We are half way though the 2010-11 NHL season and every one is talking about the All-Star roster and some midseason awards; but what if the playoffs were to start today?
Here is a look at what round one of the playoffs would look like if we were to drop the puck tonight for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Let us start off with the Eastern Conference:
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Atlanta Thrashers
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montreal Canadiens
Boston Bruins vs. New York Rangers
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals
Well look at that. A marketing teams dream pinning the Penguins up against the Capitals again. By all rights Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby should be back long before the play offs from his concussion but if not having an 0-2-1 record without him heading into the play offs would spell disaster for the Penguins looking to not be an early round wash again. Besides the fact that the Winter Classic jinx has anything to say with it the Capitals would beat the Penguins in the first round just to lose in the cup finals. Sorry Ovechkin but even changing the teams system and trying to be more defensive might not work out in the first season. But don’t worry – the Penguins didn’t win in 2008 after the first Winter Classic either.
A great Original 6 match up between the Bruins and the Rangers. Tim Thomas taking on Henrik Lundqvist in a goaltending show down. What more could a hockey fan want? Oh what about some rookies? This match up has that too with Boston’s Tyler Seguin and New Yorks’ Mats Zuccarello and Derek Stepan. Seguin’s first goal coming on the trip to Prague is impressive and memorable but then again Stepan scoring a hat trick in his NHL debut is a feat only seen by three others in NHL history.
Maybe not as marketable but still a good match up between the Mecca of hockey and an already Stanley Cup champ sun belt team. The Lightning fell from grace shortly after winning their cup and their hang over has lasted awhile. Not as long as Toronto but we wont go there. Bringing in Steve Yzerman as the new General Manager has given the Lightning that added “umph” that they needed.
Now the Flyers vs. the Thrashers match up may not be that interesting to many but when do we ever see the last place seed upset the first place one? Oh – last year. Keep your eye on the Thrashers. The 2010 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks pushed a bunch of their players there and they don’t have a hangover – they are out to prove themselves. Don’t think so? Just check out Dustin Byfuglien being one of the top offensive defenseman in the league this year and already sparking some Norris trophy talk (maybe just a bit premature). The Flyers have seen a rash of injuries and some goaltending controversies again – but that didn’t stop them from going to the Stanley Cup finals last season. With Ville Leino now getting a full season to mesh with teammates the play off dark horse might just stop the Thrashers in their tracks.
Time to check in with the other half of the league… the defensive driven Western Conference:
Vancouver Canucks vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Detroit Red Wings vs. Anaheim Ducks
Dallas Stars vs. Colorado Avalanche
Nashville Predators vs. Phoenix Coyotes
Keep an eye on the West as 3rd place and 12th place are only separated by 11 points.
The Canucks are quietly dominating the West right now three points ahead of the second place Red Wings and with a game in hand. Making a push for that Presidents Trophy might just be a costly mistake – ie 2010 Washington Capitals. Henrik and Daniel Sedin with the help of Ryan Kesler will eventually need some time to rest before they burn out heading into the post season and they wont get it during the All-Star break. The Chicago Blackhawks are suffering with the Stanley Cup hangover from… well, you get it. The team was broken down, and restructured. They lost Stanley Cup winning goaltender Antti Niemi to the San Jose Sharks and signed long time Dallas goalie Marty Turco (who has won once inside of Joe Louis Arena verse hated Chicago rivals the Red Wings). Welcome to the Salary Cap era everyone. They still have major factors like their captain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa up front and Duncan Keith on the back end…
The Detroit Red Wings might be the eldest group in the NHL but they also hold the most Stanley Cups. Captain Nicklas Lidstrom, Kris Draper, and Tomas Holmstrom have 4 a piece. Everyone wants their kid to be a superstar but is it so bad to want them to play like Homer? Injuries have struck the team again this year – seeing Mike Modano, Pavel Datsyuk, Dan Cleary, Chris Osgood, and Brad Stuart all go down long term. Just remember last year and all the injuries and they still made the play offs – this team is built for endurance. In what is probably Teemu Selanne’s last season who wouldn’t want to see him go out huge? He and Ducks’ teammate Saku Koivu have already retired from the Finnish National team the NHL is the next step. But with players like Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry and Cam Fowler (first round draft pick in 2010) the franchise is in a transition period as much as most of the NHL is. Besides who doesn’t want to see a repeat of the 2008 play off match up between the two teams… think Perry has heard of Jonathan Ericsson yet?
The Stars roster is without Mike Modano for the first time since moving from Minnesota to Texas. Having just reacquired Jamie Langenbrunner from the New Jersey Devils the Stars look to make a push for another Stanley Cup; with Kari Lehtonen signaling the end of the Turco era in net for Dallas they might just stand a chance. While the Avalanche have gone younger. With the retirements of Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic the Avalanche knew they needed to build for the future and have they! Matt Duchene is coming into his own as a young star that will be the long-term face of the franchise for a team that seems to have lost some of its identity with the retirement of Sakic.
The Nashville Predators, lead by captain Shea Weber on the blueline, missed the play offs last year and have yet to win an away game in the play offs. They have never won a cup, a conference championship nor their division but they haven’t given up yet. With Dan Ellis now with the Lightning the hopes of the Predators getting past the first round rest on the shoulders of 28 year old Pekka Rinne. The 6’5” Finnish goalies is currently 4th in the NHL from save percentage (.928) and 3rd in the league for goals against average (2.11) and will need help from forwards Steve Sullivan and Sergei Kostitsyn to be offensive forces – can’t win if you can’t score. Now the Phoenix Coyotes are no longer the stealth from the desert they were last year but still riddled with financial and ownership problems the players and staff are still taking to the ice each night (well Paul Bissonnette may not be hitting the ice EVERY night) and giving it their best shot. Captain Shane Doan went out injured last season in the playoffs and saw the Red Wings defeat the Coyotes while he sat in the press box – if Doan can stay health and inspire his team to prove last year wasn’t a fluke and they could become Rinne’s worst nightmare.
Edit: Okay as pointed out below in the comments I am wrong at about the Predators missing the play offs last season. They did infact play the Blackhawks in the first round. It was the 2009 playoff I was thinking of. Thanks Predator fans for point it out. My mistake.
These match up’s would not be a horrible way to start the play offs; but there is still a lot of hockey left before the play off beards start to grow.
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