The most dramatic, heart pounding action you will find on television this spring is not on AMC, HBO or even Netflix. Instead, starting April 15 and lasting for about a month, NBC Sports Network, CNBC and USA will be the home of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The playoffs feature the 16 best teams of the season, split into two conferences, west and east, matched up against each other in a best of seven series. During this time, you will experience the best hockey players in the world pour blood, sweat and tears onto the ice, literally.
Before we go another further, the elephant in the room must be taken care of. Yes, they really do fight and yes, the referees let them fight. It is a viable strategy to boost spirit and momentum and will more than likely happen multiple times in every game during the playoffs.
The closest things us Arkansans have to a home team are the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators, who have both had outstanding seasons, as they are the first and second seeds in the Western Conference, respectively.
Last year the Blues dominated the regular season but was plagued with injuries and limped into the playoffs before being handed an early exit in the first round by the Chicago Blackhawks. It was a scary case of deja vu for Blues fans this season, as once again they were hit with injuries to their star players down the stretch. However, the Blues managed to hang on to the one seed and get their stars back in time for the post-season.
The Blues score, and with their youthful front lines, score often. They will be matched up against the Minnesota Wild, who have had quite a wild ride to the playoffs. The Wild were going nowhere fast until mid-January when they traded for Devin Dubnyk, a goalie who had a mediocre career. Something clicked with Dubnyk and Minnesota because he quickly became one of the best goalies in all of the NHL and led the Wild in their playoff surge.
The Predators score in loads as well but in a different way. The Predators feature hulking defensemen who unload vicious shots, such as Shea Weber, who has a 108 mph slapshot, daring anyone to try and block it.
The Predators will be matched up against the Chicago Blackhawks, in possibly the most intriguing first round matchup. The Blackhawks have been a force of nature in the NHL for many years, and the Predators will certainly have its work cut out for them.
Also in the Western Conference are the Ducks, no not the Mighty Ducks, the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks are up against the scrappy and versatile Winnipeg Jets.
Speaking of Canadian teams, a pair of Canadian teams are pit against each other in the inexperienced but hungry Calgary Flames and the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks are led by its stellar front duo, who happen to be twin brothers, Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
The Eastern Conference also has a pair of Canadian teams matched against each other in the first round in the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators.
The Montreal Canadiens are the most successful NHL team in history, as it have won the cup a remarkable 24 times, and look to make it 25 this year. The Ottawa Senators had a rollercoaster ride of a season and thanks to a late season hot streak, managed to squeeze into the playoffs.
This trip to the playoffs makes it an unbelievable 24 straight post-season visits for the Detroit Red Wings, who have taken the cup home four times during that streak. The Red Wings are met by the Tampa Bay Lightning, whose name is fitting, considering they are so fast on the ice, if you blink you may miss them.
The New York Rangers look to avenge their loss in last year’s Stanley Cup Final and are faced against the Pittsburgh Penguins, led by Sidney Crosby, who is basically the LeBron James of the NHL.
If Sidney Crosby is LeBron James, Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals would be Kobe Bryant. The Capitals are up against the New York Islanders, who started the season hot but dramatically cooled off and barely managed to hold on to an appearance in the playoffs.
The emotions will be high, the competition will be even higher. There will be stellar goals, brutal fights, and you will see punches and hugs dealt seconds apart.
If these storylines are not enough to entice you to watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs, then maybe the possibility of hearing the broadcasters speak the names of Nino Niederreiter, Petr Mrazek, Radim Vrbata and Valtteri Filppula will convince you.