The Stanley Cup Playoffs are finally here. This is what all the fans love and where the excitement is. Whether your team is in or not, as a fan of the game you want to see the best hockey played. This is where legends are made; it's crunch time, baby.
As a former player, there's nothing better than springtime and being in the playoffs and having a chance to compete for Lord Stanley. With all due respect, and I love all the other sports, this is the toughest trophy to win.
There's nothing better, especially with all the fantastic first-round matchups this year. They're truly awesome.
Look at the series between the Anaheim Ducks and Dallas Stars. The top duo in the League right now has to be Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Those guys combined for 169 points this season and set the standard. They're world-class players and the best combo in the League. Matching up against them is Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, who could be on their way toward becoming the next top offensive duo in the League. They combined for six points fewer than Perry and Getzlaf.
There could be shifts where the coaches match these two duos up against each other. That's a great opportunity for Benn and Seguin, who are the two leaders of this young upstart Dallas franchise.
From an organizational standpoint, the Ducks have a luxury in having three great goalies in Jonas Hiller, Frederik Andersen and John Gibson. What a great "problem" to have. My "Spidey sense" tells me there's a good chance Andersen starts, and Gibson was the second star of the week in his first week in the League, which is amazing.
Sticking out West, you have the Los Angeles Kings facing the San Jose Sharks. It can't get any better than that all-California matchup. It has speed, size, strength, skill and two goalies that have already won the Stanley Cup. In my mind, Jonathan Quick is the best goalie in the world. He'll be going up against a Sharks club that I believe is the best team they've had yet.
It's a stiff test for San Jose right away, but maybe that's a good thing. If they beat the Kings, who says they can't go on to win it all? I really think if the Sharks can get past L.A., and that's a big if, it would boost their confidence to a whole different level.
Out in the East, it's pretty tough to beat the matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins, who each have great veteran players. In Detroit you've got Pavel Datsyuk back, along with Niklas Kronwall and Johan Franzen. Those guys are amazing players and they're complemented by the young upstarts Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar. All these young kids have played so well. Understandably, Jeff Blashill, who coaches Detroit's American Hockey League affiliate in Grand Rapids, was named AHL Coach of the Year. Not only did he win the Calder Cup last season, but he also helped to promote all of these guys to the NHL.
From a Boston Bruins standpoint, there are plenty of great players to watch. There is Zdeno Chara and Jarome Iginla, who is still trying to get his first Stanley Cup ring. He did everything he could with the Calgary Flames when they lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final. He's had an amazing career and an amazing season.
I think Boston is going to come out of the East, partly because some of their younger players have been so exciting. Brad Marchand is a difference-maker, Milan Lucic is the model for young power forwards, Torey Krug has been so impressive and Dougie Hamilton has made major strides this season. It's going to be a lot of fun at both the Garden and the Joe.
Staying out East, I'm going to go out on a limb; I'm going with the Columbus Blue Jackets against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Columbus is very difficult to play against. One NHL coach in that conference told me it's a nightmare every time you play them because they're hard enough to make you pay a physical price and they're skilled enough to make you pay on the scoreboard. There's a lot of balance on that team and a lot of underrated players. I definitely think they can upset Pittsburgh.
Those are just some of the great storylines in the first round, which begins Wednesday night.