NHL Playoffs Kick Off Two Months Of Play
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
These are busy days in sports. Baseball is just getting started. Pro basketball is working its way toward the playoffs. But the real excitement, at the moment, is on the ice. In pro hockey, the playoffs have arrived. The first round began this week, and 16 teams are vying for the NHL's Stanley Cup. So let's get right to it with Scott Burnside. He's a national hockey writer for ESPN.com, and he joins us now from Pittsburgh. Welcome to the program.
SCOTT BURNSIDE: Well, thank you for having me.
SIEGEL: And let's start with the series that brings you to Pittsburgh. Who's playing?
BURNSIDE: Well, this is the marquee matchup of the eight first-round series. It's the longtime state rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, and the Pittsburgh Penguins and, in the days leading up to the playoffs, a lot of angry words, Philadelphia head coach Peter Laviolette fined $10,000 after a tirade following a late regular season game between the two teams.
And this is the series I think a lot of people are looking at as a great lead-in to what is the best time of the season for the NHL and two of the NHL's biggest and most important markets.
SIEGEL: And there's also some nastiness in another series between Nashville and the Detroit Red Wings. What's going on there?
BURNSIDE: Well, these are two teams that don't like each other much, either. They are similar to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in that they're in the fourth and fifth seed, so very close. And, at the end of the first game on Wednesday night, Nashville captain Shea Weber slammed the head of Henrik Zetterberg, one of the Red Wings' top skilled forwards, into the glass.
Now, the NHL struggling with concussion issues, trying to make the game safer, trying to eliminate dangerous plays, after this incident, came away with only fining Shea Weber for $2,500. So it has created a lot of buzz around the league about whether that was just punishment or not. In my mind, it was not. I think Shea Weber should have been suspended for at least a game.
But certainly has ramped up what is also an emotional series between two teams that I think a lot of people imagine could win the Stanley Cup. Of course, one of them is going to be done playing in about 10 days.
SIEGEL: Now, beyond bad blood and emotion, there's also been some great hockey. Three overtime games last night. Which series do you think are the best bets to keep fans on the edge of their seats?
BURNSIDE: Well, there have been so many and I think, if you look at the Western Conference, you can really make a case for all eight teams in the Western Conference to advance to the Stanley Cup final. They're that close and we saw the eighth seed, Los Angeles Kings, beat Vancouver, the finalist from the Western Conference of a year ago. In their first game, we saw San Jose - they're the seventh seed - beat St. Louis in double overtime and it is very, very tight, so you can sort of throw the seedings out.
I'm curious about Phoenix and Chicago. A lot of backdrop and other issues surrounding that series for both teams and they're very closely matched and we saw that. It was a game that Phoenix won in overtime in their first game of that series.
SIEGEL: The defending Stanley Cup champions are the Boston Bruins. Are they considered a likely candidate to repeat? Who would be the Miami Heat or the Dallas Mavericks or whoever of the National Hockey League?
BURNSIDE: Well, the Boston Bruins have a fine hockey club and finished strongly. Like a lot of teams that win the championship, it's difficult to get back into a groove after a long playoff spring and the Bruins were no different this year. Some off-ice distractions, netminder Tim Thomas snubbing the team's visit to the White House. And so there were some issues that did get them a little bit off the rails, but they finished very strongly. Tim Thomas was great down the stretch. They won their first game of the playoffs, 1-0. Very deep, very physical team.
But I think the best team in the NHL and the deepest and most explosive offensively is the Pittsburgh Penguins. And Sidney Crosby coming back from his concussion issues and scoring champion Evgeni Malkin, they really do have an exciting team to watch. But they are also - you mentioned some other teams in other sports - emotions run pretty strong on either the hate or love side for the Pittsburgh Penguins, so it will be interesting to see if they can go on another long playoff run. They, of course, won the Stanley Cup in 2009.
SIEGEL: Scott, thanks for talking with us about it.
BURNSIDE: No problem.
SIEGEL: That's Scott Burnside, national hockey writer for ESPN.com, who spoke to us from Pittsburgh.
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