Surprise, surprise. I am actually writing this several hours ahead of tonights games, pretty impressive I know. Before I get into tonights match ups, I’ll touch a little bit on yesterdays games. If you didn’t watch at least one of the three games, you missed one helleva show. All three games were settled by 1 goal (Ducks empty netter doesn’t count), with two of the games going into OT.

Blackhawks squeaked by the pesky Wild, to get a game 1 win. LA was able to extend their own game one, by scoring in the late seconds of the 3rd period and going on to lose in OT, on a boneheaded mishap, by Quick. The Red Wings and Ducks provided a thriller of their own, which drew down straight to the wire, before a goal line to goal line empty netter put the game out of reach, giving the Ducks a game 1 victory.

This is what makes NHL playoffs, just white knuckle, heart pounding, exhilarating hockey. What an encore indeed. And now, we have tonights game, three great series which should not disappoint.

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Boston Bruins

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The battle of two of the Original Six teams, meeting for the first time in the playoffs since 1974. 1974, the same year, Gerald R. Ford was the 38th President of the United States of America, the same year Derek Jeter was born, in other words it has been a very long time since these two teams have last met in the race for the Cup. It seems just has long since we have seen the Maple Leafs in the playoffs. Okay, I am exaggerating slightly, but it still has been 10 years for Leafs to reach the playoffs. Enough with the history though, lets talk about the present.

Both teams have essentially stumbled their way into the playoffs, which doesn’t bode well for any team when trying to get on a hot streak. The Leafs are the undeniable underdog and the fan favorite for those seeking a ‘cinderella run’ from a team who has been playoff deprived. The B’s are the anti-Christ for everyone outside of Boston, the regularly hated, the so to speak ‘Massholes’ of the NHL. All of this should combine for an eclectic series, one that will draw the TV ratings and audience the NHL seeks.

The Boston Bruins, have completely dominated the Leafs over the past two seasons. The Leafs have lost 9 of their 10 games against the B’s, all the while losing 11 of their last 13 games while playing at the Garden. The Bruins are a powerful team, they have the firepower on both the offensive and defensive side of the puck and a red hot Tuukka Rask in net. The Bruins do have some holes in which the Leafs could exploit, particularly their powerplay, ranking near the bottom 5 at 14.8%. Otherwise, the B’s are a solid team all around and will certainly be a tough out.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, are coming into the playoffs with renewed sprits, after not making the playoffs the previous 8 seasons, renewed spirits from both the players, but as well as the fans, which will really help the Leafs when the play at home at Air Canada Centre. The Leafs have a spectacular power play and a above average PK%, and special teams in hockey are key to making a Stanley Cup run.

Is it enough to get over the pure power of the Bruins? Can the Leafs overcome their inability to play against the B’s and a Bruins group at the Garden? In the end, I don’t think the Leafs have what it takes to topple the Bruins.

Pick: Bruins in 7

New York Islanders vs. Pittsburgh Penguins 

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The ultimate David versus Goliath matchup. One of the heavy favorites Penguins against the ultimate underdog and relatively unheard of Islanders. The Penguins are playoff regulars, accustomed to being in the spotlight, the Islanders making their first playoff appearance since 2007. Just because it sounds like a easy Penguins sweep on paper, this is going to prove to be a hard fought out series, something the Penguins are most likely underestimating.

The New York Islanders are garnering very little attention in this matchup, especially from the media. Take a look at a preview of this matchup on ESPN and it’s all about the Penguins and Crosby with just a snippet, discussing the Islanders. Typical underdog fashion, something that really benefits the Islanders here. The Islanders are riding high on their franchise player, John Tavares and if they expect to skate past the Penguins into the next round, Tavares is going to be the key to their success.

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Penguins have brought in big names during the course of the season, in the likes of Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Jussi Jokinen, to go alongside their already established horses in Crosby, Malkin and veteran Coach Dan Bylsma. All make for one powerful team, from bottom to top and everything in between. However, there is one caveat here, Sidney Crosby is still sidelined with a broken jaw. Arguably, one of the best players in the league, sitting on the bench. A huge blow for the Penguins, despite the fact that the rest of the team is still powerful. It will be interesting to see, how much longer Crosby will be out for and even if he returns, will he be the same Crosby has he was pre injury? Only time will tell, but it’s a great opportunity for the Islanders to take advantage of this shortfall from the Penguins.

If there is going to be an huge upset in these playoffs, a true cinderella team, the Islanders are the team that has the greatest chance of making that happen. It’s going to be a great series to watch and if Crosby remains injured, Islanders could upset.

Pick: Islanders in 7

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              San Jose Sharks vs. Vancouver Canucks

Its a battle of two West Coast cities, two teams that have continually found themselves in the playoffs, year after year, yet somehow fail at winning the ultimate goal; Lord Stanley’s Cup. Vancouver is a proven squad, who has been here before, one game away from winning it all. Anchored by the Sedin twins and amidst a goalie conundrum, Vancouver is once again trying to reach their ultimate goal. And then we have the San Jose Sharks, a fairly young squad, but like their foes is also proven and has the playoff experience needed for any team to make a decent run into the playoffs.

The Vancouver Canucks, like their home city is hungry for the Cup, they have been tantalizingly close before, and they have that in the back of their minds, no question about that. Powered by the Sedin twins, who have been inseparable, all the while powering the Canucks to the position they are in today. Once home to the top 5 goalie, in Roberto Luongo, but the team has recently been fighting with what to do with Luongo, who is aging quickly, while trying to establish Corey Schneider as a franchise netminder, who just so happens to be hurt with an undisclosed injury. Their power play and goals per game, are somewhat lackluster for a team of their caliber, but hold a pretty good PK% at 84%. The big question everybody should be asking is whether or not that can get over their goaltending issues, as well as the reliance on the Sedin twins. They have the capability, the offense as well as the defense, they have it all to make the same run they did in 2010, but some underlying issues may hamper that cause.

And they we have the San Jose Sharks, powered by a very strong offense and anchored by a excellent goalie in Antti Niemi. The Sharks started off hot, similar to the Tampa Bay Lightning, winning their first seven games to open the shortened season. Then the wheels fell off, going through a stretch of losing 17 of 23, just a month before the playoffs, then like the roller coaster the Sharks are. they went on to go 12-3-1 to clinch their ninth straight playoff berth. Their PP%, PK% and GPG are all in the upper tier of the charts, in line with the Canucks, so in terms of that it’s a fairly level matchup.

That being said, the Sharks are the clear underdog here in this matchup to any novice tuning into the game, in large part due to the Canucks name. But don’t count them out, they have what it takes on all fronts to topple the Canucks and if I am picking upsets, the Sharks are the team I pick. Unfortunately, every time I either bet or choose the Sharks to win, they always manage to lose in a nail bitter finish. So I could see the Canucks winning, just because I picked the Sharks. If you are a betting man, when it comes to the Sharks, pick the Canucks.

Pick: Sharks in 6

-Gonzo

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