Grab your hockey sticks and sharpen those skates cause it's playoff time! Most of those that know me are aware of my infinite passion for Ice Hockey. Now that the long season is in it's final week, I have put together my playoff predictions and MVP prospects. It seems as if each day the standings change drastically so I won't speculate too much on any team...well maybe just a little.
Lets start with the Detroit Red Wings. What a season they've had! Whoa! Just like last year they ended with over 100 points and Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have never combined better than now. Their goaltending is the best in the NHL and defensive wise, they've got it on lock. They've got grit, speed and chemistry. With veterans such as Chris Chellios, Niklas Lidstrom and Kris Draper their level of play will only get better with each game. For sure they will win the Presidents Trophy, but I personally think if they don't win the cup they will definitely make it to the finals and put up a long, hard battle (like last year).
Right behind are the San Jose Sharks. With the acquisition of Brian Campbell, San Jose's defense has more offensive backing and young talent. Joe Thornton is 5th in the NHL with points. Evgeni Nabokov is a monster of a goalie and even though Johnathan Cheechoo has had a horrible season, they still know how to win games. These boys will definitely win the Pacific Division without a doubt and the cup will be within reach as they shred through the finals.
The Anaheim Ducks have picked up their game as of mid-season after a rocky start, thanks to the return of Teemu Selanne and Scotty Niedermayer which have proved they are very much needed to win games on a constant basis. The Ducks play an intimidating game and are full of veterans. I wouldn't doubt if they take home the cup again this season, just like last. They've got it covered from all angles. Their goaltender, Jean Sebastain Giguerre is one of the best the NHL has to offer. Their defensive core, made up of Chris Pronger, Francois Beauchemin and Scotty Neidermayer to name a few, IS currently the best in the NHL. And not to mention the offensive talent of Ryan Getzlaf, Teemu Selanne, Todd Bertuzzi and Chris Kunitz. The Ducks got nothing to lose and much to gain.
How about the Colorado Avalanche! Even though they are 2 points behind Minnesota, and one week left for the season, I still believe they can win the Northwest Division and make their presence felt during the playoff's. They've got a great set-up, especially now that playoff veteran Peter Forsberg is back in the loop. We can't forget about Joe Sakic, Ryan Smith and Paul Stastny which can be a deadly combination. Only negative thing about Colorado is their defense which is struggling but still, they can make a splash!
Minnesota Wild are a great team. I wasn't that into them till I went to see them play this season. First off I must say that Niklas Backstrom is going to become one of the best goalies of the future. He has a GAA of 2.33 and sometimes it seems almost impossible to get a puck past him. Offensive wise they've got Brian Rolston who is simply amazing and Marian Gaborik who is 9th in the NHL with goals. Plus they've got more grit on this team than any other at the moment. With monster enforcers such as Derek Boogard, Todd Fedoruk and newly acquired psychopath Chris Simon, not much can be done on the intimidating end with this outfit.
Lets talk about the Pittsburgh Penguins shall we. This may very well be their year as they lead the Eastern Conference and are playing very well from every aspect. They haven't played this good since the days of Lemieux and Jagr. With the injury of super star Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin has totally amazed the hockey world with his effort on the ice. Being 2nd in the NHL with points will not only make Evgeni standout during playoff time, but with newly acquired Marian Hossa things can get dangerous. And not to mention how outstanding forward Ryan Malone has been. Their defense has to be the best in the Eastern conference with Sergei Gonchar, Ryan Whitney and Daryl Sydor standing out as well as the ever so hard hitting Brooks Orpik. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is having a great season while his back-up, Ty Conklin is having his best season (why couldn't he play like this for the Oilers?). And I'm sure no-one will be safe when Georges Laraque and Jarkko Ruutu are out in full force...Beware!
The New Jersey Devils are also one to watch simply because of Martin Brodeur. He (as always) has been outstanding as the last line of defense and with the defensive work of Vitaly Vishnevski and Sheldon Brookbank there's not much getting by as far as goals go. On the offensive tip, Brian Gionta and Zach Parise are a great combination and since they have a secure spot in the post season, it's safe to say they can keep their playoff hopes alive.
How about them Washington Capitals! Even though (as of today) their are not in any playoff spot, that all will soon change. This past weekend I went to see them play and it dawned on me that the caps are playing their best game ever! Since the first time in more than 7 years, they are on a 5 game winning streak. With the end of the season approaching and tied for the division title with Carolina, their playoff run is definitely in the pocket. It's relevant that Alex Ovechkin will continue to make and break records as he's already at 63 goals and 110 points this season. And if in fact they do make it to the playoff's, Mr. Ovechkin will definitely get the MVP award without a doubt. But it's not only Ovechkin that's putting up the numbers. How about forwards Alexander Semin, Viktor Kozlov and Brooks Laich? Those are players with major offensive knowledge and skills. And with the newly acquired Christobal Huet as their new goal-minder, their chances of winning the division and clinching that playoff spot will emanate as the season ends.
I'm really thinking the Montreal Canadiens are on a serious roll here. The Kostitsyn brothers, Michael Ryder, Saku Koivu, Andrei Markov and Alex Kovalev make up a great team of forwards that can create momentum at the drop of a dime. They've also got Mike Komisarek who is on top of his defensive game as well as Patrice Brisebois and Francis Bouillon. Even though they lost the goaltending of Huet, they're still a tough team to face as they lead the Northeast Division.
The expectations of the New York Rangers were not what most anticipated with the arrival of Scott Gomez and Chris Drury, but as of late they have picked up their game and have showed they've got defense, grit, offense and net-minding. I went to MSG to see them play this past December and what I saw was really sad. But when February rolled around they started getting positive input from all players, especially Chris Drury, and have excelled quickly in the Northeast Division. They've beat New Jersey in all seven division games this season and have corrected every critical flaw of their game. With young star Brandon Dubinsky and veteran Jaromir Jagr on the front lines, their offensive efforts have gone a long way even if this is Jagr's worst season. Can't forget the other offensive threats that are Nigel Dawes (where'd he come from...amazing!), Scott Gomez and Brendan Shannahan. Those three have been seamless as of late. And what about the NHL's most prominent agitator Sean Avery? This dude will run you over no matter who you are and is willing to drop the gloves at anytime with anyone. Also, with Marc Staal and Henrik Lundqvist for assurance, I think they stand a pretty good chance at bringing the cup back to the big apple.
What a strange season for the Philadelphia Flyers! After being the worst team in the NHL last season, the road has been a long one. They started off great, then went sour and are back on track again as the season winds down. Then three of their players/enforcers manage to obtain 42 game suspensions combined giving their "Broad Street Bullies" name of the 70's an entire new meaning. They've always had the talent right there, in front of their faces but the chemistry just wasn't the same. But after a few losses Philadelphia has gotten their act together and have been very strong. Though Danny Briere's season was not as most expected, and with Simon Gagne's unfortunate concussions, there were many other offensive threats to take note of, especially RJ Umberger. It seems almost impossible to take the puck away from this center once he's obtained it. Scottie Upshall and newly acquired Vaclav Prospal also prove that the Flyers finally have some promising scoring combinations.
Well, there you have my NHL playoff thoughts and predictions. Any teams that are in the playoff spots that I didn't mention (Ottawa, Carolina, Dallas, Boston, Etc) are because I don't think they stand a chance, but remember, it's just my opinion (this is MY blog right?). However, it's gonna be real fun to look back at this in a few months once the playoff's are gone and see how right (or possibly wrong) I was. But in the meantime lets sit back, crack open the Samuel Adams and let the playoff drama unfold before our eyes.