GDT: On With the Show…


    …this is it.  Tonight marks the start of the 2010 – 2011 NHL playoffs.  5 of the 8 Conference Quarter Final match-ups will open tonight.  In the east, Pittsburgh will play host to Tampa and the New York Rangers will be visiting Washington.  Out west, Phoenix will be in Detroit, Nashville will be in So-Cal to take on Anaheim and Chicago will be in the Cable Box taking on Vancouver.

     With names like Datsyuk, Kesler, Ovechkin, Gaborik, Perry and Stamkos set to take the ice tonight, it’s worth mentioning that there’s still time to join Maple Leafs Hot Stove’s Hockey Pool.  All ya gotta do is register for an account on cbc’s site, search for the Maple Leafs Hotstove league and input MLHS as the password.  Then you pick six forwards (three from each conference), four defencemen (two from each conference) and two goaltenders (one from each conference) while staying within the 30 point “player value” limit.  The MLHS reader who wins this pool gets a free Pucking Hilarious t-shirt for their trouble.  Here’s a tip…don’t pick Tukka Rask.

     Stats and story lines after the jump!

    1. Washington v. 8. New York Rangers (7:30pm TSN)

    TEAMGF (rank)GA (rank)PP% (rank)PK% (rank)
    1 Washington224 (19th)197 (4th)17.5% (16th)85.6% (2nd)
    8 New York R233 (14th)198 (5th)16.9% (18th)83.7% (10th)

     The more things change, the more they stay the same.  A late season surge propelled Bruce Boudreau’s Capitals into top spot in the East.  Unsurprisingly the team was led offensively by Alex Ovechkin, who paced the team with 32 goals and 85 points.  However, this Capitals team plays a completely different type of game than the 09-10 iteration.  Tight checking, team defense and a stable of young goalies behind a solid if unspectacular defensive core.

    The rangers won’t want to admit it, but they barely staggered into the playoffs, not clinching a spot until the very last game of the season.  However, this season they make it to the dance on the strength of king Henrik Lundqvist, whose stellar goaltending led to 11 shut outs.

    I hate to brass-tacks games down to superstars, but this series really could go either way depending almost entirely on Ovie or Hank.

     4. Pittsburgh v. 5. Tampa Bay (7:00pm CBC)

    TEAMGF (rank)GA (rank)PP% (rank)PK% (rank)
    4 Pittsburgh238 (12th)199 (7th)15.8% (25th)86.1% (1st)
    5 Tampa Bay247 (7th)240 (22nd)20.5% (6th)83.8% (8th)

     In case you were chained to a radiator in your basement for the past 4 months, the Penguins will be entering tonight’s contest without 8.7 million dollar men Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.  Credit the Pens coaching and depth.  You take the two best players away from most teams in early January and there’s a staggeringly high chance that they won’t make the playoffs.  The Pens didn’t just limp in…they were 1 point behind Washington for 1st in the conference.

    Contrast this with Tampa Bay, whose Superstar is healthy and not producing.  Okay, its hard to say that a guy with 90 points hasn’t been producing, yet Steven Stamkos (for all his accolades) has only scored 7 goals in the past 31 games.

    This series, perhaps more than any other, is going to come down to special teams.  The Pens are the best team on the PK, and have the most short-handed goals of the 16 playoff contenders.  The Lightning Powerplay is absolutely dynamic and Stamkos can rip one timers in the slot as good as any in the league.  Can Pittsburgh’s hardhat and lunch pail tactics prevail over the Lightning’s run and gun style? I’m expecting 7 games.

    4. Detroit v. 5. Phoenix

    TEAMGF (rank)GA (rank)PP% (rank)PK% (rank)
    Detroit261 (2nd)241 (23rd)22.3% (5th)82.3% (17th)
    Phoenix231 (15th)226 (13th)15.9% (23rd)78.4% (26th)

     This is the series that most pundits have predicted an upset, and why not? Mike Babcock may be able to get the most out of his players (read: Danny Cleary) but he can’t heal the sick and wounded.  Coming into tonight’s tilt the Wings could be without both Henrik Zetterberg and Jimmy Howard.  Even if Howard starts tonight, the Coyotes still have a marked advantage in nets with Ilya Bryzgalov.

    Working against the Coyotes is the fact that they’ve never made it to the second round of the playoffs.

    Growing up playing D, this series will be one of the most fun for me to watch.  With Lidstrom, Rafalski, Yandle and Jovo-Cop expected to play big minutes, transition game and puck possession will feature heavily throughout the series. 

    1. Vancouver v. 8. Chicago (10:00pm CBC)

    TEAMGF (rank)GA (rank)PP% (rank)PK% (rank)
    Vancouver262 (1st)185 (1st)24.3% (1st)85.6% (3rd)
    Chicago258 (4th)225 (12th)23.1% (4th)79.2% (25th)

    The game everyone (except myself) will be watching.  If Narrative and storylines are your bag, this series has it in spades.  Two consecutive post-season match-ups, two consecutive upsets by Chicago Blackhawks.  I’ll end this little lecture with two clichés.  1. third time’s a charm. 2. bad luck comes in threes.

    The high octane offensive capabilities of both teams would suggest that the difference maker in the series will be special teams.  Myself, given the stats and style of play of both these clubs, its safe to say that there will be plenty power play goals.  To me, this series is going to be about goaltending and even strength play since advantage goals are a given.  That being the case? Advantage ‘Nucks.

    For as much as I want to say that the Canucks have this in the bag, never bet against Jonathan Toews.  He should be installed in manual transmissions he’s so clutch. 

    4. Anaheim v. 5. Nashville (10:30 pm TSN)

    TEAMGF (rank)GA (rank)PP% (rank)PK% (rank)
    Anaheim239 (11th)235 (19th)23.5% (3rd)81.3 (19th)
    Nashville219 (21st)194 (2nd)15.2% (26th)84.9 (5th)

    While you guys are waving the flag, I’ll be watching this game.  A closet Ducks fan since Emilio won my heart and the world championships against Iceland, this series could be the most entertaining.

    Unlike Hollywood, these Ducks are no underdogs.  They have two 30 goal scorers in Bobby Ryan and the immortal Teemu Selanne, as slick a playmaker there is in Ryan Getzlaf.  Oh, and some guy named Corey who went on a tear over the last 20 games of the season and put up 50 goals.  Their top line can match any other top line in the league, and their strong defensive depth has only been improved since picking up Francois Beauchemin.

    In the other corner, meet the Nashville Predators.  Perpetually in the playoffs, perpetually without any justification as to why on paper.  Seriously, look at their line up.  Outside of Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne you would think you’re looking at an AHL roster.  And yet, year in year out Barry Trotz proves that he’s the most underrated bench boss in the league.  (Side note: another key feature to Nashville’s season success has been an unending pipeline of sick Goaltenders.  Once Rinne leaves for greener pastures, expect Anders Lindback to become Curtis Joseph reborn).

    I hate to make such bold predictions, but get out the brooms…Anaheim in 4.  Too much offense, too many weapons and too many powerplays will ensure that the Predators will be easy prey.   

    Now that thats out of the way, what say you, Hotstove?  What games are you watching tonight?  Which series will provide the biggest upset?  Will the Canucks/Blackhawks match-up be as intense without big Buff standing on Luongo?  Which former Leaf player are you rooting for in these playoffs?