The playoffs are a week away, which means most of us can begin looking at our teams a little deeper and pointing out all the strengths and weaknesses heading into the playoffs. For fans of the other 14 teams…well, it’s time to pick a team to follow that will actually be playing in late April. Here’s some help.
Anything can happen once the playoffs start. Injuries, cold streaks, rogue referees, or San Jose Sharks uniforms can all put a quick halt to a promising playoff run.
Putting all those things aside, there are things you can begin to look at in the week leading up to the playoffs, and certainly a long list of other things to watch for once the playoffs start.
Here is a list of five things to watch for:
- Before the playoffs even begin for your team, you have to actually make the playoffs. In the east, only five of the eight playoff spots have been secured. There are five teams (Montreal, Philly, Boston, NYR and Atlanta) fighting for the last three spots, with only six points separating the sixth place Habs and 10th place Thrashers. The ninth place Rangers are only three points behind the last playoff spot, currently held by Boston. The Rangers and the seventh place Flyers face each other in a home-and-home series to end the season. The playoffs for them begin with game number 81. The Devils and Penguins are still fighting for the Atlantic Division lead. The loser of that fight could be faced with a second round matchup against the Capitals.In the west, the playoff teams are set, but the fight for positioning for the fifth through eighth spots should be interesting. Nashville, currently in fifth, holds a two point lead on surging Detroit, and a three point lead on the Kings. The eighth place Avs are five points back. The top seeds will be hoping they don’t end up with Detroit in the first round.
All of that before the playoffs even get started! Now let’s take a look at a few things that may become big stories once the playoffs do start:
- Quick exits: Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2002-03, the Devils have failed to advance past the 2nd round of the playoffs, despite finishing with at least 99 points in every season since. They’ve been ousted in the first round three times, including the last two seasons. After acquiring Ilya Kovalchuk just before the Olympic break, another first round exit just isn’t acceptable.The San Jose Sharks have fared only slightly better in that same time span. After making it to the conference finals in ’03-’04, only to lose to the Flames, they have not made it out of the second round, despite finishing with at least 99 points in every season since. Last season they finished with a league-best 117 points, only to lose in the first round to the Ducks. The Sharks made their big move before the season began by trading for Dany Heatley, but, like the Devils, the big name was brought in to make a Cup run. A quick exit can mean major changes in the off-season.
- Goalies: While goalies are usually the story when a team makes a run, this year brings a lot of questions when it comes to playoff experience and success.
In the east:
- Washington has both Jose Theodore and Semyon Varlamov. Both have played well during the regular season, but they are a combined 26-33 (Theodore 19-27; Varlamov 7-6) in the playoffs.
- The Devils have 600 game winner Martin Brodeur. He is 98-78 in the playoffs. While he has played better lately, he turns 38 on May 6th. Age may be a factor if the Devils make a long run.
- Buffalo has Ryan Miller between the pipes. Miller owns a career playoff record of 20-14, and if he is on his game, can carry the Sabres deep into the playoffs.
- Marc-Andre Fleury will be the guy in Pittsburgh. While he owns a 16-8 playoff record, he has not looked good at times during this season. His .904 SV% is the lowest among starting goalies for playoff teams.
- Ottawa will have Brian Elliot in net. No playoff experience.
- Raise your hand if you think Carey Price is the guy in Montreal. Now raise your hand if you think Client Jaroslav Halak is the guy in Montreal. They have split starts almost down the middle this season (Price 41; Halak 43), but it looks like Halak might be the guy until he has a few bad games. Either way, they have 18 games worth of playoff experience and are a combined 5-11.
- Boston has also split their starts down the middle with their goalies, Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask . However, it seems as though Rask will be the guy in net for the Bruins. The 6’3″, 85 lb. goalie has no playoff experience, but having Thomas on the bench as a backup is a nice bonus for the B’s.
- The Flyers. Five goalies have started at least one game for them this season. Brian Boucher is currently their starter. ‘Nuff said.
In the west:
- San Jose has Evgeni Nabokov in net. Like Miller, he can get hot and carry the team. However, he is only 32-31 in his playoff career.
- While Cristobal Huet has started more games for the Blackhawks, he’s basically stunk up the joint, flashing a save percentage of .895 on the season. Antti Niemi seems to be the guy now, but he has no playoff experience.
- Roberto Luongo. The Canucks goalie has let up 18 goals in his last five games, so he is certainly not heading into the playoffs on a hot streak. He is one of those goalies that, if he gets hot, can carry the team. He is 11-11 in the playoffs.
- The Coyotes have Ilya Bryzgalov in net. While he is 9-5 in the playoffs, he has not played a playoff game for the ‘Yotes. He has an impressive 1.68 GA and a .937 SV% in his playoff career.
- Nashville has Pekka Rinne in net. No playoff experience.
- The Red Wings have Jimmy Howard in net. No playoff experience.
- LA has Jonathan Quick in net. No playoff experience, plus a new child.
- Colorado has Craig Anderson in net. No playoff experience.
- The Phoenix Coyotes: For the first time since the ’01-’02 season, the Coyotes are in the playoffs. A team that has gone bankrupt, wasn’t sure where it would be playing, and is now being run by the league, has far exceeded everyone’s expectations and in turn, has most hockey fans rooting for them. The team has made a total of five playoff appearances since the move to Phoenix for the ’96-’97 season, but has never advanced past the first round. There will be a whole league cheering them on…except for maybe the fans of whichever team they end up playing. They are a fun team to watch.
- History Will Be Made: Okay… we really don’t know if history will be made. You know what, nobody cares! What started as some cool NHL Playoffs commercials has turned into even better parodies! Puck Daddy is your one-stop shop for the best ones.
So there you have it. Five reasons to start paying closer attention to some teams during the playoffs. If your team is out of it, at least you can root for the Coyotes… or watch the “History Will Be Made” parodies until the NHL Draft.