After watching a fantastic Washington - Boston game on Versus, it's hard to argue against taking the plunge and ordering NHL Center Ice. Chances are, it will be a part of the old rotation by this weekend. (At least if that $50 discount still applies)
Juggled the game along with a less interesting Atlanta - Dallas contest, so my viewing was a bit limited. But from what was witnessed, these two teams legitimately look like the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
Boston, in particular, looks about as impressive as its record. It just seems like the Bruins have been put together with competence from top to bottom.
Marc Savard might still be the most underrated player in the NHL. Everyone "in the know" loves budding power forward Milan Lucic. The Bruins have been able to cope with injuries, so who knows what kind of fireworks the team is capable of with a healthy Patrice Bergeron (it was great to see him back tonight) and Phil Kessel. Their defense is well coached thanks to Claude Julien and Norris-level D Zdeno Chara.
But Tim Thomas may typify the Bruins experience more than anyone else. No one really wants to believe it, but Thomas deserves serious Vezina consideration. He made some fantastic saves in that game tonight, particularly in the OT period. Thanks to a great 1B in Manny Fernandez (who may never escape 1A-1B rotations after Boston and Minnesota), they can ride the hot hand in the playoffs.
Just a well balanced team. They don't miss the eternally fragile Marco Sturm that much because they have great guys like Michael Ryder, Blake Wheeler and Chuck Kobasew in addition to their near-elites.
It will be VERY interesting to see who the Bruins can hold onto, since David Krejci, Kessel and their two goalies are going into various states of free agency.
In my predictions column, I misfired badly. The sexiest team in the NHL is probably the Washington Capitals, not the Edmonton Oilers. Last year, they were up-and-coming but now the team is more than just its irresistible force in Alex Ovechkin. Washington features a nice collection of entertaining players: Mike Green is perhaps the best offensive defenseman on a semi-under the radar level. Alex Semin is dynamic when healthy. Even though he's been on the trading block and hasn't worked out, Michael Nylander is a nice passer and Nicklas Backstrom is a fabulous (if a bit too pass-happy) playmaker. With a cavalcade of other Russians including Sergei Fedorov, the Caps are a team the NHL should root for them to go on a long playoff run.
The biggest question is in net with Jose Theodore. Theo wasn't too bad tonight, but it's a shame that the Caps lack an elite goaltending prospect going forward. Imagine how scary the Caps would be if Theodore can give them consistent to great goaltending.
In the next week or so, I'll look at some possible intriguing first round matchups. Because you can feel a subtle gravity toward the postseason now that games are heating up and the All-Star break is over.