Sixteen hockey teams are about to hit the road, searching for the magic that will lead them to the Stanley Cup. It is the most difficult prize to attain, in all of the major sports. We are in early April, and the struggle often lasts into late May, even early June.
My early morning chuckle today came as a result of a perusal of a magazine printed last September. The fearless editor, having consulted with several other experts, boldly predicted the projected National Hockey League standings for this past year.
The Northeast Division was supposed to have Buffalo Sabres finishing first, with the Senators in the basement, trailing the Sabres by almost thirty points. The Senators will open against the Rangers on Thursday night in New York. The Sabres are golfing.
The Bruins are` seeded second in the playoff format, and will face the Washington Capitals. The Caps are led by Alexander Ovechkin, perhaps the most exciting player in the NHL. He can inspire the troops, but will have to deal with the Boston Giant, Zdeno Chara, throughout the series. The Bruins did hoist The Cup last year, but do not expect the same this year.
I do not think the era of the dynasty will ever return to hockey. The days of a string of several titles are gone. The Oilers, the Islanders, the Habs, and the Leafs all had great runs. There are too many extenuating circumstances affecting the game today to put together a string of titles. It begins, and probably ends, with money. General mangers build teams with good draft picks, great trades, and fortunate free agency signings. Great teams crumble when player agents see dollar signs in other cities. Loyalty goes out the window.
At the conclusion of the season last year, the Florida Panthers presented a pink slip to coach Peter DeBoer. He landed on his feet behind the bench in New Jersey. The Panthers have ended their ten year hiatus from playoff hockey, and are ready to face their opponents-the New Jersey Devils. Would there be a chance that DeBoer would like to win that series?
The Penguins are now at full strength, and are predicted to go deep into the playoffs. They must first deal with the Philadelphia Flyers, and great goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. There is plenty of fire-power on the Penguins bench, along with sufficient toughness. A special note of recognition to the efforts of Matt Cooke, former Wellington Duke, this year. He made significant adjustments to his game, and spent the entire season without being suspended. He still competes fiercely, but intelligently.
Over on the other coast, the battle of the Pacific will start on Wednesday night in Vancouver. The Canucks face the Kings, and are heavily favoured. The Kings have Jonathan Quick between the pipes, and he is one of the best in the league. Los Angeles superstar Anze Kopitar will try to ignite the Kings’ anaemic offence, ranked 29th out of thirty teams this year. The Canucks are still stinging after last year’s loss to the Bruins in the final. They have an agenda to win it all this year, but cannot ignore the pesky nature of the Kings.
The Phoenix Coyotes` were predicted to be the worst team in hockey this year. So much for that! They will face the Black Hawks who would love to taste the champagne again as they did only two years ago. Mike Smith has had an incredible season with the Coyotes, truly the main reason they are in the playoffs. Watch for Belleville’s Andrew`Shaw to mix things up for the Hawks.
The Red Wings will have their hands full with the Nashville Predators, especially with Pekka Rinne between the pipes. The Wings are a little long in the tooth, and they are hungry. The Predators were also spurned by the experts at the beginning of the season, and now find themselves in the hunt.
Finally, the Blues from St. Louis have come of age this season. Ken Hitchcock was hired as coach at the beginning of the season, and the team responded to his style. The Blues face the San Jose Sharks, led by Joe Thornton. Don’t expect the Sharks to lie down in defeat. They always seem to surprise, when it is least expected.
This round of playoffs will finish in late April, just in time for the Tulip Festival in Ottawa. The Senators hope the Ottawa citizenry will be parking at ScotiaBank Place, rather than touring the parks in the Capital Region.
April 9, 2012