The National Hockey League's season ends April 6th. For Atlanta Thrasher fans, that day can't come fast enough. Out of the playoff picture, thanks in part to a certain GM/Head coach's incompetency ( please, in the name of ALL things decent and holy, dump Wadell and hire Melrose!), the Birds, who won the Southeast Conference, will sit home with Florida, the Toronto Maple Leafs (or as Chris Berman once called them, the Falling Leafs), New York Islanders, Tampa Bay, Columbus, St. Louis and Los Angeles.
There are six teams (Phoenix, Washington, Buffalo, Vancouver, Edmonton and Chicago) that are still breathing but barely. They may or may not be joining the others on the golf course this summer while everyone else fights for Coupe Stanley.
That leaves us with the contenders for the prize. Pittsburgh, Montreal, San Jose, defending champion Anaheim and Detroit have already punched their ticket for the post season. I look at the updated seedings for what would happen if NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said, "Boys, we're playing today."
1 seed Montreal vs. 8 seed Boston (Montreal swept the season series 8 games to none). Despite missing Mike Komisarek with a groin injury, the Habs still look pretty on top. Boston has not been immune from the injury bug, losing Chuck Kobasew, Marc Savard and Andrew Ference to a total of 324 man-games to injury. The Bruins will need all the luck they can get. I like Montreal in 7, even though Boston can play a physical game.
2 seed Pittsburgh vs. 7 seed Philadelphia (Philadelphia leads series 4 games to 2 with two more meetings, one in Pittsburgh April 2nd and the other in Philadelphia April 4th). Sid Crosby is back and Penguin fans could not be happier. The next best thing to Mario (yes, THAT Mario) is back on frozen pond after missing seven games. Philadelphia looks pretty good of late, too. The Flyer power play in their last 11 games was 45 of 48. Not bad. Then again, this is not the same Flyers of Bobby Clarke, Dave Schultz, et al. They can't afford to take silly penalties, especially in the playoffs. At least one team in the Keystone State is going to the next round and that team is Pittsburgh in 6.
3 seed Carolina vs. 6 seed New York Rangers (Carolina and New York split the season series 2-2). Carolina could cause the Rangers some problems. The residents of Madison Square Gardens need to win and keep winning to get into the party. In the two wins over the former Hartford Whalers, the Rangers outscored Carolina 8-4; in the two losses, Carolina had the edge 7-1. Both teams can put the puck in the net. I'm going with the Rangers in 5 just to make their MSG roommates, the Knicks, jealous that they are in post season play and they're not.
4 seed Ottawa vs. 5 seed New Jersey (Ottawa and New Jersey split the season series 2-2) Senators goalie Martin Gerber has all but assured himself of a start in the playoffs. He will need some help if the Senators are to be successful against the boys from the Jersey shores. The Devils broke a four game losing streak against Philly Friday night and will need to stay hot for the long haul. I see this one going seven with Ottawa moving on to the next round.
1 seed Detroit vs. 8 seed Nashville (Detroit leads the series 4-3 with one game left in Detroit March 30th). Hockey Town USA needs Darren McCarty to get healthy and stay that way. Granted, he's not Chris Chelios but his presence on the ice could take some pressure away from the Chicago-born defenseman. He can take some shifts and give some guys rest. That will be important. A 4-3 overtime loss to St. Louis ended a four game win streak, so the Wings have to play smarter hockey. It can be done. Nashville is riding on a pair of shutouts against the BlueJackets and will need to kick their level of play up a notch. I see the Wings marching toward the next round and take this one in 6.
2 seed San Jose vs. 7 seed Colorado (Series even 2-2). San Jose could make trouble for Colorado if they continue to play as well as they have of late. Not to take anything away from the Avalanche, who are certainly no slouches themselves. However, the Sharks have a game in hand in the schedule and will look forward to their meeting with Colorado. This one could easily go seven, given the way they both have been playing of late. I may not know the way to San Jose but I'm taking the Sharks in 7.
3 seed Minnesota vs. 6 seed Calgary (Calgary leads series 6-1 with one meeting left in Minnesota April 3rd). The Flames have won the last five meetings with the Wild, all of the wins one goal affairs. Give the Wild credit, though. They were in every one of those games. If the boys from the Land of 10,000 Lakes can stay close, they'll have a chance to beat the former Atlanta Flames; on the other hand, if the Wild takes stupid penalties, it will be a short series. Even though they broke my heart when they left the Big Peach to "Stampede" their way into Calgary, I am going with the Flames in 6.
4 seed Anaheim vs. 5 seed Dallas (Dallas leads the series 5 games to 2 with one game left in Anaheim March 30th). The defending Stanley Cup champs have won three of their last five games. They have also clinched a playoff berth with its shootout victory over Los Angeles on Wednesday, marking the first time in franchise history the club has reached the playoffs in three consecutive seasons. Dallas have lost five in a row and look more like fallling stars. This is not what the doctor ordered and if they don't get their act in a row, their summers may be spent working for Dallas Mavs owner Mark Cuban at a Tasty Freeze. Ducks quack their way to another cup in