Monday, 4 February 2008

All That's Left Is The NHL

After the stunning 17-14 victory over the New England Patriots last night, the New York Giants have effectively paved the way for hockey to move into the forefront of the sports world. Yes, I'm aware that the NBA is out there, but since the West and the Detroit Pistons are dominating the roundball scene, the entire east coast should be focussing on exciting divisional matchups and the playoff race in the Eastern Conference. When all five Atlantic Division teams are fighting for eight playoff spots, it only makes for good hockey!

In the East, the current conference standings see Ottawa on top with 68 points. The 8th-place seed is currently occupied by the Boston Bruins with 59 points. There are four Atlantic Division teams in a playoff position right now, with only the Long Island Broncos on the outside. However, they have 54 points and have three games in hand on their cross-city rivals in the New York Rangers, who occupy the 7th-seed with 60 points.

What may be even better are the matchups that could occur as a result of some teams moving up in the standings. If the playoffs were to start today, here are the matchups in the East:

#1 Ottawa Senators vs. #8 Boston Bruins - divisional matchup, and Chara comes back to Ottawa. These two teams have shown that they aren't really fond of one another, and have played some tough games against one another in the last couple of weeks.

#2 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #7 New York Rangers - divisional matchup between two teams that aren't very fond of one another either. Gomez and Drury square off against Briere and Biron.

#3 Carolina Hurricanes vs. #6 New Jersey Devils - two teams that seem to run into one another in the playoffs. Thanks to Scott Stevens' crushing checks in the playoffs a few years ago, this rivalry should be fiesty.

#4 Montreal Canadiens vs. #5 Pittsburgh Penguins - this has to be a dream matchup for the NHL, CBC, and NBC. Sidney Crosby goes to Montreal to play "Les Habitants" in the playoffs. The young Canadiens team gets a shot at the young Penguins team.

Even out west, there are great battles for playoff spots. The difference between the 2nd-place team and the 13th-place team is 16 points. The Oilers and Blackhawks, who share that 13th-place right now with 51 points, are a mere eight points from the 8th-seed in the Western Conference.

Again, if the playoffs were to start today, the NHL would have to be happy with the matchups, especially when it came to showing weekend games on NBC. Here are the current matchups:

#1 Detroit Red Wings vs. #8 Nashville Predators - two divisional rivals who have built an excellent rivalry. These two teams don't like each other, and the fans in Nashville always seem to give Detroit a hard time.

#2 Dallas Stars vs. #7 Colorado Avalanche - NBC has to love this opportunity. Two large market teams squaring off in what could be a fiesty affair. Two of the senior statesmen of the NHL in Mike Modano and Joe Sakic square off.

#3 Minnesota Wild vs. #6 Calgary Flames - This is a good late game for Hockey Night in Canada. Another divisional rivalry with two teams that have some hatred for each other, and two teams that will grind each other into dust.

#4 San Jose Sharks vs. #5 Anaheim Ducks - interstate rivals, and division rivals. Can we say "war"? The defending Stanley Cup Champions from SoCal square off against the perennial underachievers from NoCal.

With approximately two months left in the NHL season, I am fully aware that these matchups will undoubtedly change. However, the races for playoff spots will only get more intense as the season winds down. With three weeks until the trade deadline, the hockey action will only heat up.

Settle in and get ready for big goals, big saves, and big hits. The NHL is gearing up for the most exciting time of the season not called "Stanley Cup Playoffs"!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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