The 2009 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs have given us so many intriguing story lines. From the Blackhawks early arrival into the NHL's elite, to the Ducks besting the Cup-favorite Sharks, to controversy over suspensions, non-suspensions, and fines. These NHL playoffs have been the most compelling in years, and NEARLY EVERY MATCHUP so far has provided some sort of drama thus far.
The Conference Quarterfinals have been as exciting as ever, and you can look no further then the two pictured at the top of this article, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin to prove that point. They have not only rose to the occasion in these playoffs, but they have also brought the NHL top of the broadcast SportsCenter segments, which hasn't happened in years. Even last year's Stanley Cup Finals between the Penguins and Red Wings had a hard time securing a first 30 minutes slot.
TV ratings have skyrocketed this year with the added drama. Versus' opening nights of the playoffs gave us a 91 percent jump in viewership overall. Opening nights in 2008 averaged 264,000 viewers, and in 2009 they averaged 504,000 viewers.
Game One of the Penguins-Flyers series produced a 14.7 local rating in Pittsburgh, the ninth highest all-time in Penguins history at the time, and it outdrew CSI: New York, American Idol, Criminal Minds, and Bones. Plus, the post-game show outdrew Law and Order with a 6.9 rating. TV outlets have proclaimed Pittsburgh as establishing themselves as a major hockey market.
Game Six of the Penguins-Capitals series drew a 24.2 local rating, the best EVER for RSN, and barely beat out the 21.4 that Game Five drew.
Pittsburgh isn't the only place making big ratings jumps. In D.C., Game Six of the series with the Penguins, they drew a 5.3 local rating, a 6.0 regional rating, and peaked at a 9.1 rating. That's pretty impressive with how large the D.C. Metro area is.
NBC also got what they wanted with the Game One of that series in drawing a 1.4/4 rating, up 40 percent from last years Colorado-Detroit game.
Well, enough with the TV ratings, onto the matchups. We'll start by taking a look at the Boston-Carolina series which has seen its fair share of drama.
No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes (3) @ No. 1 Boston Bruins (3)
The biggest news in this series, for me, so far has been the pulled suspension of Scott Walker. Not only should he have received a one game mandatory suspension for getting an instigator penalty in the final five minutes of regulation, the league stated, with the early suspension of Daniel Carcillo, that it wouldn't tolerate "message sending" at the end of decided games.
Game Five was all but decided when he sucker-punched Aaron Ward, and it should have warranted a suspension similar to Donald Brashear's.
Getting back to the news at hand, Game Seven, Cam Ward has to play better and the offense needs to put a few goals on the board if they plan to move onto the Eastern Conference Finals. The most important individual battle in this Game Seven will be, without a doubt, Tim Thomas vs. Cam Ward. The goaltender who plays his best inevitably gives their team the better odds to win the game, and move one step closer to the dream.
The key to this game for the Hurricanes is Eric Staal. In Carolina's wins, so far this series Staal has contributed four goals, an assist, and a five-plus rating in 3-0, 3-2, and 4-1 victories. However, in the Hurricanes 4-1, 4-0, and 4-2 losses, the Carolina star has 0 goals and one assist and a minus-four rating. If Staal is nonexistent again, Carolina could be on the golf course on Friday.
The key for Boston to win is the play of its top line of Phil Kessel, Marc Savard, and Milan Lucic. In Boston's victories, they have combined for six goals, seven assists, and in the losses have combined for two goals, and one assist. If Boston can get this line of opportunities early and often, it could be a long game for Cam Ward and Carolina.
Milan Lucic Marc Savard Phil Kessel
Mark Recchi Patrice Bergeron Chuck Kobasew
Byron Bitz David Krejci Michael Ryder
P.J. Axelsson Stephane Yelle Shawn Thornton
Zdeno Chara Aaron Ward
Steve Montador Dennis Wideman
Mark Stuart Shane Hnidy
Ray Whitney Eric Staal Erik Cole
Chad LaRose Matt Cullen Scott Walker
Sergei Samsonov Jussi Jokinen Tuomo Ruutu
Ryan Bayda Rod Brind'Amour Patrick Eaves
Tim Gleason Joe Corvo
Joni Pitkanen Dennis Seidenberg
Niclas Wallin Anton Babchuk
Prediction: Boston wins 3-2 in overtime off a goal by Patrice Bergeron. Onto the Detroit-Anaheim Series.
No. 8 Anaheim Ducks (3) @ No. 2 Detroit Red Wings (3)
The Detroit Red Wings-Anaheim Ducks series has been awfully compelling and full of drama and controversy. From Mike Brown's non-suspended hit on Jiri Hudler to Brad Watson's early whistle on what appeared to be Marian Hossa's tying goal late in Game Three. You also can't forget Nick Lidstrom's late dramatics in Game One, and then Jonas Hiller and Todd Marchant stealing the spotlight in the triple overtime Game Two.
Storyline No. 1 for game Seven: Will the late emotion from the end of Game Six carry over into Game Seven? Nearing the end of Game Seven, Hiller made a fantastic save on Hossa, and Ryan Getzlaf came in with a hook on Marian Hossa that went unnoticed as the final ticks went off the clock.
Following that was absolute madness.
Corey Perry and Brian Rafalski were throwing punches, while Ryan Getzlaf and Marian Hossa took shots at each other, and while that was going on, Pavel Datsyuk and Scott Niedermayer were tangled up.
Marian Hossa was absolutely worked up and nearing the end of the Datsyuk - Niedermayer brawl, he got involved by putting a gloved hand in Niedermayer's face. Does that intensity boil over into Game Seven? Specifically between those players.
For Anaheim to win this game, the stars need to play, well, like stars. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry need to lead the charge up front, while Pronger and Niedermayer do what they do on the blue line.
For Detroit to win, they need Pavel Datsyuk to snap out of his offensive slump as well as having the defense shut down the Getzlaf line.
The key to this game is offensive production of Datsyuk-Zetterberg-Holmstrom compared to Carter-Getzlaf-Perry. Whichever top unit producers more, you have to give their team the upper hand in the game.
Ryan Carter Ryan Getzlaf Corey Perry
Bobby Ryan Andrew Ebbett Teemu Selanne
Drew Miller Todd Marchant Rob Niedermayer
Josh Green Petteri Nokelainen Mike Brown
Scott Niedermayer James Wisniewski
Ryan Whitney Chris Pronger
Francois Beauchemin Sheldon Brookbank
Pavel Datsyuk Henrik Zetterberg Tomas Holmstrom
Johan Franzen Valtteri Filppula Marian Hossa
Jiri Hudler Darren Helm Daniel Cleary
Kirk Maltby Justin Abdelkader Mikael Samuelsson
Nicklas Lidstrom Jonathan Ericsson
Niklas Kronwall Brad Stuart
Brett Lebda Derek Meech
Prediction: Ducks beat the Red Wings 4-2 with two goals by Ryan Getzlaf. Onto tonight's Game Seven between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.
No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins (3) @ No. 2 Washington Capitals (3)
If Alexander Ovechkin's career continues at its current pace, we could have outstanding playoff hockey for the next 15-20 years.
In only three playoff series, Ovechkin will be playing in his 21st postseason game total, meaning each series he's participated in has gone the full seven games.
What makes this one more special than the seven games against the Rangers this year, and the Flyers last year? Perhaps the inclusion of fellow young phenoms Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Or perhaps the fact that this series has been epic.
The stars have surely been out for this series as Ovechkin has tallied 13 points on seven goals and six assists, Crosby has tallied 10 points on six goals and four assists, while the NHL's scoring champ tallied eight points on two goals and six assists this series.
This series has had three overtime games, all three ending in Washington Capital deflections. Too bad, for Washington, that they only ended up winning one of those games.
Tonight also marks the potential return of former Washington Capitals/current Penguin D-man Sergei Gonchar. Gonchar has missed Games Five and Six after his nasty knee-to-knee collision with Alexander Ovechkin early in Game Four.
If Gonchar returns, do the Penguins have the advantage? Or do the Capitals have the advantage due to winning Game Six?
An added plus to this series has been the seven game series in the American Hockey League between Washington's affiliate, the Hershey Bears, and Pittsburgh's affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins. The series between the Bears and the Pens concluded last night with the Bears winning Game Seven on home ice. Not one game in that series was lost on home ice.
The biggest coincidence between the two series is that the Bears and Caps both went up 2-0, only to go down 3-2, then tie it up to force a Game Seven.
Does the coincidence continue for the Captials and Penguins, or do the Penguins break the trend? Another note about this Game Seven is that the Penguins are 3-0 all-time in Game Sevens on the road, while the Capitals are only 2-4 all-time at home in Game Sevens.
Which trend continues, the Pens being 3-0 all-time in Game Seven road wins, or the minor league's series trend? We'll find out starting at 7:00 p.m. for puck drop.
This series has done wonders for marketing the NHL, and a seventh game only helps. You can tell the game itself is big in the sports world when Steve Levy and Barry Melrose of ESPN uses the SportsCenter twitter account to allow people to follow their trip from Pittsburgh to Washington on game day.
So far, we've found out that someone in Pittsburgh named their dog Barry Melrose, and when having to pick the best out of Gretzky vs. Mario and Alex vs. Sidney, Barry chose Gretzky and Ovechkin as the winners, which didn't sit well with the Pittsburgh crowd.
There has also been plenty of controversy for this game as well, with a fine given to Chris Kunitz for his apparent crosscheck to the mask of goaltender Simeon Varlamov, to the non-suspended or fined knee-on-knee hit by Alex Ovechkin.
To make it known, I agree with both calls by the NHL's execs. Kunitz got a deserved fine, after a penalty wasn't called, while Ovechkin received his penalty in game.
For Pittsburgh to win, they need to get points from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, while also allowing Rob Scuderi to play stout defense on Alex Ovechkin. Rob Scuderi has been a key to this series, and if Pittsburgh wants to advance, he's going to have to be huge yet again.
For Washington to win, the secondary scoring needs to continue. Victor Kozlov finally showed up in the series by scoring two goals, and Alex Semin also played better by tallying two assists on the night. Washington also needs additional contribution from Mike Green if they hope to win. Oh yeah, I can't forget Alexander Ovechkin.
Chris Kunitz Sidney Crosby Bill Guerin
Ruslan Fedotenko Evgeni Malkin Max Talbot
Matt Cooke Jordan Staal Tyler Kennedy
Craig Adams Miroslav Satan
Brooks Orpik Phillippe Boucher
Marc Eaton Kris Letang
Hal Gill Rob Scuderi
Alex Ovechkin Sergei Fedorov Viktor Kozlov
Alexander Semin Nicklas Backstrom Tomas Fleischmann
Brooks Laich David Steckel Matt Bradley
Eric Fehr Boyd Gordon Chris Clark
Mike Green Shaone Morrisonn
Milan Jurcina Tom Poti
Brian Pothier John Erskine
Unfortunately, I will not make a prediction on this game due to being emotionally invested in one team, the Penguins. I hope you all liked my review, and enjoy this; the NHL is on FIRE right now.
Check back on Friday for a full preview of the Conference Finals, as well as full game-by-game predictions of each series.