Nothing defines the NHL playoff picture more than goaltending and nothing complicates the Western Conference playoff puzzle more than the fact that five of the eight qualifiers will start netminders with zero previous playoff experience.
They would be: Jimmy Howard (Detroit), Antti Niemi (Chicago), Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles), Craig Anderson (Colorado) and Pekka Rinne (Nashville). Even the teams who have comparative greybeards at the position are not exactly flaunting their playoff resumes. San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov, the most experienced of the eight, is barely above the break-even mark at 32-31; Vancouver's Roberto Luongo is 11-11. If a dark horse is what you want, then Phoenix might be the answer, if only because Ilya Bryzgalov's career numbers in limited playoff action are exceptional (9-5, with a 1.68 GAA) suggesting he could be a difference maker no matter who he faces in the opposite net.
Nor is it any less clear out East, where the NHL's overall regular-season champions, Washington, will likely start the terminal question mark Jose Theodore - he of the life-time 19-27 playoff mark (and the not-so-gaudy 2.79 GAA). Theodore has recorded losing records in each of his last four playoff years, was yanked early on in last April's opening round against the New York Rangers and represents the only reason the Capitals aren't the heavy favourite to win their first championship in franchise history.
"I think it was Pat Burns who had the great line," said Coyotes' coach Dave Tippett. "Goaltending is 95 per cent of your game, unless you don't have it, and then it's 100 per cent."
Colorado's hopes of engineering a major playoff upset may rest heavily on the health of two of their young stars, Matt Duchene (torso) and Peter Mueller (concussion), both of whom played spectacularly down the stretch, as the Avs made short work of Calgary's uninspiring non-challenge. Duchene is expected to be ready for the opener; Mueller probably not. Just in case anyone thinks the youthful Avs have no chance, consider that in the postlockout NHL, an eighth seed has eliminated a No. 1 twice in the past four years (Edmonton over Detroit in '06; Anaheim over San Jose in '09) … The draft lottery is set for tomorrow and if you wonder why no one wants to trade out of the top two slots, just examine how the first two picks from '08 fared. Steven Stamkos channelled the young Brett Hull to score 50 for the Tampa Bay Lightning while Drew Doughty was the MVP for playoff-bound Los Angeles. From 2004 to 2007, the top two picks merely produced Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Bobby Ryan, Erik Johnson, Jordan Staal, Patrick Kane and James vanRiemsdyk. Not a dud amongst them - and most are just getting started. In fact, one could argue that the best players in '06 were chosen after Johnson and Staal. From spots three to five, it went: Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom and Phil Kessel. Few would be surprised to see Toews and Backstrom duking it out in the Stanley Cup final.
- Points by Henrik Sedin, exceeding the Vancouver Canucks' single-season record of 110, set by Pavel Bure in the 1992-93 season. That was 30 points more than Sedin's previous career high of 82. The next challenge will be to exceed his playoff record of 10 points in 10 games, also established last year.
He said it:
"It's been incredibly frustrating not to have scored yet incredibly nice to know that we continue to win and be successful. Tipp (coach Dave Tippett) has continued to stress to me not to worry about it. But … I look forward to the playoffs and getting a fresh start. I can't wait."
-- Phoenix Coyotes' captain Shane Doan, who inexplicably scored only one goal after Jan. 31 - a span of 26 games - to finish with 18, his lowest total in 10 years.