It's time to start the most exciting tournament in all of sports.
Tonight, the Minnesota Wild begin their third postseason campaign for Lord Stanley's Cup. After losing last year to the eventual champion Anaheim Ducks, the Wild are hoping to get by the quarterfinal this year.
Standing in their way are the fully replenished Colorado Avalanche. If the end of the season is any indication, this series is going to be hotly contested right down to the wire.
Last year, the Minnesota Wild learned a few lessons, one of them being that toughness can still win championships.
After being out muscled from the playoffs by the Ducks, the Wild went out and acquired some toughness at defense in Sean Hill.
Also, during the season they called up gritty Aaron Voros, who racked up a team high 141 PIM this season. And that was in a mere 55 games!
At the trade deadline, they acquired the controversial Chris Simon. Even though it was not a Brad Richards or Marian Hossa trade, it still added even more depth in toughness.
Lesson two from last year was more of a discovery. Nicklas Backstrom can goaltend.
Finishing eighth in the league in GAA, the Wild certainly can lean on the solid Backstrom and rely on him to come through.
The Wild can use their safety net to come out firing in the first game, and although it's not coach Jacques Lemaire's style, expect him to be a bit more aggressive against the offensively potent Avalanche team.
In order to be successful, the Wild will need to slow down the stars of the Colorado Avalanche.
The Avs lineup looks more similar to the team that was eliminated by the Wild to spark their 2003 Cinderella run to the semi-finals with the last season additions of Forsberg and Foote.
Just replace Patrick Roy with Jose Theodore, Chris Drury with Peter Statsny, and Peter Forsberg with a, well, an older Peter Forsberg. The Wild will be relying on that toughness they've been building up to get through this series and hopefully see more tears from Ryan Smyth.
Playing for the first time ever in the playoffs with home ice advantage, the crowd of St. Paul will try and carry the team into the next round.
However, Wild fans and players should be used to this by now. After all, the Northwest Division of the Western Conference was so close all season long that it came down to the last few games of the season to determine who would make the playoffs and in what order.
Every game of the last month of the season has carried playoff implications, raising the caliber of hockey up a notch. I believe this has prepared the Wild well, as they have not only faced the adversity of high pressure, but know they can overcome it.
If the Wild are thankful for one thing in the playoffs, it's that they can't get into a shootout with Colorado.
The Avs seemed to have the magical touch during shootouts in the regular season. However, all that is for naught in the playoffs, as endurance is now the key word. They need the endurance to make it through one game, seven games, and four series.
I expect every game in this series to be close and evenly matched. I see this series going six games with the Wild prevailing.
Look for Minnesota native Mark Parrish to be an impact player. His success could determine the fate of the team as it's usually the unsung heroes who carry the playoff torch.
It's that time again, when every Brian Rolston windup, every Joe Sakic opening, and every touch of the puck by Marian Gaborik create a certain excitement that can only be felt in the NHL playoffs.