Literally, blood, sweat and tears. This is the 2009 version of the chase for the Holy Grail of hockey - The Stanley Cup. For all of today's players who grew up watching the likes of Gainey, Gretzky, Messier, Yzerman and Potvin lift the fabled Cup after two of the toughest months a hockey player will ever face, the moment is now theirs. For this spring's chase will Lidstrom repeat or will the cup be lifted by the likes of Thornton or even Chara. One thing is certain, only one team will end the playoff season on a winning streak. To the victor go the spoils.
Here's my insight on the first round:
Boston over Montreal (4-1)
What started as a dream 100th anniversary season for the Canadiens has quickly turned into a nightmare that meant making the playoffs by invoking the tie-breaker rule against the hard-luck Panthers. Montreal's first line of Koivu-Tanguay-Kovalev will provide some spark but it's Boston's well balanced attack that will prevail in what will be some tight scoring one goal games. The Difference Maker (DM)- Mark Recchi.
Washington over New York (4-2)
"Ovechkin shoots", a call heard over 500 times this year. He will clearly dominate both offensive sides in this fast moving matchup. Look for Sean Avery to create more havock for his team than for the Capitals. A few too many power play opportunities for Washington will kill any chances the Rangers have to stay in this series. Look for Torterella to come up with some solid game plans, but Bruce Boudreau simply has the better horses to win this race. DM - Mike Green.
New Jersey over Carolina (4-3)
The past vs the present. Watch the teacher in Martin Brodeur teach a lesson to future teacher Cam Ward. This one will go both ways and the team with the best game plan will win out in the end. Edge here on coaching easily goes to Brent Sutter. Eric Staal will make his presence known but ultimately, Zach Parise will show why he's the real deal. DM - Jamie Langenbrunner.
Pittsburgh over Philadelphia (4-2)
Too much offense will prevail over suspect goaltending. Although Martin Biron can be hot at times, consistency was never in his asset portfolio. Penguins are too well distributed offensively to be witheld by the Flyers. Expect a few blowouts in this one, perhaps even one by the Flyers. Mike Richards will showcase why he's the Flyers franchise player. DM - Sergei Gonchar.
San Jose over Anaheim (4-3)
The Sharks will be able to shake the proverbial monkey off their back and this should be the first step into a long playoff run. Nabokov will continue to be solid and having a few veterans like Lemieux and Roenick around will remove much of the self-imposed pressure put on Joe Thornton. Anaheim gets a shot at a game seven due to strong defensive hockey and the strong leadership og a Ryan Getzlaff. DM - Joe Thornton.
Detroit over Columbus (4-1)
This is the Jackets maiden voyage into playoff land. The last team to do so. Watch for Rick Nash to place a lot of pressure on himself and try to over do it. Some added punch could come from newly acquired Antoine Vermette but Detroit's high octane offense will defuse any opportunities the Jackets may think they have. Watch for Datsyuk to dominate and Osgood to be well shielded. DM - Nick Lidstrom.
Vancouver over St Louis (4-3)
Home advantage gives the edge here or else this is a pick'em. These are two of the hottest teams since January 1st. Coaching will keep the Blues closer than they may deserve to be. Andy Murray has finally convinced his crew to buy into what he's selling. It has worked. The veteran leadership of Sundin will help in the locker room but Captain Luongo should dominate in the crease, keeping the Canucks from losing games that they otherwise would. DM - H or D Sedin.
Chicago over Calgary (4-1)
Team on its way up meets team on its way down. The Hawks are the youngest team in the league and one of the fastest. A seven year absence from the playoffs and a jammed pack United Center will keep these kids pumped. Joel Quenneville's years of experience will be the stability factor long with Khabibulin finding his game after a 4 year search for it. Calgary might steal one in cow-town but being banged up as they are, keeping up with the young legs will be very difficult. DM- Jonathan Toewes
Enjoy the games.