It's the most wonderful time of the year.
Yes, with only a handful of games remaining for each team in the NHL regular season, it's the time where fans and players alike not only direct their focus on where their team currently sits in the playoff picture, but where their beloved club could end up come playoff time.
With the postseason right around the corner it's certainly not too soon to start thinking about possible first-round matchups and the potential dream series we could have the pleasure of watching come the second season in April.
Any playoff series is worth witnessing for the average hockey fan, but when the two teams that are matched up have some added flair between them it can turn into the kind of series that people simply can't take their eyes off of.
Whether it be a classic rivalry, an ugly history between two players, the potential for a subsequent event to carry over into a bloodbath of a series, or simply two high-powered offenses squaring off in what promises to be a goalie's nightmare, sometimes we're blessed with a first-round playoff clash that’s worth canceling out the rest of the lives for.
If even one of these series were to take place it would be reason enough to reserve your favourite seat at the bar for the foreseeable future, think up the finest excuse that explains to your wife or mother why you refuse to shave, and learn the most effective way to fit the letters of Ilya Kovalchuk’s name on the bare chests of just five friends.
So here are the best matchups that have a realistic chance of happening in the first-round this season. We could be in for a scene that would have NHL fans licking their chops at the incredible hockey presented to kick-start the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It's a potential fourth-fifth seed matchup if everything falls into place, but the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators playoff battle would be so much more than that.
These two division rivals in such close proximity to one another would take the emotions of a hockey game to a new level—and that's before we even talk about the fans.
Two of the loudest buildings in the NHL happen to be located in Ottawa and Montreal. When the atmosphere is at a deafening decibel and the players on the ice are flying at top speed, it has a chance to be one of the most exciting series of the year.
It would be the first time the two teams ever met in the postseason and you can bet fans across Canada would be hard pressed to miss even a period of the action.
The Sens owned the season series, winning five of the six affairs, which would no doubt fuel the fire of both teams going into a potential seven game cage match. One team knowing they can win while the other goes out to prove that the playoffs are a brand new ball, er, puck game.
And if there was ever a series where goaltending would be the hot topic, you’re probably looking at it. Each team is locked in a "goalie-controversy-but-not-really," and would no doubt be second-guessed for their decisions in net every time a puck crossed the goal line.
If these teams were to meet we certainly would have a little bit of everything to enjoy.
And if this series does in fact come to be, you won't need to worry about brushing up on your French, because when it comes to the playoff hockey, Sens and Habs would be a language we can all understand.
The war of Pennsylvania could be in full force come the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, just as it was last season.
In 2009, the fourth seeded Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the fifth seeded Philadelphia Flyers in six games to advance to the second round on the way to their eventual Stanley Cup victory.
It was a back-and-fourth series that saw both teams win on enemy ice and turned out to be another heated chapter in this rivalry. There’s not a soul who wouldn't want to see this matchup again this year; it's just too good to pass up.
There is no secret that the teams have a hatred for one another, including an apparent personal hatred between two of the biggest stars, Sidney Crosby and Mike Richards, who apparently are not the best of friends, to say the least.
Even with the Olympic Gold Medal they shared in Vancouver fresh in their memories, there will be no love lost between the two, not to mention the rest of their clubs if the cross-state rivals were to hook up.
And you can’t forget the mob that is the Orange Crush, arrogantly jeering Crosby every time his skates touch the ice while waving “No Diving” signs with anger scarred on their faces.
It’s not for the faint of heart, if you recall.
It would undoubtedly be another offensive outpouring as well, as last season they combined for 34 goals in the six playoff bouts.
With some of the leagues hottest stars suiting up each night, it would be an offensive demonstration you certainly would not want to miss.
You might think the winner of this series would be at a disadvantage, what with the emotion and energy this rivalry always demands, but as the Penguins know from their Cup win less than a year ago; this is the sort of series that can prepare you for the battle ahead, despite the number of teeth you lose along the way.
The New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils do not like each other.
That's an understatement.
Though the chance of this series actually taking place is somewhat of a long shot unless the Broadway blue shirts can get their act together quickly, even the mention of these two meeting up brings a smile to the face of any fan.
It's almost certain that the first thing you thought of at the mention of it was the classic rivalry between Sean Avery and Martin Brodeur.
The first round of the 2008 playoffs saw these two teams battle in what turned out to be a very influential series as far as NHL rules are concerned, as well as the careers of two very different players.
Brodeur publicly criticized Avery for trash—talking about his divorce before the series began and after Avery had taken two goaltender-interference calls early in the series, he took his antics to a new level.
In what turned into a league-wide debate over night, Avery began wildly waving his hands and stick just inches from Brodeur's mask as play was on.
Brodeur admitted he couldn't see a thing, and while the refs were handcuffed from stopping the fiery pest, the NHL quickly implemented a rule that forbid players from doing such things again.
The series carried on as the two found each other on more than one occasion in heated discussion (and the odd face wash), and the series ended with the two awkwardly avoiding each other during the series-ending handshake at center ice.
You just know that if the two teams were to meet up again this season, Avery would pick things up right where he left off because that's what he does. This would be a series to watch for sure.
Of course there is much more to enjoy about these two teams, both having added scoring superstars in Marian Gaborik and Ilya Kovalchuk since they last met in the post season; but as is the norm when it comes to New York, Avery would be the center of attention.
And if you were looking for more incentive to watch, it doesn't hurt that the fans of New Jersey have chanted "Rangers Suck!" during every game, regardless of opponent, for years.
Like I said, hatred would be an understatement.
It's the story that has been talked to death this season.
If the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins were to meet up in the first round of the playoffs, you can bet that all eyes, or heads, would be focused on Matt Cooke and his hit that fueled the ever-present head shot debate.
Sure, it's probably long forgotten by the Penguins as they strive for a second straight Stanley Cup, but for the Bruins players who are still dealing with the loss of arguably their best player in Marc Savard, you can bet their memories might not be so forgiving.
This series would certainly have a story line to it, if nothing else, and though most fans are already sick of the head shot debate, you know this matchup would be a popular one when it comes to TV ratings.
Playoff time sees a decrease in fighting but the physical level is always ramped up to a whole new level as players literally try and beat their opposition while winning at the same time.
Of course, this series would also see the 2009 Stanley Cup Champions face off against the 2009 Eastern Conference Champions, and would be a great measuring stick for each team to see just how much things have changed since their success from last season.
It's uncertain at this point if the Bruins are satisfied with the revenge that was served in their last game when Cooke was forced to face his maker and drop the gloves, but there would be few surprised if the emotion towards him carried over into a thunderous playoff matchup for these two teams.
If that's the case, we can all hope this one lasts for a while.
A lot can change in just one season, and evidence of that would be if the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings met up in the first round of the playoffs this season, a year after their 2009 Western Conference Finals matchup.
Last year the Red Wings ended the season as the Central Division Champions finishing the season with 112 points, second in the West.
The Blackhawks finished fourth with 104 points.
The two teams worked their way through the first two rounds before meeting up in a classic Original Six matchup. It turned out to be no contest as the older, more experienced Red Wings quickly disposed of the Hawks in five games to move on to the Cup Finals.
Though the series was rather brief, three of the games were decided in overtime which made for some incredibly entertaining games as the youth-riddled Hawks tried to push the veteran Wings to the limit.
The tables are turned this season as far as positioning is concerned as the Hawks battle for the Conference lead while the Red Wings still have their eye on rear view window at those battling for a position in the seventh and eighth seeds.
Not only would the incredible skill of both teams be on display, including Marian Hossa against his former team, but it would be very interesting to see how many of the younger players on Chicago respond this season after their deep playoff run was halted by the Wings less than a year ago.
Something tells me it won’t be such a quick exit for either team this time around.
To make things a little more intriguing, these two teams close out the regular season (Hawks lead the season series 3-2) against each other, which means they could effectively end up facing off in eight-straight games.
No doubt they'd be fed up with standing opposite one another, and you can bet that would show on the ice.
You’d want to keep close attention to this series as the Hawks try and officially end what has been Detroit’s party for a long time in the Central Division.
This matchup would take some serious repositioning of the standings in order for it to take place, but no one would disagree that a classic Canadian slugfest between two Western teams would be something of a dream.
The Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks are two teams that have no problem getting up for a game when facing off against one another; they certainly have a lot of practice at it.
Their last three meetings in the playoffs have been epic battles that all went the distance to a seventh game (2004, 1994, 1989) and you can bet that the same could be in the cards if yet another Northwest Division classic were to ensue.
Though the Canucks have been the far superior team this season, already having locked up a playoff spot while their counterparts still cling to hope, a series between these two is never an easy one.
The physical nature of both teams comes out in full force and it is guaranteed to greatly reduce each team's supply of ice packs.
If you're hoping to see these two suit up in the coming weeks, you better start praying for Calgary to sneak into the playoffs and some juggling of the standings to follow. But if you have any sense of what playoff hockey for each of these teams and their fans is like, you know it would be one of the best we could possibly see in the first round.
Okay, so a first round series between the Coyotes and Predators might not be the most dream-worthy matchup for fans around the league, but you can bet Gary Bettman and the NHL brass would consider it a success before it even began.
Call it the Ballsillie bowl, if you will, but the irony of this series would not go unnoticed by many if this probable series were to take place in just a few weeks.
Both teams have had some major money issues because of poor placement, lack of a steady fan base, and losing teams on the ice. But as the saying goes, nothing cures losing like winning.
It wouldn't be the highest rated series or the most interesting, and very few fans would rush home from anything to catch this affair, but if you're a fan of hockey as a whole, then you've got to love that it would turn out this way.
Plenty of underdog flavour could come out of this battle, and with all the young talent and budding stars that these two teams have to offer, you might just be surprised at how enjoyable a nightly matchup between these two castaways might be.
Two teams that have had more hardships than most, standing face to face on the biggest stage as they enjoy the ride of their surprisingly successful seasons.
In the world of Mr. Bettman, this matchup will be one he'll be sleeping soundly too, and we’ve got to keep the little man happy.