Well, let's do a quick rundown of the match-ups we have this Spring...
This has to be my favourite match-up in the Eastern Conference this year, as the Canadiens and Bruins tangle for another playoff series. The two teams have a renewed dislike, possibly even hate, for each other and it's all rather exciting. The Bruins have been a high scoring bunch all year, with some quality defense and goaltending, while the Canadiens have limped their way through their centennial season, only to claw their way into the playoffs. With some history on the line, the Canadiens should have enough fight in them to make it a good series.
The Washington Capitals will be taking home-ice advantage to the New York Rangers, as they have developed themselves into the number two seed in the Eastern Conference. The Caps will have their hands full, as the Rangers have some pretty good goaltending of their own and a most notable pest in Sean Avery. The Capitals likely have too much scoring for the Rangers to handle this time around, as Alex Ovechkin will have his sights set on some new scoring records in the playoffs. This series shouldn't short of flashing red lights.
The series between the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils has all sorts of variables that can swing the decision of the series either way. The Hurricanes come into the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the East, while the Devils do have one of the best goalies of all-time, including the playoffs, on their side in Martin Brodeur. This could be the make-it or break-it series for a lot of pool sheets, as they'll have to decide who will make it out of the first round and it's oh-so tough to do.
If you want another brutal looking series to watch in the East, check out the Battle of Pennsylvania, as the Philadelphia Flyers will invade the Pittsburgh Penguins for their first round contests. This rivalry has grown back into one of the more fierce rivalries and for good reason. Both teams have a good list of young, bluechip talent and they all have the willingness to win. I suppose when I'm not watching the Boston/Montreal series, I'll be looking forward to watching this one, as the bad blood should boil over into a hard-hitting, high-scoring affair.
An early Battle of California leads off the Western Conference match-ups, as the President's Trophy winners, San Jose, will host Anaheim. It's too bad the Kings couldn't be there for a Battle Royale, but that's another story altogether. The Sharks and Ducks should be a pretty good pairing, as both teams are starting to put a good rivalry together. The Ducks already have a Stanley Cup to their name and could very well play spoilers to a Sharks team who have been favoured for one for the past few seasons. This could be a tough one to get through for either team.
A battle stemmed from the Central Division sees the newly playoff born Columbus Blue Jackets play against the reigning champions from Detroit. The Jackets had a bit of a cold couple weeks getting into the playoffs, but may have some renewed optimism, now that they have finally made the dance. The Red Wings think of the playoffs as yet another time to shine and most of the players know what it takes to win in the second season. If the Jackets have enough moxie to work hard in this series, it might be a good one, but will moxie truly be enough?
Something has to give in the series between the Blues and Canucks, since both teams are coming into the playoffs riding some hot streaks. Between Chris Mason and Roberto Luongo, there are plenty of wins in the back half of the season, as both teams proved that being seemingly down & out in the middle part of the season, doesn't mean they are bad teams. The Blues rallied from the bottom of the West for their playoff spot, while the Canucks fought their way from the bottom of their division to win the Northwest. This could be a good grinding series or one team's momentum will carry.
Finally, the young Blackhawks will take on the Flames, who are not salary cap riddled anymore. The Flames should be a much healthier team going into Game 1 on Thursday, with a couple of their key players returning, while the youth and enthusiasm of the Blackhawks in their first playoff series since the '90s will have a loud United Center to gain momentum from. If the Flames can get the same kind of chemistry that the Blackhawks will have going in, we should see a hard-fought series.