Monday, March 20, 2006

Games Mean More Now

With the season winding down for the Capitals, the Playoff races around the league are starting to heat up. Whether it’s the struggling Canadiens in the Eastern Conference or the President’s Trophy race between Carolina, Detroit, and Ottawa, the NHL may have one exciting conclusion to this season.

The shootout still sparks debate especially as the season comes to a close. While most fans think it’s an improvement, the old guard of hockey’s traditionalist past cries foul each time their beloved team loses the final shootout after a tie game. “Bring back the tie!” they cry, then applaud it as soon as it works to their favor.

But now the race for the playoffs is closer than ever, and each game seems to carry more and more weight. The games are starting to have playoff feel, already a month from the end of the season. And if you don’t know what to watch for you may miss some great regular season games. All this excitement and we aren’t even talking about Lord Stanley’s Cup yet.

Teams on the bubble in the Eastern Conference:

Atlanta Thrashers – The Thrashers as of today are in 9th in the Conference. But their schedule is not an easy one. They have to play hot teams like Ottawa, Buffalo, and Carolina to try to secure the 8th spot. If the Thrashers want to be invited they must win key games against in their Division. Tampa Bay and Washington can both be key stumbling blocks for the Thrashers, and if they don’t pay attention to the team they are playing, they could find themselves on the links early.

Toronto Maple Leafs – The Leafs keep finding ways to lose games rather than winning them. They too will have to play the hot teams in the Eastern Conference like Buffalo, Ottawa and Carolina. But they also have several teams that could be considered given wins, which have given them trouble this year. The Leafs must put their game faces on to face wounded animals like Pittsburgh and Boston.

Teams on the bubble in the Western Conference:

Vancouver Canucks – Their next 3 games are against Edmonton Oilers. The Canucks seem to be self imploding after a blow out loss to Detroit but their schedule actually helps the team if they bear down and get some key wins. They have the chance now to gain road on their division rivals Oilers if they can win this short 3 game series.

San Jose Sharks – With the acquisition of Joe Thornton, the Sharks need now to start pulling wins together to get themselves in reach of that 8th place playoff spot. They have put successful wins against Colorado and Nashville, but it will be the bottom of the pool that may give the Sharks fits. Teams like Chicago and St. Louis look to be spoilers in the Sharks dream of a playoff berth.

President Trophy hopefuls:

Detroit Red Wings – How can you talk about the playoffs with out mentioning the Red Wings? The Wings have quietly taken on the season as just another day at work with one difference, they’re winning games. Red Wings must be careful though, if they don’t take the first series seriously, they may be a one and out.

Ottawa Senators – This season has been the dream season for the Senators. Their goal scorers are scoring, their defenses are standing up other teams and the goaltending makes beating this team seem a lofty goal. The Senators may have the regular season title within grasp, but it has to be Cup or nothing for this team.

Of course with a month to go, answers to the questions will be slowly answered. Right now I believe that Ottawa has the team to beat for both the President’s Trophy and Lord Stanley’s Cup. My fearless prediction is Ottawa and Nashville in the finals.

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