The time that hockey players call the real season has arrived. Its the best time of the year in the NHL.
Hockey clubs have built through 82 games of broken teeth, sprained knees, crippling concussions and ice bags aplenty to make it inside the top eight in their respective conferences, now the fun begins Wednesday night.
It comes down to guys doing their respective jobs on the ice and playing their roles. Whichever team does that best will hold the Cup overhead in June.
What did we say over and over and over last year? You take it one game at a time, one period at a time, and one shift at a time, said Tim Thomas, who was deemed the most valuable of all those playoff performers last season. It sounds clich but if we want a chance to do it again thats how we have to prepare.
You dont look at it like you need to win the Cup. You focus on the now and each individual game. We did a great job of breaking it down with that attitude, especially as the playoffs went on last year. Thats what helped us get through it.
Its amazing to think how much people talked about Vancouvers struggles this season yet they come away with the Presidents Trophy for the second straight season. Meanwhile four other teams harbor Cup dreams out West after putting together 100-point seasons (Detroit, St. Louis, Nashville and Chicago) and perhaps the two most talented teams rounded out the elite eight with both the Sharks and Los Angeles Kings just getting into the bubble.
In the Eastern Conference things are just as hotly contested. Where the Bruins and Lightning somehow managed to get to the conference finals once the top two seeds had bowed out ungracefully, this year would be appear to be much different. The most plausible playoff run for the Bruins would force them to beat the Capitals, Penguins and Rangers in succession to get back to the Cup Finals, and that is a daunting postseason task.
Each time will espouse the one-game-at-a-time philosophy and the beards will be magnificent, but here are some CSNNE.com postseason predictions to chew on as playoff hockey gets under way:
First round matchups in Eastern Conference
(1) New York Rangers vs. (8) Ottawa Senators. Winner: Rangers in 5. King Henrik and Rags finally get out of the first round.
(2) Boston Bruins vs. (7) Washington Capitals. Winner: Bruins in 7. Bruins have too much depth and Caps have too many defensive weak spots.
(3) Florida Panthers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils. Winner: Devils in 6. Florida just happy to be in the playoffs for once.
(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers. Winner: Penguins in 7. The Penguins earn everything they get with a tough start to their road through playoffs.
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Bruins vs. Penguins: Penguins in 7. If healthy the Penguins are a slightly better team with the Bruins missing Horton.
Rangers vs. Devils: Rangers in 6. The Rangers are built for the playoffs and they prove it in tri-state grudge match.
Eastern Conference Finals
Rangers vs. Penguins: Penguins in 5. Battle-hardened Penguins can taste the Cup at this point.
First Round matchups in Western Conference
Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings. Winner: Kings in 6. Richards and Carter finally stay on Dry Island for the playoffs.
St. Louis Blues vs. San Jose Sharks. Winner: Sharks in 5. Blues have been a nice regular season story, but have first round shocker written all over them.
Phoenix Coyotes vs. Chicago Blackhawks: Winner: Blackhawks in 6. The Hawks are the better team and continue the underdog theme.
Nashville Predators vs. Detroit Red Wings. Winner: Nashville in 7. The Predators have chosen to go for broke this season and they start by knocking off a formidable Wings crew.
Western Conference Semifinals
Predators vs. Kings. Winner: Predators in 6. Nashville gets what they earned through this season, a chance to get to the Finals.
Sharks vs. Blackhawks. Winner: Sharks in 7. San Jose slacked through the year, but plays well when it counts in a bizarre reversal of fortune for them.
Western Conference Finals
Predators vs. Sharks: Predators in 7. Nashville gets their final hurrah with Weber, Suter, Rinne, Radulov and the rest of the Preds bunch along for the ride.
Stanley Cup Finals
Penguins over Predators in 6 games. Its time to once again crown Sid the Kid and his Penguins.
Conn Smythe Trophy winner