With just about a month to go in the regular season, the NHL isÂ primed for what looks to be a veryÂ competitive playoff run for the Stanley Cup.Outside of the current conference leaders (Boston from the East, and San Jose and Detroit (No.1 and No.2 respectively) in the West) who I imagine will continue to dominant in the fashion they have since October, the matchups for one of the most passionate tournaments has yet to be decided.
Looking at the East the Bruins, Devils, Capitals and Flyers (the current top 4) have to be looked at as favorites to lock down high seeds. The rest of the field will most likely be decided in the final games of the season. My picks to round out spots five through eight are Montreal, Florida, Carolina and New York (Rangers; there is no way the Islanders make it to the playoffs any time soon).
Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, despite their heroics in last yearâ€™s playoffs will not make it to the post season this year. Theyâ€™ve lost too much fire power up front and have been inconsistent. Buffalo will be edged out as well. Losing goalie Ryan Miller to injury will cost the Sabres. Without Miller in net this average team has no hope of battling the big boys. A good example would be the drubbing provided by Philadelphia last night in a 5-2 road loss for the Sabres. Aside from the fluky first goal of the game, where a puck was redirected off the skate of a jumping Maxim Afinogenov, Buffalo didnâ€™t pose much of a threat.
The West I think is going to be a bit more fun to watch over the next thirty days or so. The middle of the conference is loaded with average teams battling night in and night out for points. The Los Angeles Kings, currently sitting in the 13thÂ spot in the conference, are only 4 points behind the Nashville Predators who are holding onto the final playoff spot in the West with 71 points through 67 games played. In my honest opinion â€“ the teams that end up filling the fourth through eighth seeds in the West are just going to be punching bags for the likes of San Jose, Detroit, and Calgary.
Calgary who was already a solid team made some huge trade deadline moves bringing in center Olli Jokinen and defenseman Jordan Leopold.Â Miikka KiprusoffÂ is leading the league in wins, but doesnâ€™t have the flashiest of stats among league leaders in save percentage or goals allowed. This may have to improve going into the playoffs, but with 39 wins under his belt so far and the fact Kiprusoff is capable of playing like one of the best goalies in the world â€“ the Flames could menace Detroit and San Jose come playoff time.
With regards to the rest of the West, I think it would be great to see teams like the Columbus Blue Jackets (yes, Columbus has a team), the St. Louis Blues, and Los Angeles in the mix. It seems like forever since St. Louis and Los Angeles produced competitive teams.
Itâ€™s all still up in the air, but tune in and gear up for what will be a fun race to the finish. The intensity will be kicked up a few notches and the body checks are certain to pack a little more â€œoomphâ€ the next few weeks.
On a side note, I read something the other day where there is a rumor circling around that ESPN might start televising NHL games again â€“ possibly a Friday night showcase or something. I hope that happens. As much as I donâ€™t mind the Versus broadcasts or the local channel broadcast, having a network like ESPN cater to the hockey world, a bit more, would be good for the sport.