Tuesday, April 10, 2012

2012 NHL Playoffs: Storylines

It all starts tomorrow when the Battle Of Pennsylvania divides a state with two rivals that hate each other must play one another in Round One due to the ridiculous seeding that elevated Florida to a third seed over the Pens, Flyers and Devils. The West has a similar dream match up with the Red Wings and Predators doing battle while the Hawks draw the Pacific's best, the Yotes. At least Phoenix played its way up and could be a sleeper.

Be that as it may, for 16 teams they get to dream big. Yes, even the Panthers who are in the tournament for the first time since Pavel Bure electrified crowds 12 years ago, can believe in destiny. The joke seen here and in other parts that they couldn't possibly make it due to peculiar GM Dale Tallon's NHL nomads philosophy is just that. So, Kris Versteeg, Brian Campbell, Tomas Kopecky, Tomas Fleischmann, Ed Jovanovski and perhaps Jose Theodore will try to prove Tallon right again along with mainstay Stephen Weiss, who finally gets meaningful hockey. While Adams candidate Kevin Dineen and his Cats try to stun the Devils (only in the NHL), the pressure is on the Canucks to deliver the Cup they fell short on against Boston, touching off more ugliness. Vancouver is the President's Trophy winner but that hardly matters against Vezina hopeful Jon Quick and the Kings, who aren't your normal eighth seed. How Daniel Sedin comes back from a concussion will play a pivotal role in their chances.

In the East, the Rangers were beasts, surprising everyone by winning the conference with 109 points on the strength of Henrik Lundqvist, Marian Gaborik, Ryan Callahan, Brad Richards and top D pair Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh. John Tortorella and Lundqvist have a lot of pressure this time with the goalie needing to prove he's championship caliber while the fiery coach wants to prove he can guide a team he molded into more than first round fodder. They'll get strong competition from another not your average eight in the Senators led by Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson, Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek. If they prevail, Martin Brodeur and the Devils could be waiting in a dream scenario. Ilya Kovalchuk expects his team to win. This could be Zach Parise's final go round in red and black. He'll want to make it special. While the Hudson rivals dare to dream, those in Boston and Pittsburgh expect greatness. The Bruins led by Zdeno Chara and a tough core that is aiming to repeat while the star loaded Pens boast Sid The Kid, MVP in waiting Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang. They'll have to get past the Flyers who boast Claude Giroux, Jaromir Jagr, Scott Hartnell, Wayne Simmonds and Mr. Universe.

Playing the role of underdogs are Alex Ovechkin and the Caps, who'll hope Braden Holtby can become a household name while Nicklas Backstrom returns to form. Can they shock the world? Out West, it's original Cup selection San Jose playing underdog against surprising St. Louis, who powered their way to the second seed on the strength of David Backes, Alex Pietrangelo and goalie tandem Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak. The Sharks boast some bite in Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau along with former Cup winner Antti Niemi. Is now the time?

All these questions and whether Mike Smith can backstop the Yotes out of the first round are great storylines as another Quest for the Cup begins.

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