NHL Playoff Preview: A Look at Teams Playing Today

TOsports.caCorrespondent IApril 21, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - APRIL 19:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against Jeff Carter #17 of the Philadelphia Flyers during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Round of the 2009 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs  at the Wachovia Center on April 19, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers won the game 6-3 to cut the Penguins lead in the series to two games to one.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers

It doesn’t get any better than this, does it?

Two teams that absolutely hate each other, a fan base that hates the other fan base—this series has all the ingredients to see bloodshed every night.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are up two games to one, but you just get the feeling that this series is going seven, don’t you?

Heart, determination, speed, finesse, and good bounces will all be factors in determining the winner in this series—and a little luck wouldn’t hurt either.

On Pittsburgh’s end, Evgeni Malkin leads the league with four goals and seven points in the postseason thus far, while Sidney Crosby and Sergei Gonchar each have four assists, cementing their reputations as great set-up men. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has been good, but not great, leaving the door open for a Flyers comeback.

The Flyers looked all but dead, then came home and whopped the Penguins 6-3, showing all that they will not just lay down for the Penguins. Simon Gagne, hampered by injuries last season, has been a warrior for the Flyers leading the team with three goals.

Tenacity, toughness and heart will not be a problem for the Flyers, goaltending and defensive positioning will. Martin Biron has been shaky to say the least, and will need to play better.

Look for more of the same from this series, big hits, lots of scrums after the play and fast paced high-scoring hockey. In the end, I see Pittsburgh pulling this one out. Home ice advantage is still theirs—a huge factor if this series goes seven games (which I still feel it will).


Carolina Hurricanes vs. New Jersey Devils

Surprise! It’s playoff time and Martin Brodeur is playing awesome!

How could I ever have gone against the great Marty Brodeur? The Carolina Hurricanes were perhaps the hottest team heading into the playoffs, the ingredients for an upset over the Devils was all there—and just like that, “poof,” it’s all gone—thanks in part to the great play of Brodeur.

The Hurricanes have a grand total of five goals in three games, which is simply not good enough to beat the Devils.

The Devils are also getting great efforts from Zack Parise, who has three goals, 16 shots, and five points thus far, and Johnny Oduya, who has been stellar on defense. And even though his numbers don’t look great, Travis Zajac has continued to be an integral part of the Devils' offense.

Carolina has looked slow and out of position most nights, I would be surprised to see them pull off the series win, but anything is possible. Devils in six.


Detroit vs. Columbus

Most of us predicted Detroit Red Wings would take this series in five games—thus far those predictions look good to stand up. Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason has been solid in net, but the Jackets' lack of depth down the middle and the Red Wings' power play have killed them.

Johan Franzen and Jiri Hudler lead the series in scoring with three points each—and as expected Henrik Zetterberg, Nik Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski. and Marian Hossa, while not tearing up the stat sheets yet, have not disappointed.

The biggest question heading into the series was weather or not Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood would be playoff ready. Well, Ozzie leads the League with a .978 save percentage and a 0.50 goals-against average. Any questions?

Going forward, I think it’s safe to say the Blue Jackets will have it tough against the Wings deep roster. Rick Nash remains pointless—in fact, the Jackets have only managed one goal thus far, which does not bode well for them.

Mason may be able to steal a game, but it’s looking more and more likely that this series will be a sweep.


Vancouver Canucks vs. St. Louis Blues

St. Louis had a ton of momentum heading into the playoffs, and for the most part they have played the Canucks tightly. That said, the Blues have not been good enough and likely face elimination on Tuesday night.

Outside of a tough goal yesterday, Blues goaltender Chris Mason has been good enough to win. But it has been the Blues inability to score on a couple of key five-on-three situations that has been the difference in the series thus far.

On the Canucks' side, goaltender Roberto Luongo has been money and the Sedin Twins have a combined nine points through three games, proving they can elevate their games in the playoffs.

The Blues had a nice season, but in the end their inexperience has not served them well. Vancouver will eliminate them in four or five games, and the resulting rest will serve Canucks well going forward.