The greatest tournament in all of sports, the Stanley Cup Playoffs, start tonight. When you win the Cup, you've really earned something. You have to win 16 games, over the course of about eight weeks. It's a grueling, punishing trek that requires determination, perseverance and a bit of good luck. One key injury, one bad goal allowed at the wrong time, one poor coaching decision and it can call go up in smoke.
Each conference has a showcase series right off the bat. In the East, Boston vs. Montreal should hold a lot of drama. There are 50 years of bad blood between these two franchises, and their games this season were very physical, culminating in the Bruins' Zdeno Chara checking Montreal's Max Pacioretty into the glass in Montreal, breaking a vertebrae in Pacioretty's neck. Here's the video:
In the West, the Chicago Blackhawks face the #1 seed Vancouver Canucks, who have had an amazing regular season, winning the President's Trophy for the league's best record. The Blackhawks are not a normal #8 seed, however. They are the defending Stanley Cup Champions, who struggled early on because of a large number of injuries, and sneaked into the playoffs only because the Wild beat Dallas on the season's final day. Perhaps most important, they have knocked Vancouver out of the playoffs in each of the last two years, and are certainly the team the Canucks least wanted to see.
So, predictions, made more with my heart than with my head:
Washington over New York Rangers, six games. Watching Gaborik and Ovechkin light it up should be fun.
Buffalo over Philadelphia, six games. Philly is hurting, and has suspect goaltending. I like the Sabres' shot at an upset.
Boston over Montreal, seven games. Goalies matter a ton in the playoffs, and Tim Thomas is better than Carey Price.
Tampa Bay over Pittsburgh, five games. Too many injuries for the Penguins, and they're a tired team after a regular season full of too much drama.
Blackhawks over Canucks, six games. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville just knows how to beat these guys.
San Jose over the L.A. Kings, five games. The Sharks have been great over the past six weeks, but the franchise has a long history of playoff failure. But a big lack of playoff experience holds L.A. back.
Detroit over Phoenix, five games. Without Zetterberg, the Red Wings aren't quite the same team, but there's still a ton of playoff experience on the roster. One caveat: If Jimmy Howard is shaky in goal for Detroit, Bryzgalov could steal this series for Phoenix.
Nashville over Anaheim, six games. I admit to a soft spot in my heart for the Nashville franchise. I know one of their scouts, and my son attended goalie camp for several years with their goalie coach. They've not yet won a playoff series in their 11 years, but I think it's their time against a not-very-good Ducks squad.
We'll look at the second round later, but at last weekend's NCAA Frozen Four, I told everyone I saw who was wearing Bruins colors that "This is their year." We'll see.
Let the fun begin!