MINNEAPOLIS (GopherSports.com) - Eight former Gophers are set to compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the postseason gets underway on Tuesday night.
Alex Goligoski, Erik Johnson, Keith Ballard, Erik Haula, Jordan Leopold, Nick Leddy, Thomas Vanek and Paul Martin will represent the Maroon & Gold in the NHL postseason as will Columbus head coach Todd Richards.
The group will try to add to Minnesota's 10 names already inscribed on the Stanley Cup with Goligoski (2009) and Leddy (2013) looking to become the first Gophers to earn two Stanley Cups as players (Bob Johnson coached Pittsburgh to a Cup win in 1991 and was posthumously included in 1992).
Gophersports.com breaks down each first round matchups with Gophers implications.
Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars
Dallas is making its first playoff run since 2008 while Gophers alum Alex Goligoski is back playing for the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2010 as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Goligoski has played in 15 NHL playoff games in his career with 10 points (two goals, eight assists). The All-American won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009 - his first full season in the NHL. The defenseman played in a career-best 81 games for the Stars this season with 42 total points (six goals, 36 assists).
Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild
This series boasts three former Gophers in action as Erik Johnson and the Avalanche face off against Keith Ballard, Erik Haula and the Wild.
The first overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Johnson will be making his first Stanley Cup playoff appearance in his seventh year in the league. He'll also do it playing against the team he grew up watching in Bloomington, Minn. Johnson had a career season for the Avalanche this year - setting career bests in games (80) and assists (30) while his 39 points tied his career best and his nine goals were one off his best year (both came in 2009-10 with St. Louis).
The Gophers' leading scorer a year ago, Haula signed with the Wild following the NCAA tournament and quickly made the climb to the NHL this season. The forward played in 46 games for Minnesota this season with 15 points (six goals, nine assists). The Pori, Finland native is making his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut in his rookie season.
Haula's teammate and fellow Minnesota alum, Keith Ballard is making his third career playoff appearance and his first with the Wild after signing with the team in the offseason. The blue liner played in 14 playoff games with Vancouver between 2011 and 2012 with one assist in the postseason. In 45 games this season with the Wild, Ballard tallied nine points (two goals, seven assists).
St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago
The second case of Gopher vs. Gopher in the playoffs comes in the form of Jordan Leopold and the Blues against Nick Leddy and Blackhawks.
Leopold is making his eighth-career playoff run with 65 playoff games under his belt. The 2002 Hobey Baker Award winner has 16 career assists in the postseason. The defenseman played in 27 games for the Blues this season with six points (one goal, five assists).
Now in his fourth NHL season, Leddy is making his fourth NHL playoff appearance. The blue liner helped Chicago win the Stanley Cup one year ago while the Blackhawks are trying for back-to-back titles this year and the team's third title in five years. Leddy has played in 36 career playoff games with five points (one goal, four assists). He played in all 82 games this season (tying a career best) while his seven goals were the most in his four-year career. Leddy added 24 assists in the regular season to total 31 points this year.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montreal Canadiens
Thomas Vanek fans had a hard time following the former Gopher this season. The forward started the year with Buffalo, was traded to the New York Islanders 13 games into the season and was then dealt again at the trade deadline to Montreal. The moves worked out in the long-run for Vanek, as his final home for 2013-14 is the only one of his stops this season to make the playoffs.
Vanek is making his fifth playoff appearance this season with 36 games and 20 points (15 goals, five assists) to his credit.
The Austrian tallied 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) in 78 games this season while it's also worth pointing out that Vanek spent the mid-season break representing Austria at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Russia.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Paul Martin's 67 NHL playoff games are the most among Gophers in this year's playoffs while the defenseman is making his 10th Stanley Cup run - having reached the postseason in every year he's played in the NHL (*2004-05 due to the NHL lockout). Martin has 30 career playoff points (five goals, 25 assists). Martin played in 39 games for the Penguins this season with 15 points (three goals, 12 assists) and battled injuries throughout the season. He was one of three Gophers to play for the U.S. at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Russia (Wheeler, Kessel).
It's also worth noting that Martin and the Penguins will take on Columbus, which is coached by former Gopher All-American Todd Richards. Richards has the Blue Jackets in the playoffs for just the second in time in the organization's brief history.
-Pride on Ice-