoff position entering Sunday’s contest against the Philadelphia Flyers. If the team can keep up its recent play, it should secure the East’s second wild card for an opening-round date with the cross-state Lightning.

The two sides have never met in the playoffs – the Panthers have made the postseason only once in the past five years, and just twice in the last 16 seasons. But these aren’t your same old Cats.

Since Feb. 1, Florida has accumulated 22 points, good for the NHL’s fourth-best total over that stretch, and is essentially neck and neck with a Tampa Bay squad that has posted an 11-4-1 showing over its past 16 games. The Lightning will enter the playoffs as a favorite to win the Stanley Cup – their second since 2004 – but momentum means a lot in the spring, and the Panthers have no shortage in recent weeks.

Throw in exciting talents like Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, and the ever underrated Aleksander Barkov, and Florida won’t make life easy for the Bolts.

Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Rivalries are made in the playoffs, and the Flyers and Penguins already have a great one. Arguably the NHL’s best.

Who wouldn’t want to see a repeat of 2012, when the Flyers and Penguins last connected in the postseason? That wild opening-round series served up some silly results – the Flyers took Games 2 and 3 by 8-5 and 8-4 scores – before the Pittsburgh hammered Philly 10-3 in Philadelphia in Game 4.

These two sides share significant hostility toward one another. Going back to 2012, Game 3 served 158 minutes in penalties, including seven misconducts, and the following game also reached triple-digit PIMs.

After a slow start this season – the Penguins were outside of the playoff picture at the beginning of January – the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions are back to their old selves and look poised to capture a third straight title.

Much like in Pittsburgh, it’s been a roller-coaster year in Philadelphia, one that included an 10-game winless streak near the end of 2017 that left fans calling for coach Dave Hakstol’s dismissal, followed by a 10-1-2 showing to close out February.

Nashville Predators vs. Winnipeg Jets

Shifting to the West, hockey fans were treated Tuesday to what might ultimately become a battle of the titans. The Jets and Predators traded chances in a wild 6-5 Nashville win that proved to be one of the best games of the season.

Unfortunately, the two squads are unlikely to link up until at least the second round. Should that happen, prepare for a fun series, as the Jets and Preds play some of the NHL’s most exciting brands of hockey, and have the offensive chops to prove it, with both clubs sitting in the top seven in goals scored.

Both sides are loaded with talent, and the argument could be made that both are strong contenders to win it all. The Predators proved as much a year ago when they pushed the Penguins to Game 6 of the finals, and they’re even better this time around.

Meanwhile, the Jets offer a perfect balance of young skill in Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers mixed with talented vets in Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien. The team also bulked up for a long run this spring by acquiring center Paul Stastny at the deadline.

The Predators put on a show en route to last year’s Stanley Cup Final with raucous affairs at Bridgestone Arena, and a similar fan atmosphere is sure to show up in Winnipeg as the franchise remains in pursuit of its first playoff win.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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