CHICAGO (AP) — The next playoff opponent for Washington, Minnesota and Tampa Bay is a reminder of painful losses for each team. It’s the second round that brings back bad memories for Anaheim.
Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals take on Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Thursday night, and the Ducks host the Calgary Flames in their series opener on the West Coast. Devan Dubnyk and the Wild begin their conference semifinal against the Blackhawks on Friday night in Chicago.
The last two times the Capitals were in the playoffs, they lost to the Rangers in a seven-game series. The Wild have been eliminated by the Blackhawks in each of the past two postseasons, including the second round a year ago. It was at this point in 2014 that the Ducks dropped a heartbreaking series to the Los Angeles Kings.
Lots of motivation all around.
“We look forward to the challenge,” said Ovechkin, who had two goals and three assists in Washington’s opening series against the New York Islanders. “It’s a great time of the year.”
The Lightning became the final team to make it to the second round when they beat Detroit 2-0 in Game 7 of their seesaw series Wednesday night. They advanced to a matchup with Montreal, which swept Tampa Bay out of the postseason a year ago.
Washington and the New York Rangers also met in the playoffs in 2009 and 2011, with the Capitals advancing each time. The Capitals are 23-19 in the postseason against the Rangers, dating to their first series in 1990, but no one on either side seems to put much stock in their playoff history — recent or otherwise.
“I can’t see it resembling anything from two years ago,” Rangers forward Rick Nash said. “New coaches, new systems, and the game evolves in two years.”
The same coaches and many of the same players will have important roles when Minnesota takes on Chicago. The Wild lost to the eventual NHL champion Blackhawks in five games in 2013, and then pushed them to six games a year ago.
Back in the middle of January, it looked as if Minnesota would be watching the playoffs at home. But a trade for Dubnyk solidified its situation in goal, and the Wild’s strong finish to the season carried over to a six-game win against St. Louis in the first round of the playoffs.
Next up is Patrick Kane and the Blackhawks.
“To sit here and say what’s different, I don’t know,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “I don’t know what’s different. Nothing’s different right now. They’ve beaten us two years in a row and so it’s up to us to prove that something is different. It’s up to us to make something different.”
Kane returned from a broken collarbone to help Chicago squeak past Nashville in six games in the first round. He appeared to grow more comfortable with each game in the series, finishing with two goals and five assists.
The play of the dynamic winger could be key for the Blackhawks against the defensive-minded Wild.
“If you say you could beat a team three years in the postseason, all in a row, three straight times, you know I’d probably think that would be pretty tough,” Kane said. “So we’re definitely up for a good challenge.”
Top-seeded Anaheim won the Pacific Division for the third straight season. But the Ducks are hoping for a longer run in the playoffs after dropping a seven-game series to Detroit in the first round in 2013 and last year’s loss to Los Angeles in the conference semifinals.
Anaheim had a 3-2 series lead against both the Red Wings and the Kings, and then dropped the last two games each time, including the finale at home.
“I’m antsy, so I’ve got to believe they’re antsy,” coach Bruce Boudreau said of his Ducks, who have been off since last Wednesday after a first-round sweep of Winnipeg. “They’re ready to get playing.”
Calgary is in the second round for the first time since in 2004, when it reached the Stanley Cup and lost in seven games to Tampa Bay. The Flames haven’t played since they finished off Vancouver on Saturday, providing plenty of time for defensemen T.J. Brodie, Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman to rest after their heavy use in the first round.
“Those guys have the power of recovering very well,” Calgary coach Bob Hartley said. “They’re great athletes and they want those minutes, they love those responsibilities. They’re giving us unbelievable hockey.”
AP Sports Writers Howard Fendrich, Tom Canavan and Jon Krawczynski contributed to this report.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.