In the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial the Washington Capitals will need to get back to the new old normal with Backstrom in the 60 minute sin bin. With so few games back since his concussion it shouldn’t be much of an adjustment for the home team. It won’t be good for them since he’s been dangerous with and without the puck, but it’s something they are used to. The Boston Bruins on the other hand can take a commanding lead in the series with a win. If they win, they would go home up three to one with the potential to end the series Saturday.

The plucky Florida Panthers square off against the disheveled New Jersey Devils. The Panthers hold staggering advantages on both the penalty and powerplay across the first three games and have outscored their Atlantic Division foes 10-8. The big question mark is Martin Broduer who was pulled in game three. He’s still likely to get the start but will he be effective? Aside from the Panthers living up to their billing as a top seed thus far this is perhaps the only opening round series not generating headlines which is pretty damned odd when you consider it has the rightful coach of the year in Dineen, MVP in Kovalchuk, and Calder winner in Henrique.

Coach Joel Quennville was fined for telling the truth. The team with the good offense is facing off the team with the good goaltending, both teams have averaged three goals per game. The Phoenix Coyotes lead the series having finished atop the division no one wanted to win. The Chicago Blackhawks will likely be without superstar Hossa, and have blood in their eye.

If there’s ever a time to enjoy sports in their purest form its the playoffs. Hockey sets the bar for that enjoyment higher than any sport. The NHL has ratcheted the level up higher than ever. That higher level has provoked me to say things I never expected to say.

Year over year the playoffs have turnover. The turnover is not just in teams that do and don’t make it in, but in who dominates who. Last year we saw the Nashville Predators win and advance then enter into a hell of a battle with the eventual western conference champion Vancouver Canuck team. In the past the Detroit Red Wings have dominated teams with ease. This year, quite remarkably both teams might fall out of the upper echelon. In the case of the Red Wings, they are facing a better team, but age and lack of depth are playing a part as well. The cycle of success for that team has turned slowly in the last half century. The last two decades of strength were preceded by “The Dead Wing” era that bred despair among fans. The Canucks are facing a team with better goaltending, stouter defense and more passion. Even with a missing Sedin they have the offensive force to outscore the Kings. The bigger problem is they never addressed the team accountability both on and off the ice that cost them last years Stanley Cup. They don’t get it at ice level, they don’t get it behind the bench. They don’t get it in management. In the off season they brought in Bitz for a more blue collar mentality, and at the deadline they brought in Kassian for toughness while giving up skill. Team identity does not come from a single pair of players, it has to be an organization religion. As such I’m in no way surprised they are likely to be eliminated in the first round.

Raffi Torres may just be too stupid to play in the NHL. I can’t believe I’m writing this but he clearly needs to take a page from Matt Cooke’s book if he wants to keep playing in the NHL. He can no longer claim ignorance of the NHL’s policy on head shots or leaving your feet to make a hit. He’s been suspended before. He’s been fined. He has to have seen the NHL’s videos. So stupid is the word we’ll use for someone who gets fine, days later gets suspended, and less than six months later makes the two most talked about suspendable infractions in one play in the midsts of the most intense round of playoffs since the lockout.

This drinking game is for recreational purposes only. Moderation in all things. While some will feel the urge to use alcohol as part of their participation, that could get expensive, embarrassing or even lethal.

Take one drink if/when:

  • Any individual award other than The Norris Trophy is mentioned.
  • The regular season series is mentioned.
  • Alzner or Seidenberg finish a period with more points than Ovechkin or Seguin.
  • A national broadcaster butchers a name. (Bonus drink if they call them by someone elses name.)
  • Knife or stab are used more than twice in a single sequence.
  • Take two drinks if/when:

    • Zdeno Chara’s size is mentioned.
    • Alex Ovechins point total is mentioned.
    • Any player in the series is mentioned in connection with supplementary discipline.
    • A goal is scored by someone who had less than 5 in the regular season.
    • An ordinary save is made and the announcer makes it sound like the goaltender just made the devil his bitch to do it.
    • The goaltenders are compared.
    • The fact Alfredsson and Chara were captains at the all star game is brought up.
    • Last years playoffs are mentioned.

    Take three drinks if/when:

    • A player not on either roster is mentioned.
    • The cameras focus on anything other than what might be or is a fight.
    • Either Chara or Karlsson is mentioned in connection with the Norris Trophy.
    • The crowd chants their dissatisfaction after a poor call is made.
    • The mid period interviewer asks an entirely stupid question.

    Take four drinks is/when:

    • Erik Karlsson is mentioned as the best defensemen of all time.
    • The word leadership is used for any player not a captain.
    • A coach looks exasperated.
    • Special teams stats are brought up outside of a time when special teams are playing.

    Funnel! If/when:

    • Someone says something has changed the whole series.
    • More than one fight breaks out at once.
    • A completely absurd “because its the Cup” commercial plays.
    • Someone says “There is no place for that”
    • Someone mentions there is no shootout in the playoffs.

    Switch to a new drink if/when:

    • Someone mentions home ice advantage.
    • Someone scores back to back goals.

    Skip a drink if/when:

    • A shorthanded goal is scored.
    • A 5 on 3 goal is scored.
    • A potential 2nd round matchup is mentioned.
    • You think someone elses drinking games are better than mine.
    • PuckSage, PuckSage.com, the NHL, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals nor any of their partners are responsible for the actions full participation in this drinking game might inspire.

      That said, if you do something horrificly embarrissing, illegal in an entertaining way or just can’t stop giggling when looking at friends jersey please send it to us.

    If you listen to Red Wings fans this is clearly the dirtiest play in history.

    After all a team that employs Bertuzzi knows a thing for fifty about dirty. It got two minutes as the period was winding down at the end of game one. It was called roughing. It deserved a roughing. Two minutes is well earned by the Predators Captain.

    Given the Red Wings ever accumulating age, and their highly justifiable and long standing reputation for playing soft a reminder that their are rough men on the ice is very notable occasion. In terms of game play it was unneeded. If it was calculated it was brilliant gamesmanship. The Predators have home ice against the most dominant team of the last quarter century. That team is currently in decline, and had a bad road record this year. Making the trips to Bridgestone Arena an even more unpleasant thought for Detroit’s heroes is absolutely a legitimate way of assisting the teams advancement to the next round.

    If it wasn’t calculated, that sort of recklessness is just stupid. Either way, no apparent harm to Zetterberg, the two minutes was worth it. Some people think Weber will be getting a call from the NHL’s discipline czar. It is worth noting that Henrik Zetterberg shared a locker room with Brendan Shanahan for three full seasons before the latter moved on to the Rangers and Devils.

    Most years in order to win a championship in the NHL you need to have a goalie play above average and contribute to the win. That isn’t the same as giving a team the chance to win, or simply not costing the team a win. There have been exceptions to this, namely belonging to the Red Wings teams of the last two or three cups.

    16: Brayden Holtby. With only 21 NHL games to his credit, he’s got to be the best defense on a team who’s effort has been highly uneven all year. Realistically he’s got almost no pressure on him considering he’s third on the teams depth chart. (Alternates for the Capitals would be Neuvirth or possibly Vokoun)

    15: Corey Crawford: He’s not had an impressive season, no goalie likely to start this post season had a worse save percentage this off season. Keeping that in mind, last year as a rookie he stepped up and improved both his save percentage and goals against average in the playoffs.(BlackHawks alternate Emery)

    14: Scott Clemmensen: His next NHL playoff game will be his second. He does have the advantage of familiarity with his first round opponent. (Alternates for the Panthers Theodore or maybe Markstrom)

    13: Marc-Andre Fleury: The flower has wilted in his last two playoff appearances with sub .900 save percentages. If he hadn’t been to the promised land he’d be lower. Even the year he was part of the Cup win, he gave up more goals than any other goalie. (Alternate for the Penguins is Johnson)

    12: Ilya Bryzgalov: Not a playoff goalie thus far in his career. His last two post season have had worse numbers than the regular season. (Alternate for the Flyers Bobrovsky)

    11: Anti Niemi: Yes he’s been there and done that, but not with this team. Further his post season numbers have dipped in comparison to the regular season in each post season appearance. (Alternate for the Sharks Greiss)

    10: Jimmy Howard: Gamer. One of those guys who’s numbers improve in the post season. (Alternates for Red Wings Conklin, Macdonald)

    9: Roberto Luongo: Despite the loss in the finals last year, he still had a better save percentage than the previous two winning goaltenders. (Alternate for the Canucks Schnieder)

    8: Martin Brodeur: Been there, done that three times but the last trip to the post season was double plus ungood.  (Alternate for the Devils Hedberg)

    7: Craig Anderson: One playoff series one save percentage of .933 on a team that only got into the playoffs because he could scramble. (Alternate for the Senators Bishop)

    6: Pekka Rinne: Not great playoff numbers, and an off season but one of the best pure talents in the league. (Alternate for the Predators Lindback)

    5: Henrik Lundquist: Whatever he’s done in the regular season over his career has been nearly undone by an aggressively mediocre playoff performance, but that’s bound to change right? (Alternate for the Rangers Biron)

    4: Mike Smith: With a little more experience he might break the top three, on the other hand holding the eventual Stanley Cup champions to two goals in your first 120 minutes of NHL playoff experience isn’t a bad baptism by fire. Not a bad regular season this year either. (Alternate for the Coyotes Labarbera)

    3: Jonathan Quick: Career year behind a team playing confidently, and ready to go far. (Alternate for the Kings Bernier.)

    2: Brian Elliott & Jaroslav Halak: Either one is having a high end year, Halak has ripped the heart out of opponents as a duo, there’s not a better pairing this year in the NHL. (Alternate for the Blues would be whoever doesn’t start.)

    1: Tim Thomas: Reigning Conn-Smyth winner, reigning Vezina trophy winner, defending Stanley Cup champion, he’s been there and done that recently. Looked sharp of late and has elevated his numbers every post season in the last three seasons. (Alternates fort he Bruins possibly Khudobin, Rask, Hutchinson….)

    They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. A certain reporter recently demonstrated he probably qualifies. When he asked the principal about a non story that was only ever important to the laziest portions of the mainstream media, he was given exactly the answer he was told to expect. He was given exactly the response that happened the last time the principal was asked about the topic.

    This came up while I was talking to a friend the other day. Despite being a fan of the team and having watched the Bruins and having watched the entire cup run, they hadn’t heard anything about it. This was person who was downtown Boston in a bar for game seven. A person who talks to me frequently about hockey. He asked why anyone cared? I wasn’t sure how to answer that.

    I mean since the almost event the media wishes was one, the Boston Bruins had a slump that started weeks before it end. The team has also had a nice return to dominance after a scare that left them out of the northeast division lead for the first time in months for a few short hours. They’ve had injuries to key personnel at each and every position. The team has had to sign a goalie who can’t even play in the playoffs, they signed a collegiate defenseman straight out of school and had him playing in the NHL days later. The team failed to have a single thirty goal scorer this season. Their best known skater is likely to be a finalist for an individual honor again.  The principal has made some adjustments to their game including equipment and seems to be back to their dominant play. The principal could even have been asked about why the team has struggled against their first round opponent despite his own solid performance in three games against them this year. But nope, none of that.

    So help me out, is the media member lazy or insane? Pursuing a story no one outside the profession gives a damn about in lieu of one readers might want to know about is certainly one or the other.

    Every year we hear the same thing: The playoff system is broken! (Not My)Team only got 1st round home ice for winning their division but (insert relevant number) teams were better. (Not My)Team shouldn’t have home ice just for winning the division, (insert shrill rant that sounds like it came from a four year old about 15 minutes after Mom should have put them to bed about fairness) this other (Possibly My)Team should have home ice.  Continue onto the “geographic divisions are obsolete” discussion and you’ve seen every possible post on why the current system needs to go that isn’t actually worth reading.

    The only reason to scrap the current playoff system that makes sense in the dollars way is to either A: expand the number of teams in it or 2: add more games D: introduce a new element that gets more people to watch without alienating the core audience. That’s it. I’m only in favor of a fraction of those, but I’ll let you guess which ones.

    Divisions may be superficially geographic in fact they are. And the playoff races are not entirely based on ice level vents. But they haven’t been since the NHL expanded. They are business designations. The NHL like every other major sporting league sets them up to benefit the business as a whole. The Southeast division is comprised entirely of teams with growth potential. They can all spend 25% more than the salary cap floor and stand a good chance of still playing games that mean something in March. The Northeast division is comprised of teams where the home crowds know hockey and bleed their teams colors, and will even support them (to a varying degree) when they are bad with the expectation they won’t ever cry poor mouth and throw a bunch of jabronis on the ice.

    The central division is essentially two really big cities with hockey in the blood who are close enough to help fill the stands to other teams in the market. It’s not hard to figure out. It’s not like trying to figure out what idiocy kept the owners of the Thrashers from ever putting the damn good players they had over the top with a little help. It isn’t like trying to figure out a way for Martin Havlat or Rick Dipietro to reach even a normal level of durability. It just takes the realization that the NHL is a business, and as a collective they do better if more teams are in the races longer, selling more concessions and getting more eye-prints on screens.

    So don’t blame (Not Your)Team or even the system for being “unfair”, it’s real life not a childrens game. The NHL exists to make money, not be some 11th century morality play on ice.

    I feel like this post should start with Kool Moe Dee slangin’ lyrical crack on the mic. The west was as wild as it gets with the last playoff spots not being known until the final moment, of the last of the NHL’s 1230 regular season games.

    1: Vancouver Canucks vs 8: Los Angeles Kings

    This is opening round show down isn’t going to be quite as volatile as the Flyers/Penguins match, but make no mistake about people will be hitting hard enough someone will be told go see the doctor before the series is over. The two teams were both in the bottom five in blocked shots this season, the Kings have slight PK advantage, and the Canucks hold title to a better powerplay. The Kings own a better defense and goaltender and the Canucks generated more overall offense.

    The important part though is what’s happened in the last 45 days. The Kings added a top six forward to their team, and the Canucks had one sent off with a concussion, as well as losing defenseman Keith Ballard, and Zach Kassian’s physical element.

    The skill edge outside the crease belongs to Vancouver, inside to the Kings, the will edge is something you can debate amongst yourselves.

    2: St Louis Blues vs 7: San Jose Sharks

    This series features two teams with a lot of contrasts. The Sharks haven’t failed to be a top four team in a while, the Blues haven’t won the division in quite some time. The Blues are getting contributions across the board from a solid cast of stars without any true superstars, and no one in the league has put more points on the board since October 8, 1997 than Joe Thornton, the Blues have just two twenty goal scorers, while the Sharks have three thirty goal men.

    If the Blues get the goaltending they’ve gotten all year from their dynamic duo of Elliott and Halak they go on to round two, if they continue the funk that left the drifting into the playoffs going just 4-3-3 in their last ten things are unlikely to be sweet music.

    3: Phoenix Coyotes vs 6: Chicago Blackhawks

    First congrats to the Coyotes on winning their first franchise Pacific Division title. While the Nashville/Detroit series will get the hype, this one may have the heat. The Blackhawks have better talent a the top of their roster, but in the bottom half it’s not even close, the Coyotes are much better on their 3rd and 4th lines and lower defensive pairs. More importantly is the quality of goaltending isn’t even close. Mike Smith has had a Vezina worthy season, the guys in Chicago would be lucky to win top goaltender in the AHL.

    The Coyotes proved they can win both home and on the road, the Blackhawks struggled on the road at times and finished just .500 on the road this season. Neither team has a powerplay worth mentioning, in fact it’s entirely possible we could see this series close without a single powerplay goal for either team, but the Coyotes have a much better penalty kill. Edge: Coyotes.

    4: Nashville Predators vs 5: Detroit Red Wings

    The biggest surprise to everyone outside Detroit this season is not that they finished outside the top four, but how much their goaltending helped them. Jimmy Howard bounced back in a big way after being flat last season, which is possibly they only reason they made it into the playoffs. I’m not sure when the last time the Detroit Red Wings entered the playoffs against a better powerplay, better penalty kill, better road record, than their own. Much like the St Louis vs San Jose series, you’ve got a younger team with the talent spread out vs a team with a handful of aging ringers.

    With the Blue winning the division, and the Predators getting the last home ice slot, it looks like the guard in the central division is changing.

    It’s that time of year, when anyone who hasn’t managed to completely abandon social responsibility goes into hibernation for several hours a couple times a week. The NHL playoffs are here.

    1: New York Rangers vs 8: Ottawa Senators

    The Rangers have the advantages in goaltending, in playoff experience, penalty kill and in team toughness. That’s not to say the Senators are pushovers, but the Rangers had 10 more fighting majors than the Senators. The Senators own a noticeably better powerplay, a more powerful offense overall, and better leadership. Age is roughly the same with the Senators have a larger spread between their players ages.

    On paper the Rangers should win this series handily. Unfortunately we don’t know how healthy Lundquist is (again) and the Senators won the regular season series against the “superior team”.

    2: Boston Bruins vs 7: Washington Capitals

    Can you say goalie issues? I knew that you could! The Boston Bruins still have a healthy Tim Thomas and that’s a damned spiffy thing to have. Unfortunately between the two teams there are two goalies who have never played an NHL playoff game (Khudobin, Holtby), one goalie ineligible to play at all (Turco), and count ’em three goalies currently injured (Rask, Vokoun, Neuvirth) which makes for exciting times for the coaches. For the Capitals who were likely to find themselves out matched in goal anyways, it makes it worse that their likely starter Brayden Holtby has just 21 NHL games (14-4-3) to his name, and none of them playoff games and only seven of them this season.

    The Capitals won the season series against the Bruins, on the other hand three of those games came during that ice defiling slump they were in. The bad news for the Bruins who have since resurrected their team identity is that the Capitals have Backstrom back. On paper I thin almost anyone has to give this series to the Bruins, but the Capitals won’t make it easy.

    3: Florida Panthers vs 6: New Jersey Devils

    These two teams are both making their return to the second season. The Sons of Sunrise as an organization haven’t been in the playoffs in forever, but Brian Campbell and Kris Versteeg lifted the Stanley Cup together, Samuelsson, Sturm, Bergenheim, Kopecky, Madden, and Jovonovski bring in another 500 or so games of NHL playoff experience as well. The Devils have an odd mix of experience and new blood, Broduer has been there and done that. but almost no one else has seen even the conference finals. Most haven’t made it out of the first round. Ilya Kovalchuk who should be on the Hart Trophy short list has only played in one playoff game in which his team won. Zach Parise hasn’t seen the second round of the playoffs since his second year in the league, and he wasn’t expected to be a cornerstone of the team then. Adam Henrique is of course a rookie, and even though he probably deserves the Calder Trophy, he hasn’t played even one professional playoff game and none since the Memorial Cup run a few years back.

    The goals for department favors New Jersey slightly, the goals against is a dead heat. The penalty kill is a walkoff for the Devils, but the Panthers hold the edge in the powerplay. The Panthers both generate and give up more shots than the Devils. This series will probably go the distance, with more playoff experience on the Panthers side, unless MB30 looks like the guy of 10 or even 5 years ago, you should not be shocked if the Panthers advance after their first ever division title.

    4: Pittsburgh Penguins vs 5: Philadelphia Flyers

    There will be no love in these games. Not unless its a love of winning and rubbing ones opponents face in it. The teams hate each other, the fans would cheerfully massacre the other cities, and the coaches aren’t over fond of each other either. This will be as compelling to watch as last year Boston vs Montreal series, and should be the best opening round matchup in either division.

    With the relative tightness of the race, this series will come down to guts and discipline. The Penguins are better at home, the Flyers better on the road. The powerplays have identical proficiency, the penalty killing edge is in the Penguins favor, the teams delivered an identical number of hits, and the Flyers blocked more shots. While neither Bryzgalov nor Fleury did anything they wanna brag about in the last few days of the regular season, neither one had a bad March with the edge going to the Flyers keeper. Fleury has been to the promised land and Bryzgalov has not. That said, Bryzgalov has the better post season save percentage, and Bryzgalovs career save percentage against the Penguins is much, better than Fleury’s against the Flyers (.930 vs .901).

    As Jim Ross would say, this one fixes to be a good old fashioned slobber-knocker.