Of all the teams with really good records, the Ducks might be the least respected. If you use goal differential, or shots, or some other designer metric, the Ducks don't jump out on paper. They just win close games. For the last few years, they've followed the same script. They score, they get decent goaltending and okay defense, and they win a round in the playoffs. All of this while losing either Corey Perry or Ryan Getzlaf to an annual 3-6 week injury.
Bruce Boudreau has his hands full with the Ducks' goaltending situation. But plenty of teams have won with worse goalies. It just won't be this year. But they are playing Winnipeg, so he can relax a little.
Not many expected Winnipeg to be here when the season started. I'm not sure why that is. All the good teams have been terrible for a while in order to get a few early first rounders to lead them to the playoffs. In Winnipeg's case, their prized prospects landed them a hulking defenseman and one hell of a locker room story.
If the Ducks have an awkward goaltending dilemma, what does Winnipeg have? Relying on Ondrej Pavalec against the best shooting team in the league may seem like a bad idea to some. I have yet to meet the others who disagree.
One thing that the Jets doe have going for them is the size and depth on defense with guys like Mark Stuart, Dustin Byfuglien (who will be rested), Jacob Trouba, and now Tyler Myers. And after being matched up against Perry and the Ducks, the Jets better hope their Kevlar athletic supporters arrive in time.
The Winnipeg Jets have never won a playoff game in their history, and will attempt to do so with a goaltender who lost a critical game by allowing a goal from Barrett Jackman. That may not sound bad... but the puck was shot from the other side of the Mississippi, came with less than a few minutes remaining, and after the Jets came from 3 goals down on the road.
And now he's playing a team that shot 9.3% this year. Good luck.
It will be fun to see the playoffs in Winnipeg's building, but if there was ever a band of cutthroats who can handle the chaos it might be the Ducks. All things considered, prepare for Anaheim to blindfold the Jets, beat them up for a bit, read a statement, and make it quick.
Welcome back, Vancouver. We missed you in the playoffs about as much as we missed Mike Smith being a Vezina level goaltender.
Neither really happened.
It's hard not to feel good for Radim Vrbata getting a real chance to shine again. He's one of the most fun players to watch and he's playing in a system that suits what he does. And to top it off, since the second line for Vancouver consists of a third line center and streaky winger, it's like he never left the desert.
The Sedin brothers are absolute gems of human beings and should be regarded as some of the best in the league during the post-lockout era. It's a shame that they're saddled with the burden of being the character balances on a team that deserves a fate far worse than their opponents can give them.
A team that's years ahead of schedule, the Calgary Flames stole a spot away from the defending champions. Jonas Hiller has been good when it mattered, and Sean Monahan has to this point been the best player taken in the 2013 draft. And that's exactly what you want to hear.
What's even scarier for other teams is that with Sam Bennett called up for the run, and Johnny Gaudreau having a great season, this is the beginning of the Flames slow ascension. Finally, all those years of Jay Feaster are paying off.
I know a lot of you might not like Brian Burke, but I like any guy who supports his kids and stands behind them. With that said, he traded for Brandon Bollig. Who knows, he might be useful in this series.
We'll have a fun, blood and guts series to fall asleep to. Seriously, this will be a blast to watch. Neither goaltender is perfect, neither team is terribly deep, and we still have a heavy favorite according to the experts. But both employ different strategies; the Canucks will hit you, claim that you started it, and score on the ensuing power play before using a "celly" aimed at your first two rows. Calgary might hit you, but will send out Brandon Bollig who has a smile that only Dustin Penner would love.
As fun as it is to have Calgary in the fold, I wanted the certain destruction that Los Angeles would bring. Instead we have the hopes and dreams of Calgary, a team that won it all nearly two decades ago, against the Texas Rangers of hockey. If the Flames can pull this off, it would be something never forgotten. If not, we'll be faced with a meteor series no matter the outcome of the other.
Despite Ken Hitchcock's best efforts, the Blues have been very entertaining to watch. The emergence of Vladimir Tarasenko and the guile of Jori Lehtera injected some real life into a lineup that needed some secondary scoring. With their combination of Tarasenko and Lehtera matched together with the sharp play of Jaden Schwartz, it'll be up to David Backes and TJ Oshie to provide that secondary scoring. Really.
Kevin Shattenkirk returned to the Blues at just the right time. Before he got injured, he was likely their best defenseman. Had he not been injured, he might've been in the Norris conversation. Sadly, many Canadian writers would have voted for "Andy Kaufman" by mistake. I can't imagine why.
It wouldn't be a Blues playoff series with a goaltending fiasco. And seeing that Brian Elliott was named to the All-Star Game, had some solid play for most of the year, I was really worried that this wasn't going to happen. But the Blues have an experienced coach and GM who have been here before, and got the job done the last week of the season by naming Jake Allen their guy going forward.
The bonus factor of having not one but two goaltenders with names that are worthy of bro-country singers is mighty clutch, STL. Gotta love guys with multiple first names.
The Wild got into the playoffs overcoming some real adversity. And unless Buffalo or Arizona wins the lottery, Don Maloney might have a nervous breakdown 4 months in the making. And Mitch Korn still won't care.
Devan Dubnyk and the Wild got on a historic run to end the season. If it was up to them, the playoffs would've started Sunday. The time off might be the worst thing for a guy being told to stop 32 shots a night, every other night. He's received plenty of help from their defense who have become excellent at sweeping around rebounds, and protecting the front of the net. Essentially, Mike Yeo convinced the Wild that Dubnyk was their new backup goaltender behind Darcy Kuemper and never told them anything different, and they continue playing in front of him like he's Reto Berra.
All kidding aside, the Wild are a team that play clean, play smart, and have enough weapons on offense to do some damage when the chance arrives. The impressive part is that everyone has bought in to the system. Yet, we do hate this team. After all the money that's been spent on offense, they aren't the flashy team we expect them to be. And we as fans get vengeful about this.
Essentially, the Wild are the team that Barry Trotz always wanted. And that's just mean.
This a real clash of styles. If they were a prize fight, it would be Evander Holyfied vs. John Ruiz. Holyfield had the knockout power, he had the stamina, and he could take a hit. And to top it off, Holyfield sells a mediocre BBQ sauce. He also won an important fight against Hasim Rahman when he headbutted him (Rahman had a rodent sized blob on his forehead). John Ruiz was the single most dull fighter I can remember in the heavyweight division. Punch, punch, clinch. Repeat for 12 rounds or until opponents gets frustrated and starts swinging wildly and KO's self. That's pretty St. Louis if you ask me.
The only way anyone is beating Minnesota is if Dubnyk comes back to reality and Minnesota doesn't score enough to compensate. That's asking a lot. The Wild have steadily stacked some scoring depth in their ranks, and have the firepower to make some noise if they aren't too involved playing their defensive game. One thing St. Louis can do is drive the net and force the defending team out of position.
But from a psychology standpoint, it's hard not to imagine a series of events that frustrate St. Louis to do the hockey equivalent of burning a motorhome in the street, punching a police officer in the stomach, waiving their nylon Cardinals jacket in the air, and threatening the cameraman with red phosphorus.