Gentlemen, start your beards! The Stanley Cup Playoffs are upon us once again. All of Canada and a determined sliver of America are frothy with excitement. Did you know that the last Canadian team to win the Cup was Montreal in 1993? It's true! Did you know in the last 15 years, the Cup has gone to skiing paradises like Dallas, Tampa, Carolina and Anaheim? It's true! With that in mind, let's take a look at the Wales conference matchups to see what's in store over the next three months.
(1) Montreal Candiens vs. (8) Boston Bruins
In the first 30 playoff matchups, Montreal has gone 23-7. So maybe Boston is due. The last times these Original Sixers face each other in the playoffs, Boston's Kyle MacLaren elbowed Montreal's Richard Zednik in the schnozzarino, the second-worst injury of Zednik's career. But both of those guys have since moved on, so it really has nothing to do with this series.
In net, Montreal has a young, untested wall in Carey Price. If Montreal makes a run, it will be pointed out many, many times that Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy also won Cups in their rookie year. It will not be pointed out that Patrick Roy is possibly insane. Meanwhile, Boston has an old, untested wall in Tim Thomas. If Boston makes a run, it will be pointed out many, many times that it is very surprising that Tim Thomas is playing well.
GOOD FOR MONTREAL - They have the best power play in the league.
BAD FOR MONTREAL - Coach Guy Carbonneau cannot give himself a few checking shifts.
GOOD FOR BOSTON - They have nice uniforms.
BAD FOR BOSTON - They will lose this series like they lost all eight games with Montreal this year.
THE PICK - Montreal in 5.
(2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (7) Ottawa Senators
A fierce playoff rivalry dating all the way back to 2007, this series will feature much more hitting than people expect. In last year's matchup, Ottawa bounced Pittsburgh in five games while showing them how to turn it up to 11 in the playoffs. Chris Neil, Mike Fisher, Anton Volchenkov and Chris Kelly were better than basically every Penguin and the Penguins could never catch up to Ottawa's intensity.
After battling injuries all season, the Pens enter the tournament mainly healthy, while Ottawa is missing Fisher, Kelly and captain Daniel Alfredsson. While you might think the Penguins learned from last year and will ratchet up the intensity, Ottawa clanked them in 3 out of 4 this season. And when Ottawa was suffering through a 3-8-3 stretch, two of those wins came over Pittsburgh in one week. Basically, of the seven Wales opponents, this is the worst possible matchup for the Penguins.
GOOD FOR PITTSBURGH - They have two of the best three players in the league.
BAD FOR PITTSBURGH - They are playing Ottawa.
GOOD FOR OTTAWA - Martin Gerber's all-black mask is a good reminder to keep things simple in the playoffs.
BAD FOR OTTAWA - Mark Bell decided that if he has to miss the playoffs, so does Daniel Alfredsson.
THE PICK - Pittsburgh in 7.
(3) Washington Capitals vs. (6) Philadelphia Flyers
One of two matchups in the Patrick Division semi-finals. America's Darlings against America's Despised. Washington steamed into the playoffs. Cristobal Huet won six straight games in the past two weeks, which not only put Washington into the playoffs, but won me my fantasy league. Ovechkin has been leading the charge offensively, but Washington is getting goals from everywhere, which could frighten Martin Biron because he's never been in a playoff game before.
For Philadelphia, the key is to figure out how to injure Ovechkin without making it seem obvious. Fortunately, the Flyers work on cheap shots at the end of each morning skate, so they probably know a few tricks. Offensively, they have lots of young talent, although R.J. Umberger won't be able to score goals since he's not facing Pittsburgh.
While most hockey fans are getting juicy thinking about Alexander Ovechkin against Mike Richards, Flyer fans are getting moist thinking about Donald Brashear against Riley Cote. They are not a very sophisticated bunch.
GOOD FOR WASHINGTON - They are on fire.
BAD FOR WASHINGTON - Playoff games have never been a real strength for the Capitals.
GOOD FOR PHILADELPHIA - Derian Hatcher is still hurt and won't play.
BAD FOR PHILADELPHIA - Nobody likes them.
THE PICK - Philadelphia in 6.
(4) New Jersey Devils vs. (5) New York Rangers
This is a great matchup because the New York/New Jersey fanbase will immediately be cut in half. Plus, they'll be bothering each other for the first two weeks and leaving the rest of us alone. The Rangers owned the Devils this season, going 7-0-1 with Henrik Lundqvist completely shutting down the Jersey offense. Granted, that is not an incredibly impressive feat, but still, he did it. Also, whatever you think of Jerry Jags, he is usually great in the playoffs.
Beyond bad offense, New Jersey also has the worst defense they've had in years. I dunno. Maybe you like Johnny Oduya. Basically, any game where Martin Brodeur is not playing out of his mind is a Devil loss. However, he plays out of his mind in 95% of games.
If Devil fans are clever, they will start the chants of "19-94" in Game 1. Unfortunately, there are no Devil fans. After moving into the Prudential Center this season, the Devils had a computer malfunction that rendered them unable to sell any tickets for seats in the lower bowl. At least, I assume that why nobody ever sits there during Devil games.
GOOD FOR NEW JERSEY - Martin Brodeur. Nothing else. Not even close.
BAD FOR NEW JERSEY - There are still no points awarded for defensive positioning. Only for goals.
GOOD FOR NEW YORK - They've owned New Jersey all year, remember?
BAD FOR NEW YORK - Games in New Jersey are sometimes played without a puck. With the Devils' style of play, a puck is superfluous and that is quite a home ice advantage.
THE PICK - New York in 5.
Tomorrow! Your handy dandy Campbell Conference Playoff Preview! Yowza!