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(Elsa/2011 Getty Images)
(Elsa/2011 Getty Images)

Seven in the morning

The Stanley Cup playoffs: the punch in the face that says 'spring' Add to ...

Montreal defenceman Hal Gill is a Massachusetts native and he, fellow rearguard Paul Mara and backup goalie Alex Auld have played for the Bruins. Which counts for as much as the fact that Recchi and fellow Boston forward Michael Ryder once played for the Habs.

Stir in Bruins' Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand, detested in Montreal but no longer the sharpest thorns for Canadiens fans with Chara's eagerly anticipated return next Sunday.

For Bruins supporters, there's P.K. Subban, who scored his first regular-season NHL goal in Boston on Nov. 11 in a 3-1 win. The fabulous rookie defenceman can pretend he's hearing "Suuuuubban" every time he touches the puck in Beantown.

6. Only the Miami Heat could turn the Chicago Bulls into underdogs:

As the NBA turns to its post-season, a strange thing has happened, at least in the Eastern Conference: the best team with the best player in the best-attended market with a lively championship tradition has been turned into cuddly over-achievers: The N.B.A.'s unlikely underdogs play in a huge market, have no trouble paying the bills and are blessed with one of the world's most dazzling players. They play under the comfort of six championship banners.

If it is difficult to accept the Chicago Bulls - the franchise of Michael and Scottie, a 60-win team based in the nation's third-largest market - as anything other than favorites, then flip the calendar back to last fall.

The Miami Heat owned the conversation. The Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics owned the championship forecasts. The Oklahoma City Thunder owned the cover of Sports Illustrated's N.B.A. preview, while sketches of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant filled the outsize cover of ESPN The Magazine.

The Bulls? ESPN pegged them as the fourth-best team in the East. Sports Illustrated had them sixth. Four ESPN writers and six for Sports Illustrated picked Miami or Boston to win the conference. None put Derrick Rose in the most valuable player discussion. The general managers, in an N.B.A.com poll, ignored Chicago too.

Next weekend, the Bulls will open the playoffs as the East's top seed, defying expectations and bringing a little cheer to the masses who cringed over Miami's star-stacking and preening last summer.

7. Oh, and I almost forgot: Ron Wilson says the Leafs are on the cusp of Cup contention

The best thing about Ron Wilson is that when his brain makes his mouth say the most outrageous things, his face looks like he just ordered lunch. It's hard to know when to take him seriously, or when he wants the pumpkin soup to change things up. LIke when he says Nazim Kadri's bound for superstardom; or the Leafs are 'this close' to competing for a Stanley Cup: "We're probably two or three pieces from being a true contender," Wilson said during his final media address of the season. "But I'm talking a contender, not for the playoffs, I'm talking contender for the Stanley Cup. And it may come from within. You don't know." ...From there, Wilson launched into a spirited defence of sophomore centre Tyler Bozak's play, before turning his attention to his third defence pairing - which struggled almost all season - and backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson.

Soon, he was defending his special teams record, which includes a penalty killing unit that finished among the worst three in the NHL for the third year in a row.


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