It’s the age-old conundrum in the NHL.
The Presidents’ Trophy, given to the team with the most regular-season points, is a nice honour, and an achievement to note. But with only seven winners having moved on to a Stanley Cup title after snaring the award, it often begs the question:
Does anyone really want it?
Well, Vancouver answered that on Saturday, as the Canucks played with a purpose, posted a 3-0 win over Edmonton in the regular-season finale, won the Presidents’ Trophy and will be the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs.
“Our guys really came out and showed that they wanted to play well,” Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. “We pushed the pace, took the momentum, and showed we wanted this.”
Vancouver, which finished with 111 points and outlasted the St. Louis Blues (109) and the New York Rangers (109) for the regular-season’s top prize, will play Los Angeles in Round 1. The Kings fell to the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference as a result of a 3-2 overtime loss in San Jose.
Los Angeles, among the more inconsistent teams in the West, registered at least one point in its final six games.
“It’s where we want to be. We get a chance to play Vancouver,” Kings centre Jarret Stoll said. “We’re looking forward to it. We play well against them and we play well in their building. We feel like we’re a good team too, like we’re right there.”
“Los Angeles is a tough team. They are a well-structured team that loves to play a defensive type of game,” he said. “They are real dedicated to their system, and they’ve gotten some great goaltending.”
The Los Angeles-San Jose game also finalized the entire West picture. The No. 2 seed Blues will meet the No. 7 Sharks, while the No. 3 Phoenix Coyotes take on the No. 6 Chicago Blackhawks, and the No. 4 Nashville Predators collide with the No. 5 Detroit Red Wings.
It is the Canucks’ second-straight Presidents’ Trophy. Vancouver advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals last season before losing to the Boston Bruins in seven games.
The NHL will announce the entire first-round schedule on Sunday.
For Nashville, with 48 wins and 104 points, it was another step in the process of joining the West elite. The Predators will face a Detroit team that finished with 248 goals.
“We have to stay out of the box. We have to have discipline. They have an extremely dangerous power play,” Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne said. “They have personnel that can really make you pay. I think that’s one of the biggest things, just kind of play our game—play physical and play in their face.”
Phoenix posted 42 wins and 97 points en route to a Pacific Division title. The Coyotes will meet a Chicago team that finished on a 6-1-3 run.
“We’re a tight group. When we play the way we’re capable of playing, we’re a tough team to beat,” Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith said. “We got away from that a little, but we got back on track before the playoffs started. We were happy with the way we finished.”
Under the direction of new coach Ken Hitchcock, the Blues rallied from a poor start, finishing with 49 wins and a Central Division title. The latter was not easy, either. In that five-team division, only Columbus did not finish with at least 101 points. They will meet a Sharks team that closed with four straight wins.
“We’re healthy now. It shouldn’t be difficult to focus. The last 10 to 14 days, we knew we were going to make the playoffs. We were getting players back and were trying to find our footing,” St. Louis general manager Doug Armstrong said. “We’ve found it now. We worked very hard all season to get home-ice (advantage), and now we want to make sure we maintain it.
“I think this team is ready.”
The East post-season mix was completed when the Panthers defeated the Carolina Hurricanes, 4-1, securing the Southeast Division crown and the No. 3 post-season seed. They will meet the No. 6 New Jersey Devils.
It’ll be a reunion of sorts for both franchises. Florida centre John Madden began his career in New Jersey and won two Stanley Cup titles there. And Panthers goaltender Scott Clemmensen was once a backup to New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur. On the other side, Devils coach Peter DeBoer held the same title with Florida just last season.
“Certainly I’ve been thinking about it, but we’re not worried about that. We know what (DeBoer) brings and what type of style they play,” Florida centre Stephen Weiss said. “They’re going to be tight defensively, you’re not going to have a lot of ice and we’re going to have to earn all of our chances.”
New Jersey, which missed the post-season for the first time since 1996 last year, won six straight games to close.
“It’s one of the things we talked about. We wanted to get into the playoffs playing well. We’ve played as good of hockey as anyone else in the league,” Brodeur said. “Now, the regular season is over.”
The Rangers, who reserved the East top seed on Tuesday, will meet the No. 8 Ottawa Senators, who drifted to the last seed after losing three in a row to close. New York will have home-ice advantage against any team not named Vancouver.
“I think we will look forward to starting the new season. It’s always a long year and a big grind,” Senators forward Daniel Alfredsson said. “We’ll have three or four days to get our legs going. We’ll bounce back and play some better hockey.”
The other two East series feature the No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins meeting the No. 5 Philadelphia Flyers, and the No. 2 Bruins taking on the No. 7 Washington Capitals.
“I think it’s going to be a rough series. It won’t be easy,” Flyers forward Claude Giroux said. “We’re a young team with a lot of injuries and we’ve got to make sure we go out there and outwork the Penguins.”
Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, who played in just 22 regular-season games, will be front and centre. He scored his eighth goal Saturday, in the Penguins’ 4-2 win over the Flyers.
“I expect a pretty intense series. If anything prior to this is any indication, that’s pretty fair to say,” Crosby said. “Those are the kind of series you want to be a part of.”
The champion Bruins again won the Northeast, but did not get an easy draw. Alex Ovechkin, who finished with 38 goals, rallied the Capitals from a dismal start and almost stole the Southeast from Florida.
“We had ups and downs, but now we start that new season that everybody gets excited about,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “And we’ve got as good a chance as anybody else to win.”