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The Road to Lord Stanley's Cup Starts Tonight

Staneycupcar The NHL's second season kicks off tonight in rinks around North America, although for the second straight spring, the Sunshine State will not be part of the party.

Oh well. We'll have our own party. Come on by the Sawgrass Quarterdeck tonight and we'll all watch some hockey.

Four games on tonight, and three of them will be going on around the same time.

Philadelphia and Pittsburgh square off in a rematch of the 2008 east finals at 7, with the Capitals and the Rangers going at the same time (don't worry; they have lots of TVs). At 7:30, we have Carolina and New Jersey, with Vancouver and the surprising Blues going at 10.

Here are my picks for the first round, feel free to make fun of them and offer your own picks in the comment section.

-- Boston/Montreal: Bruins in 5
-- Washington/Rangers: Caps in 7
-- New Jersey/Carolina: Hurricanes in 6
-- Pittsburgh/Philadelphia: Penguins in 7
-- San Jose/Anaheim: Sharks in 7
-- Detroit/Columbus: Red Wings in 6
-- Vancouver/St. Louis: Canucks in 6
-- Chicago/Calgary: Blackhawks in 7


-- Craig MacTavish is out in Edmonton, so says Rogers Sportsnet...

-- Got this from PuckDaddy: Detroit giving Columbus fan club discount to games in Motown...

-- Olli Jokinen hits the playoffs...

-- Dan Cleary back for the Wings....

-- Martin Brodeur is well rested....good for him....

-- The Flyers have some leaders, eh...

2008-09 PLAYOFF PREVIEW (series that start on Wednesday)


-- (2) Washington Capitals vs. (7) New York Rangers

-- Season Series: Capitals won three of four, with the Rangers winning the final meeting on Feb. 11.

-- Recent postseason history: Washington won the Southeast Division for the second straight year, the Caps being knocked out in the first round last season. The Rangers beat New Jersey in the opening round before losing in the east semifinals.

-- What to Watch: The Capitals secured the second seed in the east with a win in Tampa last week. Led by Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green, Washington has plenty of firepower and can score plenty of goals. Which they just might have to do with the leaky Jose Theodore between the pipes. New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist is strong enough to carry the Rangers to an upset. Rangers won 12 of 21 since John Tortorella (who coached Tampa to the Cup in 2004) took over for Tom Renney.

-- Schedule -- Wednesday: @ Washington, 7; Saturday: @ Washington, 1 (NBC); Monday: @ Rangers, 7 (Vs.); April 22: @ Rangers, 7 (Vs.); April 24*: @ Washington, 7 (Vs.); April 26*: @ Rangers, 2 (NBC); April 28*: @ Washington, 7 (Vs.)

-- Prediction: Capitals in 7.

-- (3) New Jersey Devils vs. (6) Carolina Hurricanes

-- Season Series: Carolina won three of four, with the Devils winning the final meeting 3-2 on April 11.

-- Recent postseason history: Carolina is back in the playoffs for the first time since winning the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals. New Jersey was knocked out of the opening round in 2008 by the Rangers.

-- What to Watch: The rejuvenated Hurricanes storm into the postseason, with 2006 Conn Smythe winner Cam Ward winning 10 of 13 games in March and 14 of his final 20 games this season. Carolina is tough to beat in Raleigh, the Canes winning a franchise record 12 straight before losing to Buffalo in the final week. The loss to Buffalo also snapped a nine-game winning streak, Carolina's longest since 2006. New Jersey struggled in March, but finished strong by winning four of its final six games. If goalie Martin Brodeur is on, the Devils have a chance each and every night.

-- Schedule – Wednesday: @ New Jersey, 7:30; Friday: @ New Jersey, 7:30; Sunday: @ Carolina, 7:30; April 21: @ Carolina, 7:30; April 23*: @ New Jersey, 7:30; April 26*: @ Carolina, TBA (Vs.); April 28*: @ New Jersey, 7:30

--Prediction: Carolina in 6.

-- (4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers

-- Season series: Penguins won four of six with Flyers winning last meeting on March 22.

-- Recent postseason history: These two met in the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals, the first time the two Pennsylvania rivals met in the finals. The Penguins won and lost to Detroit in the Stanley Cup Finals.

-- What to Watch: The Flyers are one of the top offensive teams in the league, with Jeff Carter, Jeffrey Lupul, Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble combining for 15 goals in six games against the Penguins. Philadelphia will go with Martin Biron in net, hoping he matches last season's postseason success. The Pens were out of the postseason talk until Dan Bylsma came up from the minors to take over behind the bench, with defenseman Sergei Goncar returning helping out. The Pens have plenty of firepower and good defense. This could be a team back in the Finals.

-- Schedule – Wednesday: @ Pittsburgh, 7 (Vs.); Friday: @ Pittsburgh, 7 (Vs.); Sunday: @ Philadelphia, 3 (NBC); April 21: @ Philadelphia, 7 (Vs.); April 23*: @ Pittsburgh, 7 (Vs.); April 25*: @ Philadelphia, 3 (NBC); April 27*: @ Pittsburgh, TBA (Vs.)

-- Prediction: Pittsburgh in 7.


-- (3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (6) St. Louis Blues

-- Season series: Teams split four game series, St. Louis winning 4-2 on March 26.

-- Recent postseason history: Vancouver advanced to the second round in the west two seasons ago before losing to eventual champion Anaheim. St. Louis is in the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

-- What to Watch: The Blues are one of the best stories in hockey, St. Louis storming through the season's final month to make the playoffs for the first time in years. St. Louis, the west's second-worst team in 2007-08, won nine of 11 after losing to Vancouver on March 19. Vancouver is back in the playoffs after missing out in 2008, with goalie Roberto Luongo hoping to improve on 2007's five-game exit in Round 2 against the Ducks. The Canucks don't have much playoff experience, but adding Mats Sundin helped. Vancouver took advantage of Calgary's late-season swoon to pull into third in the west by capturing the Pacific Division.

-- Schedule – Wednesday: @ Vancouver, 10 (Vs.); Friday: @ Vancouver, 10 (Vs.); Sunday: @ St. Louis, 7 (Vs.); April 21: @ St. Louis, 8 (Vs.); April 24*: @ Vancouver, 10 (Vs.); April 26*: @ St. Louis, 8 (Vs.); April 28*: @ Vancouver, TBA (Vs.)

-- Prediction: Vancouver in 6.