So that's it, I'm sold: look for the Red Wings to win the Stanley Cup this season.
Truth is, the Wings didn't change much during the off-season. They trimmed some higher-end salaries (Todd Bertuzzi and Robert Lang the biggies), and they made up for Mathieu Schneider's UFA defection to the Ducks by handing ex-Devil Brian Rafalski, a slick puckhandler, $30 million for the next five years. Other than that, Hockeytown pretty much stood pat after breaking the 100-point plateau (113) for the seventh straight season.
The Sabres, last season's hockey heartthrobs, collected the same 113 points and had everyone chattering about their youth, speed and ability to roll four lines. When it came crunch time in the playoffs, both squads exited in their respective conference finals--Detroit lauded for a bunch of seniors whistled by the graveyard, and Buffalo left to wonder why their spring chickens couldn't rule the roost.
Had the Sabres been able to hold on to Chris Drury (now with the Rangers) and Daniel Briere (now with the Flyers), then they likely would have been back among the leaders in the East, along with the Senators, their conquerors in the conference championship. Now it's much more of a scramble in the East, especially so because of the upgrades on the Rangers and Flyers, in large part to the Sabres' expense.
The Senators, brushed aside in five games by the Ducks in the Cup finals, again will be a force in the East, too. They still need either Ray Emery of Martin Gerber to surface as a true No. 1 'tender, and they'll need to muster some toughness along the blueline, which really reflected the loss of Zdeno Chara (Boston's captain since the start of last season) under the withering physical attack of the Ducks.
The puck about to drop on a new season, the Ducks still didn't know if either team captain Scott Niedermayer or top-scoring winger Temmu Selanne would return. Both were still in decision-making mode, pondering whether their lives were better or worse with sticks in their hands. If they're both back, the Ducks, along with the Sharks, will be Detroit's biggest challengers in the West.
All in all, though, the Winged Wheel appears ready to keep on rolling. A Cup this time around would be Detroit's fourth in 11 seasons.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
The Wings offense may be slightly weighted to one line (Pavel Datsyuk between Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom?), but some of that lack in scoring punch is mitigated by having Nicklas Lidstrom, age 37, still playing the best three-zone game of any defenseman in the business.
And, oh, did we mention ageless defenseman Chris Chelios, with 46 candles about to be lit for his next birthday (Jan. 25), will be back there again, too? Another reason why gray is looking rosy for the Red Wings.
PHT: A comeback win in Game 3 gave Ottawa hope, and the Senators seek a repeat result tonight to level the series.
PHT: After coming back home in an 0-2 hole, the Sharks are now even with the Kings after holding on to win Game 4 Tuesday night.
Video: NHL from NBC Sports
Highlights: Sharks even series with Kings
The San Jose Sharks capitalized on their scoring chances in the first period and the early part of the second period in Game 4 of their Western Conference semifinal series against the Los Angeles Kings. After falling behind by two goals, the Kings almost cut the lead in half in the second period, but the referee blew the play dead as the puck was about to cross the goal line. The series is now tied at two.
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Stanley Cup playoffs
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