The Playoffs are finally upon us, and they look to be amongst the most exciting in recent memory. Let's take a look at the key question that will determine each series.
(1) Washington Capitals vs. (8) New York Rangers:
Question: Will the Capitals offence (and defence)show up, or will the Rangers continue their dominance from the regular season?
The Rangers completely dominated the Capitals in the last three games they have faced each other. They won the three games by a combined total of 15-1. This is quite in line with the peculiar play of the Rangers this season, they are the worst team in the Playoffs based on their record, but carry the fourth best goal differential of all teams. When this team gets going beware.
Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin, all had below average regular seasons and will be needed desperately for the Capitals to beat the Rangers; a feat that should be an easy accomplishment for this remarkably talented group. That is unless they face a hot goaltender because we know what the outcome that will produce.....
(2) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (7) Buffalo Sabres:
Question: Will the Flyers of the first 55 games show up?
The Flyers were the top team in the conference for the majority of the season, and for whatever reason have been playing extremely poorly to finish off the season. This is in direct contrast to the their success last season, where they basically played the role of the Sabres, and made it all of the way to the Cup Finals. The Sabres have been playing some of their best hockey, and have a goaltender that is capable of stealing a series at any time. The Flyers need to get their grit and determination back to the way they played the first 55 games. It will help to get Chris Pronger back on defence, he is an absolute beast in the Playoffs. Interesting to note that the Leafs and Flyers basically reverse positions in the standings after the Versteeg trade, coincidence....... I think not! Watch the Sabres walk away with this one!
(3) Boston Bruins vs. (6) Montreal Canadiens:
Question: Will the Canadiens heart and determination, help them win this guaranteed slugfest?
If you are a fan of feisty, physical hockey, this is the perfect matchup. There are no two teams in the entire league and outside of Red Sox and Yankees, perhaps in the entire sports world that hate each other so much. After Zdeno Chara's unfortunate hit on Max Pacioretty, tensions went to another level. While Boston has the upper hand in every category on these Canadiens, (except special teams) the heart and determination that the Canadiens are expected to show, may fuel that with that extra spark that they need to win. Should be a great series.
(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Tampa Bay Lighning
Question: Will each teams star players actually show up and play?
Just to clarify, on the Pittsburgh side, I am not talking about Matt Cooke, because he is not undoubtedly unavailable until the second round, rather I was referring to the Golden Boy: Sid the Kid. He has not even been cleared for contact yet, but if he plays this gives the Penguins an unbelievable added weapon, and they will surely benefit from having the best player in the league rested for a Playoff run. Without Malkin already, the Penguins deserve a lot of credit for playing a stingy game and getting into the Playoffs.
For Tampa, I know that their star players are healthy, just Stamkos has not been producing lately. Seriously, what has happened to Stamkos?!? He had a ten goal lead on the Rocket Richard trophy, and he completely fell off the map. He lost the Rocket by five goals, and the Art Ross by 13 points. The most concerning part of this whole equation, is that he has been a -13 since the All-Star break. For a guy that is second in goals and plays for a Playoff team that is pathetic. If he decides to show up and play the way we all know he is capable of, it may throw the balance in favor of the healthier Lightning.
(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Chicago Blackhawks:
Question: Do the Blackhawks have the Canucks in a psychological chokehold?
To make one thing clear, if the rules stated that the number one seed can choose who they want to play, I am almost positive that the Canucks would have chose anyone else. The Blackhawks are on the minds of these guys so much, that Luongo even felt compelled to whisper in Kane's ear after beating him in the Gold Medal game, that he will see him in the Playoffs. What happened Playoff time? Of course they lost again in six games. This time though it looks to be different, the Canucks are the better team, and have been playing that way all season long. If they are able to break that psychological barrier, they should be able to dispose of the Hawks with ease.
C'mon Canucks, you are the only Canadian team with any chance at winning anything........ Actually scratch that, the Oilers won the lottery.
(2) San Jose Sharks vs. (7) Loas Angeles Kings:
Question: Who will do the scoring for this Kings team?
With Kopitar and Williams (possibly) not available for the Playoffs, the Kings have a serious lack of depth up front. With San Jose, playing the best hockey in the NHL, over the last 30 games, it is going to be a difficult task for the Kings talented defence to make up for the dearth of offence. Wasn't the Marco Sturm experience the biggest flop of the season?
The Sharks are clicking on all cylinders right now, and will prove very tough to beat. With the Stanley Cup winning goalie playing like a stud, this team is looking better and better this season and hopefully can finally get the Playoff monkey off their backs.
(3) Detroit Red Wings vs. (6) Phoenix Coyotes:
Question: Will goaltending be the deciding factor in this series?
The Phoenix Coyotes are most likely only in the Playoffs because of the play of Illya Bryzgalov. For the last two seasons he has adequately proven himself to be one of the best goalies in the business. The same cannot be true for the Red Wings. If there is any achilles heel to this teams success, aside from their age, it is their goaltending. Howard is 33rd and 36th respectively in SV% and GAA in the entire league. So while Zetterberg if he is healthy, and Datsyuk clearly outclass the bankrupt Coyotes, if Bryzgalov can outplay Howard, we could be in for an upset.
(4) Anaheim Ducks vs. (5) Nashville Predators:
Question: Will the Flashy Ducks outclass the most boring team in the Playoffs?
While Corey Perry has the entire league salivating over his play of the last month, Teemu Selanne, or also known as the Finnish Flash, has quietly been the 8th best scorer in the NHL this season, while doing it in only 73 games. They lead a top heavy Anaheim team that is surprisingly in 4th place in the West. The Preds play a grinding style of hockey, relying on hard work from four lines, as well as solid defensive game. Will this workmanship style, finally allow them to win a Playoff series? Only time will tell......
The Playoffs are a time when individual efforts can truly make the difference in the Playoffs. Check back in later this week with my list of the top ten impact players of this post season.
Hope you enjoyed!
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