Today, the NHL Playoffs kickoff with five games to keep track of. Two will take part in the East featuring the fourth seeded Penguins against No.5 Lightning at 7 ET while the top seeded Capitals and No.8 Rangers drop the puck at the bottom of the hour in D.C. The West has three games to choose from with anticipated rematch between the third seeded Red Wings and No.6 Coyotes also at 7 ET. The other two series will start later with the most intriguing rematch taking place in British Columbia between the No.1 overall seeded Canucks and No.8 defending champion Blackhawks at 10 ET. Even if you're not a diehard, that series is worth watching just for the storylines. Finally at 10:30 ET, the Battle Of California gets going as the No.2 Sharks lock horns with the No.7 Kings at the Shark Tank. Another intriguing series that shouldn't lack passion.
When it comes down to it, almost every series has intense rivalries. The Caps and Rangers go back to the Patrick Division days of John Druce and Mike Ridley while tomorrow's 2/7 match-up pits bitter enemies as the Flyers and Sabres have no love for each other, having met six prior times with each splitting. The days of The Dominator, Garth Snow (yes, that guy), Eric Lindros and Mike Peca can still be seen through our tunnel vision. The names have changed. But figure it to live up to the billing with two great hockey towns ready for battle. There's also the bitter series that waits another 24 hours when bitter Original Six rivals, the Bruins and Canadiens line up for the 3/6 match-up. If it's anything like the regular season (Chara on Pacioretty, line brawl, Recchi), watch out. These teams hate each other with a passion. Boston will try to bully Montreal. It won't just be about the players but the fans, who bring intensity to this classic rivalry. Our favorite. For the Lightning and Pens, it'd be different if all the star power were playing. Instead, Sidney Crosby remains a question mark and Evgeni Malkin has a long road to recovery. There's also no Matt Cooke to spice it up. Steve Downie is still around and Max Talbot can get underneath anyone's skin. It'll be interesting to see how Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik (if healthy) deal with Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier. Will newcomers Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek pay off?
We've already sampled the West with the Canucks and Hawks meeting a third consecutive time. This time, all the pressure's on Vancouver, who achieved a record high 117 points while scoring a league best 262 goals while permitting 185 led by dynamic duo Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Roberto Luongo. Though talk that he could be in the Vezina race is preposterous. Not when backup Cory Schneider was just as good on one of the league's best team defenses anchored by Norris candidagte Christian Ehrhoff. Ryan Kesler scored 40 goals and is the best American born player in our opinion. He should take home his first Selke and be counted on to score clutch goals this postseason. Even without Dustin Byfuglien, Antti Niemi, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg and Brent Sopel, the Hawks are still the defending champs who boast dynamic duo Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who Luongo's seen in his sleep the past two Springs. In other words, this ain't your normal eighth seed. Not when they have Sharpshooter Patrick Sharp, two-way threat Marian Hossa along with Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Brian Campbell as well. Keep an eye on gritty Tomas Kopecky who will battle Luongo in front along with Troy Brouwer, who looks ready to go. If Chicago had Dave Bolland healthy, they'd be more of a threat. How will first-year players Corey Crawford, Bryan Bickell and Nick Leddy perform? Special teams could loom large. Last year, the Canucks lost discipline. A repeat could prove costly for the Cup favorites.
The Sharks and Kings are no strangers even if it's a rare playoff showdown. Two years ago, the Ducks stunned top seeded San Jose. Is it about to happen again? Depends on money performers Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley along with a strong cast that features Ryane Clowe, Joe Pavelski, Dan Boyle, Devin Setoguchi and Calder candidate Logan Couture. If Niemi holds up in net, the Kings have their work cut out for them. Especially minus MVP Anze Kopitar, who they hope to get back late second round. Captain Dustin Brown's the emotional leader of a feisty club that will battle you even without Kopitar and Justin Williams. Any club that boasts Ryan Smyth can't be underestimated. It will take a real team effort to pull it off. They have the goaltending in overlooked ace Jon Quick with understudy Jonathan Bernier in supply. Big series from Jarett Stoll, Michal Handzus, Dustin Penner and our fave Wayne Simmonds make it worth watching. Plus Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson on the back end. It should be fun. ... Last year, the Coyotes were back in it and took powerhouse Detroit to seven before falling in the Desert. That these two meet again is great. You have a contrast in net between more polished Russian Ilya Bryzgalov and young American Jimmy Howard. We'll favor the Vezina runner-up over the Ivy League kid from Cornell. Before you get overwhelmed by the Wings' talent/experience of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg (questionable), Nick Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Nik Kronwall, Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom, Dan Cleary and Valtteri Filppula, the 'Yotes boast Norris caliber Keith Yandle, ultimate warrior Shane Doan, Wizard Ray Whitney and finally a 100 percent JovoCop, who anchors a deep blueline that includes underrated Adrian Aucoin along with vets Michal Rozsival and Rotislav Klesla. The key will be interchangeable forwards Lauri Korpikoski, Radim Vrbata, Eric Belanger and key finisher Lee Stempniak. Boasting grit in Martin Hanzal, Taylor Pyatt and Vernon Fiddler, Phoenix has enough to win this series. It should be a long one.
As for the Ducks and Preds, it all depends on the key match-up of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter versus the potent line of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan. Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu could tilt it Anaheim's way along with Lubomir Visnovsky. Though Nashville has a shot with Pekka Rinne, Patrick Hornqvist, Steve Sullivan, David Legwand and Sergei Kostitsyn.