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NBC sports anchors size up first-round drama

by Adam Kimelman /

With every game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs set to be telecast in the United States by the NBC Sports Group, it gives fans a chance to see the entire 2013 postseason.

The best seats, though, could belong to Liam McHugh, Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick, who will make up part of NBC's studio show.

Not only are they working, they're also fans of the game, and while they know first-hand how exciting the playoffs can be, they admit there are a few series they'll be keeping a closer watch on. The most popular choice from the Eastern Conference appears to be how Rocket Richard winner Alex Ovechkin and the third-seeded Washington Capitals will fare against the sixth-seeded New York Rangers.

Alex Ovechkin
Left Wing - WSH
GOALS: 32 | ASST: 24 | PTS: 56
SOG: 220 | +/-: 2
"I think that Rangers-Washington is going to be really interesting," Roenick said during a conference call Monday. "The Rangers finished up a little bit shaky … and Washington probably is the hottest team in the League right now, with the hottest player in the League [Ovechkin]. It's going to be up to [Rangers goalie] Henrik Lundqvist, if he can shut down Ovechkin. That series is going to be extremely tight and low-scoring."

Milbury agreed, wondering if the Rangers could put what some would call a disappointing regular season behind them against a Capitals team that's played strong down the stretch.

"I love that series, too, because of the fact that you've got a team that enjoyed a renaissance in the middle of the season and a team that didn't really live up to expectations in the Rangers. They have a shot at redemption for this season. They've been constantly critiqued in a harsh manner, and deservedly so. When you look at it on paper they seem to have all the pieces necessary in order to make a run, but they haven't been able to put it together. They were forced to make a major move at the deadline (trading away Marian Gaborik). That one has some intrigue for me."

When Milbury looks to the Western Conference, he said he's watching to see how the Los Angeles Kings handle their attempt to become the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions since the 1998 Detroit Red Wings. The Kings, the fifth seed in the West, will open at the St. Louis Blues.

"I'm always curious to see what the Cup champion brings to the table," Milbury said. "They're going to play against St. Louis, which comes hard at you every night. They're a physical team, and Los Angeles possesses no shrinking violets. That one will be a very physical series and should be highly-charged and a lot of fun to take a look at."

Milbury added that he believes the Kings' strong run late in the season puts them in good position to win another Cup.

"The lockout extending into January should have been beneficial for them," he said. "They stumbled a bit out of the gate, but they have gotten back on track. They're not in bad shape right now in terms of their health. They're a very dangerous team, but unfortunate for them there's a bunch of dangerous teams in the Western Conference.

"Vancouver quietly has played very well. We all know about Chicago's success and how they play a 60-minute game and their goaltending being extraordinarily proficient over the course of the year. A team like St. Louis plays in a heavy fashion. They'll have their hands full, the Kings. I don't put them as an underdog going into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They're a solid chance to repeat here. They have one issue that concerns me and that's that [Anze] Kopitar has not been able to score as effectively as you would expect from a go-to guy on their roster. He's going to need to get it in gear if they're going to make a significant run for this thing."

NBC's analysts are all looking at Anaheim against Detroit as one of the most potentially exciting series in the first round. (Dave Reginek/NHLI)

Two other teams from the West that will stand in the Kings' way of repeating are the Anaheim Ducks and Detroit Red Wings, who meet in what could be another entertaining first-round series.

"Anaheim, they've had an amazing team, amazing season, but they've flown under the radar and now they're going to be in the spotlight," McHugh said. "And Detroit, it was all about will they get in, will they extend that postseason streak. They do, and I think they can breathe a sigh of relief. And they have a goaltender in Jimmy Howard who has been on fire down the stretch. He signed that big contract, there's the pressure of that. Then [Detroit coach] Mike Babcock says it's on you, you carry us to the postseason. He has that pressure, he deals with it, he elevates his play. He's a really hot goaltender and that's a team that's very loose. I'm extremely eager to see what happens in that series."

Roenick said, "I think that Anaheim Ducks/Detroit series is going to be a war. Detroit is playing as good as they have all year. I think the Ducks are one of the surprise teams of the year. Very big, very strong, very fast, good goaltending. And Detroit having the confidence and making the playoffs after everyone was counting them out, it's a new season for them. I can see them coming out flying, especially starting on the road -- not as much pressure against them. That's going to be most fun for me to watch."

There certainly will be other outstanding moments in all eight first-round series, starting from the moment the puck drops on the first game Tuesday.

"We can't wait to get started," said Sam Flood, executive producer of NBC Sports. "It should be an amazing run. If last year is any indication, the energy and excitement is going to last all the way into June. … There's nothing like playoff hockey in terms of intensity, in terms of the passion and what people will sacrifice to get their name on the greatest trophy in all of sports, the Stanley Cup."


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