NHL playoffs: quest for the Stanley Cup

Thought post-season play ended after the NCAA basketball championships? Think again, sports fans. Beginning Wednesday, April 11, 16 teams will vie for the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup. In a season that came down to the wire, the postseason promises to be very exciting.

p. In the Eastern Conference, the no. 8 New York Islanders earned a playoff spot in the last game of the regular season in dramatic fashion. The Isles open the post season against the top seed Buffalo Sabres. New York expects goalie Rick DiPietro to return from the injured list, but even his stellar play may not be enough to slow down the Sabres, as Buffalo boasts the most potent offense in the league.

p. The no. 2 New Jersey Devils host the no. 7 Tampa Bay Lightning. This is an intriguing matchup of contrasting styles as the Devils play a defense-first mentality while the Bolts attack with speedy superstars Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. Tampa Bay has a big question mark in net, however, as rookie goalie Johan Holmqvist is expected to start. The Devils, on the other hand, rely on one of the best goalies in the league, Martin Brodeur. The first team to dictate the other’s style of play will win this series.

p. The no. 3 Atlanta Thrashers earned their first postseason appearance in franchise history. They open against the sixth-seeded New York Rangers, a team looking to shake off memories of last year, when New Jersey swept them out of the first round. The play of the goaltenders will determine this series. The Thrashers hope rookie Kari Lehtonen will continue posting all-star numbers. The Rangers’ net-minder is second-year Henrik Lundqvist, who has also had a solid season, posting career-best numbers.

p. The final series in the East presents the postseason debut of superstar Sidney Crosby, as his no. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins battle the no. 4 Ottawa Senators. Look for experience to be the deciding factor as the Penguins field a young team while the Senators roster is full of seasoned veterans. If the Pens’ young stars are not shaken by their first trip to the postseason, then the Senators could have their hands full.

p. In the Western Conference, the eighth-seeded Calgary Flames skate up against a perennial powerhouse in the top-seeded Detroit Red Wings. These teams are evenly matched, as evidenced by their splitting the regular season series 2-2, but the team that can win on the road will have an advantage in this series. The Red Wings certainly have the better road record but do not expect the Flames to fizzle easily.

p. Next up, the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks host the seventh-seeded Minnesota Wild in an incredibly even series. The Ducks are a physical team with Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer anchoring the defense, while the Wild sport a stout defensive style that will work to limit the Ducks’ offensive chances. This one should be a dandy.

p. The no. 3 Vancouver Canucks host the no. 6 Dallas Stars in a series sure to be dominated by defense as both teams rank among the top five defenses in the league.

p. The no. 4 Nashville Predators are looking to win their first playoff series against the no. 5 San Jose Sharks in a rematch from last year. The Sharks’ inexperienced defense will have their hands full against the West’s most potent offense but Nashville must play with discipline as the Sharks’ power play ranks second in the league.

p. Nhl.com provides the full schedule while NBC and Versus will supply television coverage. Let the quest begin.

p. __Timothy Huffstutter is a senior at the College. He will be glued to the TV rooting on the Nashville Predators.__


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