The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Ah, mid-April. Truly the most wonderful time of the entire year. The birds are chirping, the days are getting warmer, seasonal allergies have yet to launch their assault … and 16 teams are about to embark on an epic journey in an attempt to earn the right to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.

The greatest trophy in professional sports.

The greatest trophy in sports.

Yes, tonight marks the start of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and like a kid on Christmas Eve, I can’t wait for the games to begin. Even if my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t in on the festivities (an occurrence that has happened far to frequently in recent years), it’s still playoff hockey, and I’ll be damned if I miss out on the action (even if I’m not emotionally invested on who wins or loses). The highlight-reel goals, the close calls, the great saves, the triple-overtime nailbiters, the unlikely heroes, the unparallelled passion and emotion … it’s all amplified to a whole new level in the post-season. Quite frankly, it’s “must-see TV” at its finest.

And it all start tonight — a night where, just momentarily, every team is back on equal footing. Every squad has zeros across the board. No wins, no losses … just hopes, dreams, and potential. What you did in the regular season counts for diddly now — it’s what you do over the course of the next few weeks that really matters (psst … San Jose Sharks, I’m looking in your direction).

So, who am I picking to go all the way? Well, I’ll tell you who I’m not picking — and that’s the aforementioned Sharks. I’ve been burned too many times in the past by picking the Sharks to go deep, so screw San Jose. I say the Anaheim Ducks pull off the upset and send the regular season champs packing early.

Overall, I like the chances of Pittsburgh, Boston, Vancouver, and Detroit. I feel that those four are the teams to beat this year. The Penguins have been phenomenal since Therrien got kicked to the curb and any team with Crosby and Malkin simply can’t be ignored. The Bruins have been consistently superior all season long, with Tim Thomas leading the league in GAA and save percentage. Vancouver has Roberto Luongo, of course, but unlike recent years, it seems like the Canucks actually have a bit of offence, as well. As for Detroit, well, the Wings are the Wings. Say what you will about the porous defence and the terrible stats of Chris Osgood, but when you have the likes of Hossa, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Lidstrom on your team, how do you bet against them?

I’d love to see Ovie and the Caps go far, and I think they can hang with the Bruins and Pens in the East, but for Washington to have any chance at all Jose Theodore will have to bring his game to a whole new level. While he won’t run into many problems against the New York Rangers, it’ll be a different story against the likes of Sid and Geno.

Of course, my predictions could be totally wrong. In fact, they probably will be. Heck, last year I picked the San Jose Sharks to defeat the New York Rangers for the Stanley Cup, and as we all saw, that didn’t come anywhere close to happening. But the unpredictability of it all is just one more reason to love the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I mean, it could be basketball, where the underdogs never, ever win. Or it could be baseball, where the same teams make the playoffs year after year. Anything can happen during the NHL’s post-season … and I wouldn’t have it any other way (unless it results in a Carolina vs. Columbus final … I wouldn’t approve of that very much, and neither would the league itself).

Indeed, mid-April is the most wonderful time of the year. Let the games begin!

Who will lift the holy chalice this year?

Who will lift the holy chalice this year?

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