Headlining Star Selectors first round Stanley Cup Playoff match-ups: two rematches, an Original six rivalry with an abundance of bad blood and a battle between recent Stanley Cup winners. CBC sport’s executives are still smiling this afternoon given the abundance of plot lines surrounding their first round play off match ups (for a complete schedule follow this link: http://www.cbc.ca/sports/hockey/stanleycup2011/).
Let’s examine some of the story lines and give some insight that might help you select your starting Crown Royal Star Selector lineups.
1. Will the Vancouver Canucks finally defeat the Chicago Blackhawks?
So what is the reward for winning your franchise’s first President Trophy? A date with your playoff nemesis, and defending Stanley Cup Champion, the Chicago Blackhawks.
If any Canuck fan tries to sell you on the, ‘we are happy to be getting a chance to avenge the last 2 playoff losses to Chicago story’, kindly thank them for their time and ask them for two of whatever they are drinking. Truth is Canuck fans were desperately hoping for Dallas to grab the final playoff spot. That said, the Canucks can create some serious playoff momentum with a first round victory, especially if they beat the Hawks in 5 games or less. Chicago is battled tested and will be undoubtedly looking to cash in on the free hand Dallas dealt them.
This is a Star Selectors dream series (or nightmare) depending on your views on player changes, as each team boast a stable of young stallions. Take your pick between the twins Daniel & Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler (regular season Star Selector leading scorer), Roberto Luongo, Patrick Kane or Sharp, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith or Cory Crawford. Just don’t be scared to make roster adjustments if you see your selections underperforming.
2. Bad Bad Blood. Boston Bruins vs Montreal Canadiens
All right hockey fans, this is the series you so desperately wanted. A classic series featuring exceptional goaltending, with size & strength taking on speed & skill. All that is missing is some bad blood to really hype this series up. Of course I write this in jest as there is probably more bad blood heading into this series than the previous 33 times the teams have squared off. No need to rehash the entire Pacioretty - Chara incident and subsequent non-suspension fallout, but when a French-language Electoral debate is rescheduled to avoid going up at the same time as a hockey game, you know there is more than a little interest in this series.
Some additional plot lines if the above wasn’t enough: Can Carey Price build on a solid regular season and provide Halakian level of postseason goaltending? Can Boston exorcise last year’s playoff collapse demons? Does Tomas Kaberle remember how to compete in the playoffs (sorry Leaf fans)? Are the Canadiens tough enough to handle the Bruins physical presence?
From a player selection standpoint, this is a series that might be the lowest scoring of all the other first round match ups making goalie picks a solid strategic option. Boston will go with the new regular season NHL save percentage record holder Tim Thomas, while Montreal will counter with their Star Selector leading scorer, Carey Price. Upfront it’s difficult not to consider starting from Boston: Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Nathan Horton & Zdeno Chara and from Montreal; Tomas Plekanec, Michael Cammalleri, Brian Gionta & PK Subban.
3. Dessert Delights. Detroit Red Wings vs Phoenix Coyotes
Many hockey experts considered Detroit’s 7 games series win over Phoenix as the most entertaining contest during last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. This rematch, while not garnering as much attention as the Hawks-Canucks series, has the potential to recapture the same magic as last year. Detroit and Phoenix split their 4 game series during the regular season, with all games being decided by 2 goals or less. Detroit will be starting the series without the services of star forward Henrik Zetterberg, who is still nursing the popular ‘lower body’ injury, while Phoenix enters this years cup run with a healthy lineup. For those on twitter and who aren’t already following @BizNasty2point0, Phoenix Forward Paul Bissonnette this is the perfect opportunity to start following the most entertaining NHL’er on the popular social media medium.
I like this to be the highest scoring of the first round Star Selector match-ups, and as such will be loading up on some great offensive players. Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom, Daniel Cleary & Johan Franzen lead the Red Wings while Phoenix offers Shane Doan, Keith Yandle, Ray Whitney and Lauri Korpikoski.
4. Run and Gun? Pittsburgh Penguins vs Tampa Bay Lightning
With Tampa and Pittsburgh meeting in the 1st round, this sets up to be one of the most entertaining series on Hockey Night In Canada. While the big guns, Crosby and Malkin, have been injured for most of the second half of the season, the Penguins never slipped and are one of the strongest teams entering the playoffs. The Lightning on the other hand were sizzling out of the gate, but have cooled over the last 2 months.
Goaltending will dictate this series. Marc-Andre Fleury will need to carry the Penguins above the deadly Tampa Bay power play and their powerhouses forwards Vinny LeCavalier, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos. Dwayne Roloson historically has been rock steady in the playoffs and Lightning fans will need him to steal some games again this year. That said, I would not PICK the goalies. In the Star Selector game it will be all about the big guns for both teams. Chris Kunitz and Pascale Dupuis should be considered as the best Penguins each night with their high plus/minus and point totals, plus Kunitz likes to play a physical game. On the TBay side the big 3 should always be considered but don't ignore Teddy Purcell and Ryan Malone for points. You could win games by captaining a player like Purcell or maybe even the Penguins Tyler Kennedy because everyone else might be thinking Stamkos all the way and they could emerge as keep roll players in the series. Game one should give us some indication as to the abilities of the shutdown lines on each team to limit the big players from getting on the score sheet and that should tell you who to stay away from.
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