The NHL’s month of March creates madness for fans cheering for their respective teams to make the playoffs. Glued to the TV, blogs and any news have the hockey community in a frenzy, including this blogger. The Red Wings have slumped and then some losing six straight, Franzen out with back spasms, and Jimmy Howard and backup out has Detroit down; thank goodness for the 23-home game winning streak. The Wings will make it, but other cusp teams may not get the break. Even if the team with the best record makes it, all signs depend on if they can withstand the playoff series. Travel and injuries can stall a playoff run, but many of the teams in good standing have depth to carry through.
Beasts of the East:
New York Rangers-
Just a few seasons ago, the Rangers made the playoffs but stank in the clutch. This years, goalie Henrik Lundqvist has a solid backup in Martin Biron. But not all has gone so well for the Rangers who have only one point on the Pittsburgh Penguins. Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Carl Hagelin make a great front line with a supporting cast that is truly worthy of playing on Broadway. Brandon Dubinsky, Michael Del Zotto to name a few create a winning team that are projected to win, yet the loss of their seemingly firm grip on the Eastern Conference has many wondering if they can hang on to the lead again this season.
Boston has pulled some punches this season, but not as far ahead as the Rangers or Penguins. Boston’s division hasn’t gained the expected returns hoped for in the Northeast. Not betting on Boston to get to the finals with the stirrings within the club. Goalie Tim Thomas made political news with few jumping on board. Debates on if Thomas’ actions hurt the team’s dynamic grew and speculation on if Boston was a Cup contending team became a concern. The Bruins are hockey professionals and certainly Thomas knew his actions were newsworthy, but not splitting. Expect the Bruins to do well, but not all the way.
A point behind the Bruins, the Panthers have nothing to lose and that attitude will give the team momentum. Low expectations and a beach-league team have the critics intrigued. Veteran talent will steer the team, while young talent will ignite. The team spreads the scoring duties and should make for some interesting games down the stretch. Expect surprises. Buy some flip flops.
It wasn’t looking good for the Pens with Crosby out for so long, but the team filled the gap and maintained a presence that has put them in the game confidently and quite comfortably. Crosby’s scoring could boost the Pens over the competition. Evgeni Malkin took the role of leader and has led the troops to the battle. James Neal, Kris Letang, Matt Cooke, Tyler Kennedy, and the other boys who have won before, are ready to support goalie Fleury in winning the Cup. They’ve done it before and can do it again
Tenacious. Stocked with talent in Jaromir Jagr, Claude Giroux, Danny Briere, Matt Read, and an outstanding year for Scott Hartnell caps the goaltending of Bryzgalov for a team built for speed. The Flyers have been to the Cup celebration recently and the plan was to build for another Cup run. They’re so ready and could do it this year as they are four points from Pittsburgh and five from the Rangers.
New Jersey Devils-
What a great time to have relocated to the Jersey Shore with access to Rangers, Flyers, and Devils dominating the Eastern Conference playoff spots. The Devils are the super surprise this year, despite bad press on the team’s bankruptcy and the free-agency this summer of Zach Parise. As the recently named captain of the Devils, Parise was a maybe next season due to the lack of Cup playoffs. If that doesn’t give the Devils the drive to win, I don’t know what else to say about Parise’s quest for a winning team. The question will be the measurement of their bid and Parise’s desire to stay.
Squeezed in down the standing sits the Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators. Buffalo has a great chance of making it with Ryan Miller’s revival in net. The entire team has woken up from a bad dream and is alert.
The Western Conference run down will appear in the next week or two, so check back for the Los Angeles Kings climb, The Red Wings injury woes, and the sensational team in St. Louis making believers out of Blues fans.