***The playoffs are reaching the "can almost smell it" level of close-ness now. Here's a fun new running feature, then: Best Dance Partners. It's better than it sounds (so stash that White Man's Underbite in your closet of shame along with your Snuggie, Creed CDs and mistress). Basically, the feature boils down to the three teams that would make the most entertaining matchups for the NHL team in question.
This week's installment is the Boston Bruins:
1. Montreal Canadiens (the fifth seed with 66 points, but tied with four other Eastern teams so this isn't as improbable as it sounds)
Last year's Montreal - Boston seven-game series brought enough intensity to start a Montreal riot (as Rocket Richard shook his head in shame from Hockey Mount Olympus).
Interestingly enough, this hypothetical series would be quite the role reversal (Boston and Montreal switching no. 1 and no. 8 seeds along with traditional favorite-underdog positions). Plus, the Bruins' breakout season would crash head-on with what currently is a free-falling centennial edition of the Habs.
Oh yeah, also, both teams can bring plenty of speed, depth and a traditional hatred marinated in decades of bad blood to yet another playoff series. Surely, the journey to shake that Montreal monkey off the Bruins' back would cause blood pressures to rise in both Original Six markets.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins (currently in 10th place, would need considerable good fortune to make it to the playoffs)
NBC would rank this potential series WAY ahead of a series with Montreal. But a Pens-B's match brings a lot to the table for more than just casual hockey fans.
It would really allow the Boston Bruins "brand" to grow as bigger audiences would finally get to see the best team in the Eastern Conference take on Pittsburgh, the team with the highest hype-per-win-capita in the NHL. Either that, or the Bruins would be upset by the Penguins leading Gary Bettman, Versus and NBC to jump for joy (while wishing the Penguins knocked off a Canadian team instead of the big market Bruins).
The more likely Bruins-crush-Pens scenario is oddly similar to that time Andre the Giant "put over" Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania III. If, you know, Andre the Giant really sucked that year.
3. Buffalo (currently the seventh seed with 66 points)
Buffalo vs. Boston would be a battle between a small market obsessed enough with hockey to produce huge local ratings and a huge market with other sports on the brain. Even though the Bruins aren't a perpetual Goliath like Detroit, Buffalo's underdog factor would be pretty appealing in this one.
Plus, the hockey would probably be very good and Buffalo brings some similar strengths (deep scoring, good goaltending) so the series could even generate a few nail biters.
One bland pairing that would make fans yawn and TV execs drool
Boston vs. New York Rangers
Are we the only people with a slight urge to see the Rangers miss the playoffs? They're such a mess of a roster, with four HORRIBLE contracts (Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, Wade Redden and Michal Rosival) and a limp lifelessness to their recent play.
Sure, they are two big markets. Sure, the networks would probably show Boston Red Sox/Yankees montages. And, sure, Sean Avery would bring lowbrow attention to the series (predicted Avery quip, spoken in typical monotone: "Zdeno Chara is a tall glass of ugly.")
But what's in it for, you know ... hockey fans? Not as much as those three other matches, to be sure.