Late Thursday afternoon, BostonBruins.com caught up with B's defenseman Aaron Ward and asked the veteran NHLer, a member of three Stanley Cup championship squads, to weigh in on this season's quest for the Cup.
Most everyone has been a little taken aback by the New York Rangers recent comeback in the second round of the Easter Conference playoffs. After falling twice to the Sabres in Buffalo's HSBC Arena, the Blue Shirts have fought back to tie the docket at 2-2, and threaten to take control of the series tonight.
"I'm surprised," said Ward via phone. "I think that everybody had built up Buffalo a little bigger and better than they've played.
"And the Rangers have, more or less, surprised teams, fans and critics, too, with their ability to maintain the level with which they ended the season.
But Ward says they shouldn't get too excited down on Broadway. Having played for the Rangers and Bruins against the Sabres, Ward knows exactly what they can bring to the rink.
"You still…have to go with Buffalo," he said. "Just based on the fact of how they finished and how they did this year.
"Obviously, with the kind of consistent effort they put in through the season, I'd (still) go with them."
However, should the Rangers continue their tremendous run, according to the B's #44, one group of players stands to be key for the Rangers.
"You know, the 'difference maker' for New York, is an entire group -- the defensive corps," said Aaron. "When you have a team as potent as Buffalo, I think you have to be looking for a group effort from the defense.
"They just don't throw two lines at you. The Sabres have four top-notch lines and I think the even the fourth line could be a second or third line on any team in the National Hockey League."
What about the Eastern Conference's other race?
"I think Ottawa will win it," said Ward. "It's always tough in a closeout game, but I think since Ottawa's got three 'kicks at the can' odds are that they'll get it done."
As for the other tied series, San Jose vs. Detroit (another of his former teams) Ward said that he knows who will make the difference should the Red Wings take control.
"For Detroit that's pretty easy," he said. "So goes Nik Lidstrom, so goes the team.
"As long as Lidstrom is 'towing the rope,' -- which he always has -- he's the catalyst on that team.
But picking a winner in that bracket is not easy.
"That's a tough one to pick, " said Ward. "I stayed up to watch the overtime game and it's obviously a seesaw battle."
And injuries also muddy the waters.
"I think you really have to see what type of effect the war of attrition has on both teams," he said. "So I won't pick anyone in that one until I know what the rosters are."
Beyond that set, Ward does believe that he has an idea of who will come out of the Western Conference to vie for the Stanley Cup -- last night's winner, the Anaheim Ducks.
"I think, overall, if you are going to pick a team, West Coast or East Coast, that are going to win it, just based on how great they look, I think I am leaning towards Anaheim right now," said Ward. "If you look at it analytically, from top to bottom, (you see) Anaheim is so complete."
Ward admitted that it was hard to pick against his former team in Detroit.
"You know, I was thinking about this last night," said the defenseman. "I think (after I got traded from the Red Wings) I was not exactly cheering for Detroit.
"But now, since I've played with enough of those guys, Lidstrom, Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby, and (couple of years) removed from that team, so I think I would cheer for them.
"I lived in Detroit for so long, and I have so many friends who are still Detroit fans, so I am hoping they do well…but they have quite the barrier to cross when it comes to the (Sharks and Ducks)," he said.
And you may hear all of this again, really soon as Ward will be an in-studio analyst for Versus next week.
"I am on Versus Monday and Tuesday," said Ward, who has done color commentary in the past, but looks forward to this new television challenge. "This is a different experience, sitting in a studio and watching a game, waiting to offer people perspective they don't have just watching it themselves.
"The fans expect someone who has experience in the game to bring some (things) to light."
And Ward, who won the Stanley Cup with Carolina last season, and twice previously with the Red Wings, has plenty to add to the conversation. The Bruins D-man said he learned plenty just by paying attention.
"It's a situation where if you really open your ears and eyes, and shut your mouth, you start to really take in what is going on around you," said Ward. "I played with Lidstrom, Slava Fetisov and Steve Yzerman and all these guys who played a ton of playoff hockey.
"I think you learn from the way you see veterans prepare for the games, from the way they approach the games, the way they play the games and take care of themselves during the playoffs.
"There is a whole different approach that needs to be taken…both on and off the ice. So I think the most I've taken away from the game came from other players," he said.
Next season, many of the Boston Bruins will surely learn from Aaron Ward, as well.