We're back with another long awaited "Voices from a Stranger" piece. It's been a while, but one of our most loyal readers stepped up. This one is especially great because it talks about something we don't ever talk about---the NHL! I know this is a couple days late, but you'll be reading a fantastic breakdown of the NHL playoffs. For all of you greasy haired, playoff bearded, a little on the crazy side hockey fans, this is definitely for you!
NHL Playoff Preview
March Madness is now over. Everybody feels like they've lost their best friend. However the Stanley Cup playoffs are now at our door step. Major League Baseball can still wait as our beloved Minnesota Wild are back in the playoffs set to make a possible deep run into the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. But, lets take an in-depth look of all the playoff matchups. The NHL has been so widespread with talent this season that anyone can win it all. Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals are the hottest team entering the playoffs after clinching the Southeast Division on the last weekend of regular season action. The Detroit Red Wings appear to be the front runner as they took the Presidents Cup Trophy for best regular season record. Pittsburgh also looks strong with Marc Andre Fluery in net with Sid The Kid Crosby and Evgeni Malkin running the show on the offensive front.
Western Conference Matchups
#1 Detroit VS #8 Nashville
Detroit has played excellent hockey all throughout the season, we've heard this story before. It seems every year Detroit dominates the NHL but then completely shuts down once the playoffs start. I don't believe so this year. Nashville has had their ups and downs and are a tough team to beat when they're on top of their game. However, Detroit's leadership from the veterans especially netminder Dominik Hasek will be too tough to overcome. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterburg have carried this team to pure dominance. Look for the Red Wings to rise to the occasion and march on to the 2nd round by taking this series 4 games to 1.
#2 San Jose VS #7 Calgary
This is an intriguing matchup. Calgary played in the toughest division in all of hockey, the Northwest Division. A few points here and there and the Flames would be sitting atop as a 3 seed. Jarome Iginla is the commander-in-chief for the Flames and if Mikka Kiprosoff is hot in the nets the Flames might steal this series away. But don't hold anything away from the Sharks. They have arguably the best goalie in the NHL in Evgeni Nabokov and one of the best play-makers in the NHL in Joe Thornton. If San Jose wants to win this series they must match the toughness of Calgary's. I see Calgary pulling off the upset (if you want to call it that) and take this series in 7games.
#3 Minnesota VS #6 Colorado
A flip flop of the seeds rematch from 2002-2003. This was the year the young Minnesota Wild went on their stunning Western Conference Finals run. But it's a different year, there's no Patrick Roy in net for the Avs, and no Dwayne Roloson/Manny Fernandez goaltender by committee for the Wild this season. The Wild have been hurt by the injury bug late in the season, losing key blue-liner Kurtis Foster to a broken leg in San Jose, and now by Nick Schultz due to an appendectomy. This is key because the Wild now have to rely on aging and slow Sean Hill and a streaky Petteri Nummelin. If the Wild can maintain Joe Sakic, Milan Hejduk, and Paul Stastny, Minnesota should be able to win this series. Minnesota has been pretty up and down lately but held on enough to take the Northwest Division Title. Keep a close eye on this one because one more injury for the Wild, they're Stanley Cup run could end in a hurry. Wild in 6.
#4 Anaheim VS #5 Dallas
The defending Stanley Cup Champs road starts against the Dallas Stars. Anaheim has played well at times, but have shown signs that this isn't the same team as last year. Being that it is the playoffs, everyone steps it up a few notches and maybe Anaheim will establish their dominance like they did last season. The key in this series are the goaltenders. Marty Turco for Dallas and Jean Sebastian Giguere for the Ducks. The advantage here has to be the Ducks, especially with Ryan Getzlaf who's had a career season racking up 82 points in just his 3rd season. They also have one of the best power plays in the NHL so Dallas definitely cannot afford giving up silly penalties otherwise Anaheim will take full advantage and roll through this series. Anaheim in 6.
Eastern Conference Playoffs
#1 Montreal VS #8 Boston
This series just brings back memories of the old school rivalry between these two teams. The rivalry only thickens here as this won't be a series Montreal will run straight through. The Habs are led by Alexei Kovalev who's had his best season since he played with the Penguins in 2001-2002. Experience is the key in this series and who can handle the playoff pressure. Boston doesn't skate up and down the ice but they play with poise. If they can balance Montreal's speed attack and force turnovers Boston may be able to take this series away from Montreal. Tim Thomas needs to be on top of his game and avoid giving up rebounds to the Habs. However, I think Montreal is just too fast and will take this series in 5.
#2 Pittsburgh VS #7 Ottawa
Pittsburgh has been the most flashiest team we've seen in a while. Had Sidney Crosby not gone down with a broken foot earlier in the season the Pens may have grabbed the Presidents Cup Trophy. But they're still in great shape. Ottawa doesn't have the man power to keep up with the quickness of the Pens forwards. Pittsburgh had 5 players with 50+ points (Malkin, Crosby, Sergei Gonchar, Peter Sykora, and Minnesota native Ryan Malone). Ottawa has some scorers as well, Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatly combined for 263 points. The defense is the key to this series. All-Star defenseman Wade Redden will have his hands full. I believe the Penguins will take this series in 5 games.
#3 Washington VS #6 Philadelphia
The Washington Capitals are hot, Alex Ovechkin has been an absolute machine all season long taking on a Left Wing record 65 goals. However, Philadelphia has a solid team themselves. Mike Richards has been a stud throughout this season tacking on 75 points and take nothing away from Daniel Briere with 72 points of his own. You can't stop Ovechkin but you can contain him. Forechecking is the key in this series, if Philadelphia delivers a solid forecheck they can take the Capitals out with ease, but it won't be that easy. Washington added Sergei Fedorov at the deadline and he's known to bring out his best during the playoffs. Capitals in 7.
MVP favorite, Alex Ovechkin
#4 New Jersey VS #5 New York Rangers
This is a rematch from the classic 1993-1994 Stanley Cup Eastern Conference Finals. New Jersey's goaltender is still the same with Martin Brodeur but the New York Rangers don't have Mike Richter to save the Rangers this time. However, they do have Henrik Lundqvist who's had a great season posting a 37-24 record with a 2.23 GAA. They also have Jaromir Jagr but he just isn't the same player he was when he was with the Penguins. Elbows will be flying in this series but New Jersey just has too much balance with Zach Parise and Patrick Elias on the wings. Minnesotan Paul Martin has also been a key component to the Devils success but it all leads back to Martin Brodeur. As long as Martin Brodeur is in his playoff mode the Devils can make a deep run into the playoffs. Devils in 4.
One of us...Paul Martin
There you have it, the NHL playoffs are underway, and after writing this the Wild have lost Mark Parrish to a head injury, hopefully it's nothing too serious but if it is, might have to write the Wild off from winning their series against the Colorado Avalanche. While the Penguins looked strong on Wednesday against the Ottawa Senators and the Calgary Flames knocked off San Jose, this is going to be one hell of a Stanley Cup Playoffs.