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Well after 82 games the NHL playoffs finally kick off tonight, and it starts with a TV watchers delight featuring a four game schedule. The Phoenix Coyotes host the veteran Detroit Red Wings, the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils kick off tonight, and the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins (Sens and Pens) renew their playoff rivalry once again. Oh, and if you're an insomniac, check out the Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks if you need to fall asleep.
With that being said here are some things to watch tonight.
Phoenix versus Detroit.
What to watch: The whole game, and the series for that matter.
Why: Because this is the most intriguing matchup of the first round. It features the woeful Coyotes who are on the brink to moving back to Winnipeg, squaring off against one of the most prestigious teams in the league.
The fact the Coyotes are even here is impressive. They are owned by the NHL and fired their coach, who just happened to be the best player in NHL history (Wayne Gretzky), just weeks before the season. Everyone expected the Coyotes to fade into the background and make the move to Canada in the off-season.
But the unthinkable happened. The Coyotes hired defensive minded coach Dave Tippett and rallied behind a veteran roster mixed with some stellar rookies and a Vezina Trophy candidate in Ilya Bryzgalov to nearly win the Central Division title.
The Coyotes did not have one twenty goal scorer this season, the Red Wings feature household names such as; Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Nicklas Lidstrom. If there is a matchup that looks as David versus Goliath on paper, it is this one. Yet if the Coyotes keep winning as they have been all season, this will continue to be one of the best sports stories of the year.
These games will be intense battles, and it will be entertaining just to see how many fans show up to the Coyotes home games each night.
Philadelphia versus New Jersey.
What to Watch: The physical play of the Flyers versus the Devils positional style.
This series has the ultimate contrast in playing styles. The Flyers have played rough and tumble hockey since they have been in the league, and this year's team is no exception. The Flyers take penalties, have a handful of fighters on the roster, and their finesse player laid out one of the season's most dirty hits, nearly ending David Booth's career with a blindside hit that would make Scott Stevens proud.
The Flyers also have Chris Pronger, a relic of how the game used to be played. Pronger plays a no nonsense style and has been the anchor of many Stanley Cup defense corps during his career.
On the other hand the New Jersey Devils have made their name playing fundamentally sound hockey, and while the detractors may say it is boring as hell, you cant lie with the numbers. The Devils are regulars in the playoffs and Martin Brodeur has made quite a name for himself playing behind that stingy defense over the years.
The Flyers are 5-1 against the Devils this season so they may have edge on them this season. If anything this series will be a battle of two division rivalries and a great chance for an upset by the Flyers.
San Jose versus Colorado.
What to Watch: San Jose's road to redemption.
The San Jose Sharks must really hate the word "choke."
The Sharks have been a Cup favorite at least five times this decade, only to suffer an upset in the early rounds. Most of the blame has fallen on Joe Thornton and goalie Evgeni Nabokov, but the Sharks are huge underachievers in the playoffs.
But with several key additions in the off-season, this may be the year the Sharks get over the hump. They added veterans Dany Heatley and Rob Blake, giving the team valuable playoff experience while bolstering an already loaded roster.
While no one is promising the Sharks to succeed, one thing is certain, the Sharks won't be relaxing anytime soon.
Ottawa versus Pittsburgh.
What to Watch: Brian Elliott's play in goal.
Inexperienced goalies usually don't do well in their first playoff games. Especially if they aren't already established goaltenders in the first place. That is exactly what Brian Elliott is, a member of the "Really?" club of starting goalies in the playoffs. As in, "really? That guy is going to lead you in the playoffs?" Elliott is not going to intimidate any teams' opposing snipers.
But if Elliott brings his A-game to this series, his Senators' franchise, which has the same underachieving tag as the Sharks, may just be able to make this series against the defending champs interesting.
Well there you have it, what to watch for the first day of the NHL playoffs.