By STEPHEN WHYNO, AP Hockey Writer
A few minutes after his New York Rangers moved into the second round of the NHL playoffs by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins, Gerard Gallant is no longer in the mind of moving to the next.
“I don’t even know who we’re going to play with,” Gallant said with a laugh.
This is the Carolina Hurricanes, coach. Game 1 on Wednesday night. Shortly afterwards, the Calgary Flames hosted the Edmonton Oilers in the first playoff rendition of the Battle of Alberta in 31 years.
Carolina and New York last met in the postseason in the best-of-five opening round of the 24-team expanded bubble playoffs in 2020. The fifth-seeded Hurricanes swept the 12th-seeded Rangers.
Before the Rangers beat the Penguins, Carolina captain Jordan Staal said any team would present a big challenge.
New York advanced to the second round for the first time since 2017 by beating the Penguins 4-3 in overtime in Game 7 on Sunday night. It was the third consecutive comeback win for the Rangers, who trailed 3-1 in the series.
“We’re not done yet,” Rangers center Mika Zibanejad said.
Connor McDavid led Edmonton against Los Angeles with 14 points in seven series games. The last time the Oilers and Flames met in the playoffs was almost six years before he was born.
Despite playing two seasons for Calgary, Oilers goaltender Mike Smith’s response on Saturday night to who he wants to play was was simple, “I really don’t care.”
The hockey community will be happy to take on the first Flames-Oilers series since 1991. A year after the creation of the North Division guarantees a Canada-based team in the last four, the same will happen to one from Alberta.
Calgary last reached the Cup Final in 2004 and Edmonton in 2006. Montreal in 1993 was the last team from Canada to win it all.
Much work remains to be done to end the country’s Cup drought.
“The work is not over yet,” Oilers defender Codi Ceci said. “We just have to refocus and prepare for the second round.”
Adding Florida Panthers deadline Brandon Montour could be of no interest in Game 7 between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night. Many of his teammates who were eliminated by the Lightning were delighted to see the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champions win to become their next opponent.
“I think a lot of guys want to play on this team,” Montour said Sunday. “There’s always a fight against these people, and we’re ready for the challenge and everyone’s excited there.”
The Lightning-Panthers were one of two second-round series rematches from last year. In the Western Conference, the top-seeded Colorado Avalanche will face off against St. Louis. Louis Blues that they swept from the playoffs in the first round in 2021.
As in the past, Florida has the advantage of home-ice. It doesn’t matter because Tampa Bay won the first two Sunrise games heading to knock the Panthers to six.
Sunshine State rivals split their four meetings during the regular season.
“People especially in Florida are begging for both teams to be contenders and go for it,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said in Toronto after Game 7 against the Maple Leafs. “They retooled their team and brought a lot of big names out there and it had to be a ton of fun. They were fun to play, they competed like hell and I think it’s very good for hockey.
Montour is far from the only player not part of the series last year. The Panthers added forward Sam Reinhart last summer and acquired defenseman Ben Chiarot and longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux by the trade deadline, while the Lightning signed Corey Perry and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and returned defenseman Zach Bogosian earlier in the season before going deeper. in March with Nick Paul and Brandon Hagel.
“These are the kinds of matchups I’m excited to do in action here,” Reinhart said. “It brings out the best and the enthusiasm of both teams.”
It was the first clash in the second round that was locked after Colorado swept Nashville and lost to St. Louis. Louis the Minnesota at six. It could also be the most fun, especially after Avalanche center Nazem Kadri chased down Blues defender Justin Faulk with an illegal head check on the series last year that prompted a eight -game suspension.
Kadri has had a career, the Blues have already dealt a series of injuries to their blue line and no one has forgotten that hit or the crooked nature of the series.
“I think it’s in the back of the guys’ minds, sure – they’re not happy about it, like no one else in the organization, ”coach Craig Berube told reporters on Saturday. “We have to focus now. Yes there is enthusiasm, sure, but you’re in the playoffs. You’re trying to win. What more enthusiasm do you need?”
There are some similarities with Wild in style of play, but Minnesota lacks Norris Finalist Cale Makar or skilled top-end forwards as big as Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog.
“That’s the difference,” Berube said. “You’re talking 230-, 225-pound men who are very good skaters, they’re strong guys. … You want to be physical for them, but there are times when you can’t match physically sometimes.”
Berube said his team needs to defend well and also score some goals. Avalanche knows the Blues have a lot of offensive depth.
“It’s a different attack because it’s not just a line you have to focus on,” Colorado defender Devon Toews said. “They have a full 12 forwards out there who can really score. It takes all four of our lines and all six of our D’s to stop that and slow it down and then make our break from it.
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham of Denver contributed.
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