The NHL playoffs are off to a heart-pounding start with a record 17 games going to overtime in the first round.
The end-to-end, hard-hitting action with storied franchises and superstars might become intriguing enough to attract some casual fans for the conference semifinals.
Original Six teams – Chicago and Detroit, Boston and the New York Rangers – are paired up in each conference for the first time since the 1992 postseason.
And the other two second-round matchups aren’t too shabby.
The last five champions – Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Detroit – all have a chance to be the first to win two Stanley Cups in the salary cap era.
The Penguins were scheduled to get their series started Tuesday night at home against Ottawa, and the defending champion Los Angeles Kings were to follow by hosting the San Jose Sharks.
Chicago, the NHL’s top-seeded team, will renew a rivalry against seventh-seeded Detroit on Wednesday night in the Windy City. After getting a much-needed break following Game 7s, the fourth-seeded Bruins will host the sixth-seeded Rangers on Thursday night in their first postseason matchup since 1973.
The last time Original Six teams faced each other on both sides of the NHL postseason bracket beyond the first round was the division finals in 1992 when Montreal and Boston played in the Wales Conference while the Blackhawks and Red Wings met in the Campbell Conference, according to STATS.
Since then, the NHL has had three work stoppages, including one this season that started the season Jan. 19 and shortened it to a 48-game sprint.
The timing off the Original Six-heavy playoffs, leading to four major markets likely spiking TV ratings, seems to be the shot the sport needs.
“I think it’s great for the league,” Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader said. “Anytime you have Original Six team matchups or Original Six teams in the playoffs, it’s great.
“We’re looking forward to playing Chicago one last time before we change conferences.”
The Red Wings will be in the Eastern Conference next season as part of the league’s realignment plan, making their 13th best-of-seven series against the Blackhawks even more interesting.
Detroit, though, will have to fare better than it did against Chicago in the regular season to make the matchup compelling after the preseries hype fades. The Blackhawks, the NHL’s top-seeded team, beat the Red Wings twice in shootouts, once in overtime and by a 7-1 score in another game.
“Maybe we had their number during the regular season, but this is different,” said Chicago forward Marian Hossa, who played for Detroit the last time the teams met in the playoffs four years ago when the Red Wings rolled toward the Stanley Cup finals. “When I saw how they played (against Anaheim), they’ve extremely picked up their game and played well.
“We will have to be better than we were against Minnesota if we want to win.”
Boston couldn’t have finished better in the first round, becoming the first team to win a Game 7 after trailing by three goals in the third.
The Bruins were down by two with 90 seconds left, scored twice in a 31-second span and beat Toronto – another Original Six team – in the league’s 17th OT game of the postseason. The previous record for OT games in an opening round was 16, set last year.
The Rangers had a much easier time in their decisive game against Washington, winning 5-0 with Henrik Lundqvist becoming the first NHL goaltender to have shutouts in Games 6 and 7 since Detroit’s Dominik Hasek did it in 2002.
It was such a rout that New York forward Arron Asham was peeking at the Toronto-Boston score to see who the Rangers would play next.
“I looked up a few times and saw that Toronto was up 4-1, and that’s who I thought we’d face,” Asham said. “A few minutes later, it was a different story. It’s a tough way to lose.
New York took the three-game season series against the Bruins, winning a shootout and an OT game after opening the season with a 3-1 loss to them. But Boston coach Claude Julien is counting on his team building confidence from its comeback that might help its quest for consistency.
“That’s the one thing that I’m hoping, that we can grab that momentum that we had at the end and carry it into the next series,” Julien said. “We know we have to be better; we can’t keep playing well in spurts and not so well in other spurts.”
On the other side of North America, two teams will compete to be California’s best hockey club.
The fifth-seeded Kings and sixth-seeded Sharks are playing for the second time in the playoffs – San Jose eliminated Los Angeles in the opening round three years ago – and are the first teams from the Golden State to meet after the opening round of the playoffs.
“It’s a great thing for the state,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said.
Canada had one-fourth of the 16 teams in the playoffs when they began April 30. Now, the hockey-crazed country is left with only the seventh-seeded Senators going against one of the country’s own, Sidney Crosby, and the Penguins, the top-seeded team in the East.
Crosby has bounced back from a broken jaw well enough to have a point in each of his five games against the Islanders in the first round, with three goals and six assists to quiet questions about his health.
The superstar was eliminated by Ottawa in his first postseason in 2007 and helped Pittsburgh knock the Senators out of the first round the next year and 2010.
Adding a layer of drama to the series, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk called Penguins winger Matt Cooke “a goon” after his skate slashed the Achilles tendon of Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson on Feb. 13.
“I don’t think you need much motivation in the playoffs, but I think both teams should be pretty motivated,” Crosby said.
AP Sports Writers Jay Cohen in Chicago, Howard Fendrich in Washington, Josh Dubow in San Jose, Calif., and Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.