Watching the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring is a stress-free pleasure for Predators fans; with the local boys out of the postseason, we can just sit back and enjoy the show. That said, there are certainly a number of storylines with Nashville ties that are worth following in this first round:
Montreal vs. Boston
Boston appears to hitting on all cylinders right now, and a win tonight in Montreal will put the hated Habs on the brink of elimination. For the Bruins, closing out an early series in four games would set them up well for a long playoff run.
New York vs. Washington
At what point does Alex Ovechkin start squeezing his stick so tight it snaps prior to the faceoff? The guy fires at will, but must be getting frustrated at how shot-blocking Rangers and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist are shutting the Caps down so far. His gimmick today, watching the Rangers practice from the bench in a bid to upset John Tortorella, strikes me as a bit odd.
Carolina vs. New Jersey
This is certainly the least-sexy playoff series, but credit the Devils for winning in OT in Raleigh yesterday to take home-ice advantage back from the Hurricanes.
Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh
What a war this is turning out to be, a real showcase of playoff intensity that should be required viewing for newbie hockey fans. I'm left wondering, however, whether the ultimate winner will be able to survive another round? By the way, former Predators forward Scott Hartnell leads the Flyers with 21 penalty minutes, with former Preds captain Kimmo Timonen second with 10!
Anaheim vs. San Jose
Wow, it's too bad the Preds couldn't have snuck into the 8th playoff spot, especially given how the Sharks are choosing to choke in the 1st round this year rather than the 2nd, like they usually do. I can't imagine the angst that will take over in San Jose if they get bounced in the first round, after the firing of Ron Wilson and having Todd McLellan lead the team to its first Presidents Trophy.
I didn't get a chance to catch much of Game 2, but a note over at Battle of California has me intrigued; the notion that the Ducks are deliberately avoiding physical play with Joe Thornton, in order to keep him from getting riled up. If true, it's a savvy ploy on Anaheim's part, given their usually-pugnacious style of play. Scotty Bowman famously did the same thing to the Philadelphia's Legion of Doom in the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals, matching Lindros et al against Nick Lidstrom and Larry Murphy, rather than inviting confrontation by playing Vladimir Konstantinov against them.
Columbus vs. Detroit
I still believe the Wings goaltending and defensive issues will prove a liability at some point, but the Blue Jackets just don't have enough firepower to take advantage of it.
St. Louis vs. Vancouver
St. Louis has apparently run out of gas, but give credit where it's due: the Canucks have been a dominating team over the last several weeks, and are getting contributions from all levels of the depth chart. Oh yeah, and they've got the best goaltender in the game, that counts for something, too. And as for Mats Sundin not playing the other day? I blame Tom Benjamin...
Calgary vs. Chicago
Yes, the Blackhawks won the opening games on home ice, but I'm guessing that the Flames will hold serve as well in Calgary. To me, this is the most fascinating matchup in the Western Conference, and it will be interestiing to see how Kane & Toews handle the mounting pressure as the series progresses. Just think about how fortunate Chicago has been this year; not only are the young stars developing nicely, but Martin Havlat and Nikolai Khabibulin are finally playing up to their high-dollar contracts, after weighing down the Blackhawks like boat anchors the last few seasons.
Remember, for a wealth of great coverage on the Stanley Cup playoffs, check out the SB Nation playoff hub, which brings together articles from all the teams involved...