Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins start favourites ahead of NHL post-season

Both teams have won a league-best 36 games in a shortened season and could compete for the Stanley Cup.

Patrick Kane has been responsible for Chicago Blackhawks' win streak in the NHL this season. Perry Nelson / Getty Images / AFP
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The Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins, who each won a league-best 36 games in a shortened NHL season, are co-favourites in the Stanley Cup play-offs that start on Tuesday.

A campaign that began with acrimony over financial issues was revived by a Chicago team that set an NHL record by producing standings points in its first 24 games, going 21-0-3 before suffering a defeat in regulation-time.

Pittsburgh followed in March with a 15-game win streak, matching the second-longest victory run in NHL history, two shy of the league record the Penguins set in the 1992/93 season.

A four-month lockout over money issues was finally settled between players and club owners with a new collective bargaining agreement in January, but not before the season was reduced from 82 to 48 games per team.

As a result, the 2013 campaign was an intense 100-day charge to set up a full 16-team post-season that starts about three weeks later than normal, with a champion to be crowned in late June.

In the Western Conference first round, top seed Chicago will face Minnesota, second seed Anaheim will face Detroit, third seed Vancouver will meet San Jose and defending Stanley Cup champions Los Angeles will play fourth seed St Louis.

In the Eastern Conference first round, top seed Pittsburgh will meet the New York Islanders, second seed Montreal will play Ottawa, third seed Washington will face the New York Rangers and fourth seed Boston will play Toronto.

Chicago, sparked by Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, began the season 21-0-3 before suffering a regulation-time loss and the Blackhawks went on to finish with a NHL-low seven regulation defeats.

Minnesota slumped in the final month of the season and the Wild were the last team to clinch a play-off berth, winning their final game to sneak inside the line. Minnesota lost two of three regular-season games against Chicago.

Anaheim, powered by 15 goals from Ryan Getzlaf, started strong but will be tested by a Detroit side that beat them twice in three meetings, although the Red Wings, sparked by 15-goal scorer Pavel Datsyuk, were pushed to reach the play-offs for the 22nd year in a row.

San Jose won all three meetings this season against Vancouver, but the Canucks will be the higher seed after claiming the Pacific division crown for the fifth time in six years.

Los Angeles won all three meetings with St Louis this season and the Kings also swept the Blues out of the play-offs last season on the way to winning their first NHL crown.

Not since Detroit won in 1997 and 1998 has a team won back-to-back NHL titles.

The Blues finished the season 11-2 with solid play from goaltender Brian Elliott, much the way the Kings enjoyed a hot playoff run from netminder Jonathan Quick last season.

In the East, Pittsburgh will be expected to get past the Islanders even without star playmaker Sidney Crosby, who has missed the Penguins' past 12 games after suffering a broken jaw.

Washington boasts NHL goal scoring champion Alexander Ovechkin, the Russian superstar finding his form late in the season to finish with 32 goals, including 19 in the Captials' last 18 games.

Washington closed the season 15-2-2 to win the Southeast division and their 26.8 per cent power-play success rate is the NHL's best with the extra attacker.

The Rangers respond with Swedish star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who has a 1.76 goals-against average and a 93.4 percent save rate, and offensive punch of their own led by 21-goal scorer Rick Nash.

New York went 2-1 against the Capitals this season and ousted them in round two of last year's play-offs.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, in the play-offs for the first time since 2004, will meet a Boston club that lost seven of their last nine games and dropped a division title with a 4-2 loss to Ottawa in Sunday's regular season finale.

That victory elevated Montreal into the second seed in the East and put the Canadiens against Ottawa, which closed the season strong to clinch a post-season berth in the final week.

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