NHL playoffs: Let’s get this party started!

There’s nothing that sounds quite like an NHL playoff game, except for maybe standing on the tarmac during a plane’s takeoff. The noise is constant from the pre-game skate to the final seconds on the clock. For the players and coaches, springtime means the start of the annual gauntlet run to the Stanley Cup.

This year, the Western Conference could provide more surprises in the early rounds than its Eastern counterpart. I have highlighted three series to keep an eye on for the first round.

Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens
An original six matchup — old Adams Division rivals will meet for the fourth time in the last seven postseasons. The Habs have won 24 of 31 all-time playoff series between the two teams, including the last three encounters (’02, ’04, ‘08). The key for the Canadiens is having a healthy D Andrei Markov back in the lineup. He led the team in scoring and was a key component at the point position on the power play. But they have sputtered since Markov went down with a lower-body injury on April 4th. The Big Bad Bruins have bullied the Canadiens in all six regular season contests, but they must refrain from taking stupid penalties. F Milan Lucic must control his emotions and play with his head on straight, as the referees will be watching him closely. What a banner season for the Bruins, as they had their best win total (53) since 1971-72 regular season en route to becoming the number one-seed in the Eastern Conference.

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Martin Brodeur is hockey’s man behind the mask

The Prudential Center crowd chanted, “Marr-tty…Marr-tty,” in the closing moments of yet another New Jersey Devils’ victory on Tuesday night. But this night was special; Martin Brodeur recorded his record-breaking 552nd win, eclipsing Patrick Roy’s NHL record for career victories by a goaltender. He finished his historic chase in typical Marty fashion by winning eight of his last nine starts since returning to the lineup on February 26th.

Major elbow surgery in November kept him out of the lineup for 50 games. Brodeur didn’t think he would even play again this season, as he never sustained a major injury in his 15-year career. Doctors reassured him that he would be back between the pipes for the Devils in 16 weeks if there were no setbacks in his rehabilitation process.

Early on, skeptics questioned if Brodeur could play in consecutive games. Hey, this is Martin Brodeur, a man who started in a record 78 games in the 2006-07 season and averaged 70 starts for 10-straight years. There’s no question that he is durable enough to handle the physical rigors of playing back-to-back games especially considering how fresh he was by being away from competition for four months.

Brodeur’s run to the record was virtually uncovered by the press until he headed back to his hometown last weekend. The Montreal radio airwaves were buzzing with “Marty talk” leading up to Saturday night’s contest at the Bell Centre. And he didn’t disappoint his hometown fans, stopping 22 of the 23 shots attempted for a 3-1 victory over the struggling Montreal Canadiens. Afterward, he received a hero’s welcome with a standing O from the Montreal fans.

Eight wins seemed like an eternity for Brodeur after sustaining a major elbow injury. It was a remarkable feat achieving history in a mere nine games since his return to the lineup. But the milestones do not stop there; he is three shutouts away from breaking Terry Sawchuk’s league record of 103 shutouts in a career. This could be another amazing ride towards history, but the way he is playing, it could be a short one.

Memo to NHL coaches: You’re fired!!

The number of firings that have taken place in the NHL this season would make Donald Trump envious. Seven head coaches have left the board room unemployed, including three in the last month from preseason Stanley Cup contending teams.

The purge began on February 2, as the Pittsburgh Penguins fired Michel Therrien only months after he took them to a Stanley Cup final. He paid the price for management’s inability to keep the supporting cast that had surrounded talented young superstars like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Marc-Andre Fleury. It was inevitable that Therrien would become the fall guy, as the Pens have fallen to 10th place in the Eastern Conference and out of the playoff hunt.

The New York Rangers had lost 10 of their last 12 games and fell to sixth place in the Eastern Conference; just two points separated them from missing the playoffs completely. Management felt this underachieving team needed a kick in the butt and hired John Tortorella to replace Tom Renney as head coach. His excitable personality will challenge everyone on the roster to play to their potential and he’ll hold them accountable for their on-ice decisions.

The Montreal Canadiens’ 100th anniversary season was supposed to a year of celebration that would culminate with a Stanley Cup victory. Instead, it has been a nightmare that cost Guy Carbonneau his job earlier this week. Canadiens GM Bob Gainey felt the team needed to get better defensively and cut down the number of shots allowed in their zone.

This is the last, desperate move by teams that had high aspirations at the beginning of the season and are now struggling just to stay in the playoff race. Their only hope is for a mid-season coaching change to ignite a second-half resurgence. Each team’s performance has been below par for the majority of the season.

There is a fine line between success and failure in the business world and sometimes calculated moves do not work out the way they were intended. The one thing that Therrien, Renney and Carbonneau had in common were they were let go after recent success in the NHL. But hey, that’s the sports business today.

Couch Potato Alert: 2/27

Damn you, Tim Clark!

Thanks for ruining the weekend of all hack golfers in the world by defeating golf’s stimulus plan, Tiger Woods, on Thursday. We (I confess that I am a hack golfer) live vicariously through every one of his great shots from the fairway that land smoothly a foot away from the pin on the green. Now, we have to hope for another Phil Mickelson meltdown to bring our attention back to the Accenture Match Play Championship. Hopefully, Shaq will reprise his introduction dance from the All-Star Game before Sunday’s nationally-televised game against the Lakers. I mean the Big Shaqtus can really move on the dance floor.

All times ET…

College Basketball
Saturday, 2 PM: Notre Dame @ #2 Connecticut (CBS)
Saturday, 2 PM: #13 Clemson @ #25 Florida State (ESPN Full Court)
Sunday, 12 PM: #10 Marquette @ #6 Louisville (CBS)
Sunday, 2 PM: #8 Missouri @ #15 Kansas (CBS)
Sunday, 4 PM: #9 Michigan State @ #20 Illinois (CBS)

Friday, 7 PM: Detroit Pistons @ Orlando Magic (ESPN)
Friday, 9:30 PM: Cleveland Cavaliers @ San Antonio Spurs (ESPN)
Saturday, 7 PM: Orlando Magic @ Philadelphia 76ers (NBA TV)
Sunday, 1 PM: Detroit Pistons @ Boston Celtics (ABC)
Sunday, 3:30 PM: Los Angeles Lakers @ Phoenix Suns (ABC)
Sunday, 8 PM: Cleveland Cavaliers @ Atlanta Hawks (ESPN)

Friday, 7 PM: Montreal Canadiens @ Philadelphia Flyers
Saturday, 7 PM: San Jose Sharks @ Montreal Canadiens
Sunday, 1 PM: Philadelphia Flyers @ New Jersey Devils

Feb.27-Mar. 1, TBA: Accenture Match Play Championship (NBC/TGC)

Couch Potato Alert: 1/2

All times ET…

College Football

Friday, 2 PM: No. 20 Mississippi vs. No. 8 Texas Tech – Cotton Bowl, Fox
Friday, 5 PM: Kentucky vs. East Carolina – Liberty Bowl, ESPN
Friday, 8 PM: No. 7 Utah vs. No. 4 Alabama – Sugar Bowl, Fox
Saturday, 12 PM: Buffalo vs. Connecticut – International Bowl, ESPN2

College Basketball

Friday, 8:30 PM: No. 11 Syracuse vs. South Florida, ESPN
Saturday, 12 PM: No. 3 Pittsburgh vs. No. 8 Georgetown, ESPN
Saturday, 12 PM: No. 23 Ohio State vs. No. 21 Minnesota
Sunday, TBA: Kentucky vs. No. 18 Louisville, CBS


Friday, 7:30 PM: Indiana Pacers vs. New York Knicks, NBA TV
Saturday, 8:30 PM: Philadelphia 76ers vs. San Antonio Spurs, NBA TV
Sunday, 6 PM: Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks, NBA TV


Saturday, 4:30 PM: Atlanta Falcons vs. Arizona Cardinals, NBC
Saturday, 8 PM: Indianapolis Colts vs. San Diego Chargers, NBC
Sunday, 1 PM: Baltimore Ravens vs. Miami Dolphins, CBS
Sunday, 4:30 PM: Philadelphia Eagles vs. Minnesota Vikings, Fox


Friday, 7 PM: Montreal Canadiens vs. New Jersey Devils
Friday: 10 PM: Philadelphia Flyers vs. Anaheim Ducks
Saturday, 5 PM: Ottawa Senators vs. New Jersey Devils

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