The Road to Lord Stanley’s Cup

Updated: May 1, 2013

Welcome to the big dance. The toughest climb in sports. The road to Lord Stanley’s Cup.

It begins, well last night – but for all intents and purposes, it’s show time. The NHL playoffs are what separate the men from the boys, the great teams from the good and the lumberjack beards from the five o’clock shadows.

It’s what every hockey fan longs for and what every person outside the puck realm should be forced to watch. I assure you – we’d have a lot more hockey fans in this country if people paid attention to playoff hockey. Not just paid attention, but immersed themselves in it.

There is no greater game to watch then a playoff hockey game. The blood, the sweat, the overall sacrifice of limbs and well-being for the betterment of one’s team, all for a chance to hoist perhaps the most prized trophy in all of spots.

I almost forgot what this feels like. It’s been nine years since the Leafs made it to the big dance. It was a time where instead of working 9-5, I scrambled to finish my pre-calc equations before 1st period.

But the feelings back, like it never left. It’s the dry mouth you get at work around lunchtime, the chills that usually set in about thirty minutes before game time and the nervous ticks and twitches between periods. I’m not a physician, but it certainly can’t be healthy what most Cup- crazed fans do to themselves over the course of the next two months.

And that’s just it. We’re talking two more months of hockey. Perhaps that’s why the Cup is so treasured – it’s so hard to win it and so few ever get the chance to hold the 35 lbs. above their head.

The top-seeded Blackhawks began their cup chase last night against the Minnesota Wild. The game needed extra time, but it was a 3rd liner by the name of Bryan Bickell who sealed Game 1 for the Hawks. They are my pick for the Cup. It’s hard to bet against the best defensive team in hockey that has two NHL caliber goaltenders and the offensive finesse to put teams away. The Hawks were in 27 one-goal games this year, and won 19 of them. They won Tuesday night – 2-1, once again. Hawks in five.

The Ducks faced an old Red Wings team and prevailed with a 3-1 victory. If Hiller can stand tall, their young skill will be too much for Detroit. Ducks in five.

St. Louis beat the Kings last night in overtime, taking Game 1 by a score of 2-1. Despite L.A. scoring late, a misplayed puck by Quick behind his net led to the shorthanded OT winner. For the Kings to beat the stingy, defense-minded Blues, he’ll have to stop everything. Blues in six.

As for the East – most people have put their money on Pittsburgh, even without Crosby. The Islanders can cause trouble, but Tavares can’t take on the whole team himself. Pens sweep, especially if Crosby returns in Game 2.

Keep your eyes on Montreal and Ottawa. The Sens are getting healthy and with Erik Karlsson manning the PP, they can beat anyone with their power play. This series will be won on special teams. Ottawa in six.

It’s good the Rangers are back in the playoffs after such a hyped off-season. Unfortunately, they have to find a way to stop The Great 8. He’s on a tear and looking like the Ovi of old. If the Rangers can keep him off the score sheet, they win easy. Nash must be big. Caps in seven.

Finally, my Leafs. They venture to Boston tonight to face the once grimacing Bruins for the first time since the 70s. Though Boston seems to be a shadow of their 2011 Stanley Cup squad, they can still turn it on in a heartbeat, and expect them to. The Leafs haven’t let Boston push them around like in years past. Mark my words – this series will be nasty. It will renew any rivalry of old and nurture the current one. If Kessel can find a way to score, even Chara won’t be able to stop the Leafs speed. Leafs in seven. (I have to)

That’s the beauty of playoff hockey. It’s full of unsung heroes, feisty feuds and renewed rivalries of old. Some players are bred for playoff hockey; others would serve better up in the press box. It’s not necessarily the most skilled teams, but the teams with the most depth. Teams built with character and heart, role players and soon to be playoff heroes. Just ask the L.A. Kings.

I almost forgot the most important playoff prediction – best playoff beard will go to Duncan Keith. Maybe he’ll help it out with a few more missing teeth.

It’s show time boys. Go Leafs Go!

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