It really is a shame that the NHL playoffs are not starting tonight because if they were fans everywhere would be treated to some of the most intriguing playoff match-ups in recent memory.
If the puck were to drop on the NHL playoffs starting tonight the match-ups would be as follows:
1 (Boston Bruins) vs 8 (Montreal Canadiens)
2 (New Jersey Devils) vs 7 (New York Rangers)
3 (Washington Capitals) vs 6 (Pittsburgh Penguins)
4 (Philadelphia Flyers) vs 5 (Carolina Hurricanes)
With the notable exception of the Philadelphia/Carolina match-up all of these series would have plenty of compelling drama, fueled by both history and mutual hatred.
Bruins vs. Canadiens - Despite the wide point spread between Boston and Montreal a series between these two teams would almost certainly be wildly entertaining. These two clubs have had decades to develop an almost religious hatred of one another, and recent history has only added more fuel to this already incendiary rivalry. First of all the Canadiens eliminated the Bruins from last year's playoffs in a bitter 7 game series, and there can be little doubt the powerful Bruins are hungering to return the favor. Then there is the little incident that took place early this season between the Habs' Mike Komisarek and Bruins' bruiser Milan Lucic. The two, who'd had an ongoing war dating back to last year's playoffs, decided to drop the mitts in a game on November 13. Lucic won the bout handily then proceeded to crow his victory while standing over Komisarek. The incident naturally didn't sit well with any of the Habs players, and was only made worse when it was discovered Komisarek injured his shoulder in the fight. Komisarek missed a month with the injury and has been only a shadow of his former self since the scrap took place. If this series does indeed happen look for these two proud warriors to go head to head in battle for the ages.
Devils vs. Rangers - Hockey's version of the Subway Series has always been a heated rivalry, but last year's playoff match-up between the two clubs raised the temperature to the boiling point. At the heart of the battle were none other than the NHL's biggest headache - also known as Sean Avery - and hockey's all time winningest goalie - Mr. Martin Brodeur. Avery spent the bulk of the series in Brodeur's crease, antagonizing the usually unflappable keeper with a bevy of unsportsmanlike antics, including waving his stick blade in front of Brodeur's face. Even after the series was over Avery couldn't take the high road and while his "Fatso" comment after Brodeur neglected to shake his hand wasn't as controversial as his now infamous "sloppy seconds" sound bite you can bet Brodeur remembers it well and is anxious for a little payback. It is almost as though fate is conspiring to put these two guys at one another's throats. Avery started the season with the Dallas Stars, and Brodeur missed months with a torn biceps, yet here they both are, back with the Rangers and Devils, on another collision course. Hopefully fate continues to make them dance to this merry tune, and fans get to see their rivalry renewed come April.
Capitals vs. Penguins - You can rest assured that Gary Bettman is absolutely salivating at the possibility that these two clubs will meet up in this year's playoffs. It was a crushing disappointment last season when Philadelphia scored the overtime winner against the Caps in game 7 of their first round playoff series last year. Had Ovechkin and the Capitals come out of that series they would have met up with Crosby's Penguins in a legendary clash featuring many of the game's greatest young stars. Now, a year later, the rivalry has had even more time to fester, and ongoing feuds involving Crosby, Ovechkin, Malkin and Semin have made a potential playoff series between these two clubs much more than just a showcase of talent. If these two teams were to collide you can bet that TV ratings would be through the roof, and that sort of exposure is exactly what the NHL needs, especially in this difficult economy.
Unfortunately, as tight as the Eastern Conference playoff race is there is a good chance we won't see one of these match-ups, let alone all. However, if fate smiles on us and the planets align the potential is there for fans everywhere to see some of the best playoff hockey in years. Cross your fingers folks.