#therealseasonbegins

The hockey players were eating and tweeting on the weekend, just like everybody. “Team dinner with the boys and staff,” @tylerseguin92 thumbed. “Must be getting close to playoffs. Excited for the real season to begin.” They were at home, kicking back, watching a little golf. @BrandonPrust8: “Happy easter! Wishin everyone health, happiness, family, n lots of chocolate!! enjoyin the masters on my couch.”

Their mood was upbeat. Did anyone capture the mood better than @malkin71? “Спасибо всем!!!Спасибо за вашу поддержку,переживания и теплые слова-хороший сезон,но впереди самое интересное)))Хорошего Вам настроения)))[i]” They were joyful and they were reverent. “Happy Easter everyone! #HEISRISEN,” tootled @mikefisher1212 from down Nashville way. @D_Booth7 joined in from Vancouver, (sic): “As He stands in victory sins curse as lost it’s grip on me! Today is why I’m a Christain! Happy Easter.” What a great bunch: even those with no hope for hockey resurrection were spreading the love. “Thank you #NHL fans especially #leafsnation,” twiddled Toronto’s own @JLupul. “You are what makes this game fun to play. See you next year. Can’t wait.”

Thanks, Joffrey. See you then. In the meantime, we’ll stick with the others — wait a minute, where’s everybody going? Because that was the other thing they were doing on their smart phones over Easter: signing off. @HLundqvist30: “Hey guys! No twitter during playoffs.” Teammate @BRichards_1991: “Gonna take a break from Tweeting during playoffs. Hopefully it will be a long break! Can’t wit to start!” Or was it just the New York Rangers? @MGaborik10: “Twitter off for playoffs! Wish us luck. #therealseasonbegins.”

Yes, it’s true, the time for tweetering and good cheer is over: 300 days after the Stanley Cup was hoisted over Vancouver’s ice, not far from Vancouver’s civic unrest, the time has come again for a new round of playoffs to start.

Two months of hockey drama, TSN was calling it. It’s a road you have to take, according to Sports Illustrated. Unless it’s a dream you need to keep alive. Or — The Washington Times says the Capitals have a mountain to climb, which they’re not naming, though it is taller than Zdeno Chara.

In The Globe and Mail, Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo referred to “the hat we want to wear” — i.e. the Stanley Cup, not the President’s Trophy. There are those — a few — who speak of it as a cake you want to take. Philadelphia’s Scott Hartnell: “It’s going to be a chess match.” Not to mention a quest and also, obviously, a battle. Which is why, probably, Hartnell has been telling reporters that the Flyers’ first-round series with Pittsburgh is also going to be a bloodbath. “Because It Doesn’t Get Any Bigger Than This” is the tagline for Hockey Night in Canada’s coverage of the playoffs, an answer to a question nobody asked other than CBC programmers wondering who in their right mind wants to sit in front of a TV for two months of hats and cake and dreamy boardgame drama all bathed in blood?

What’s the secret to success? That’s another question. “We’ve got to make sure we go out there and outwork the Penguins,” Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux was saying the other day while he wasn’t on Twitter. “I’m not afraid of anything [except] the bear in the forest,” said his goalie, Ilya Bryzgalov, who at last check, thanks at least in part to the photos he’s posted of his Thermos and the Tsar fish he ate at New Year’s, still held a slim lead in the voting for Most Eccentric in the 2011 Hockey Tweeter Awards.

“You need everyone going,” according to Hartnell. Zdeno Chara couldn’t wait to defend Alex Ovechkin. Pekka Rinne, Nashville goalie: “We have to stay out of the box.” Ryan Kesler: “We don’t let things rattle.” Nick Foligno in Ottawa? “I’m not worried about us.” Chicago’s Nick Leddy isn’t as nervous as he was last year, says The Sun-Times. “You can’t worry about it,” said Blues’ goalie Brian Elliott, probably in regard to anxiety or pressure or fear of failure — to tell you the truth, I forgot to make a note of what it was in St. Louis.

Among the coaches, Detroit’s Mike Babcock is looking forward to spending time in Nashville. “It’ll be fun down in their building. It’s always fun.” Claude Julien of Boston says, “You can’t look too far ahead.” Pittsburgh’s Dan Bylsma? “I like our team. I like our goalie. I like our defence. But we have to be a team and play like that to win — that’s not something that predictors hand out.” Time for St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock to pick a goalie? Yes, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was saying right before Elliott injured himself in practice.

Goaltending, of course, is key. Is it possible to overstate how crucially important it is? Because it’s hard to think of anything bigger than goaltending, other than … there must be something. Anyway. If I think of it, I’ll tell you. In the meantime, what about Roberto Luongo? If in Vancouver they don’t seem too concerned about whether he’s the one who should be stopping the pucks that are going to win the Canucks the Stanley Cup, in Toronto, The Globe is ready to send him packing. Because, really, if you were in Vancouver’s shoes, wouldn’t yourself in your eye and ask, maybe should I start back-up Cory Schneider? Because as Dave Ebner says: “One night Luongo’s Frank Sinatra and the next he’s a drunkard with a karaoke mic.”

Over in Boston, Julien says that Tim Thomas is well-rested. “I don’t think he’s a tired goaltender.” He does seem kind of miffed, though, despite the big grin he was wearing the other day when he walked out on reporters when one of them tried to ask him about his decision back in January to skip the Bruins’ visit to President Barack Obama at the White House. That got them talking, the pundits and bloggers and twitteristas. Maybe the President would show up at one of the games in Washington. What would Thomas do then? If he’s going to wear his politics on the ice —this from Yahoo! Sports’ Puck Daddy blog — shouldn’t he be ready to answer for them in the dressing room? Because if President Obama  did show up at the Verizon Center and was able to get a glimpse of the back Thomas’ mask, he’d see that it’s now decorated with a Revolutionary War battle ensign inscribed with the words “Resistance to Tyrants is Obedience to God.”

Henrik Lundqvist. He’s the answer to the question on this week’s cover of Sports Illustrated, to wit: “Who Will Stop The Penguins?” They splashed him over three pages at The New York Times last weekend, too, with all the reasons why he’s ready to haul the Rangers to victory. He’s older, and married, with a baby on the way, he has new skates this season, better skates, plus he lost 13 pounds. He has a new restaurant, and — anything else? — oh, right, he told his sister last August: “I’m going to be the best. And that’s that.”

Questions, questions. Here’s another one: can Daniel Sedin go? What about Jonathan Toews? “He’s 100 per cent,” the other Sedin, Henrik, told reporters on Monday, right before the story broke that Canucks’ coach Alain Vigneault was fed with the Daniel-Sedin-media-circus. “He looks good,” Henrik continued. “We’re happy.” Though on Tuesday Daniel missed practice, leading to Wednesday’s late-afternoon headline at TSN.ca” “Daniel’s A No-Go.”

If Toews does get back, in Chicago, look out for the Hawks’ powerplay against Phoenix. Down in San Jose they’re saying that a healthy Marty Havlat could be a difference-maker in the series versus St. Louis. Sharks’ coach Todd MacLellan: “We have to play our game — but play it understanding what they’re doing.” Sharks’ forward Logan Couture says that hits you make in games one and two will be felt in five, six, and seven.

And what about Sidney Crosby, back for the playoffs again, and looking more and more like the best player in the world again. Will his head hold up? How’s he feeling? The man himself has been quiet — resting, maybe, or just keeping his own counsel while he tries to figure out what that was all about last week.

New York Rangers coach John Tortorella assailed him as a “whining star.” Don Cherry told him to quit diving, quit whining, suck it up, no snapping the head back, be more like Steven Stamkos, stop getting stupid penalties, and going back at guys — quit, generally, being the greatest player in the world and expecting to get a free ride. Mike Milbury, meanwhile, dubbed him “Little Goody Two Shoes” and said “big whoop” if he gets cross-checked, and hilariously inflated the number of concussions he — Crosby — has sustained to 35, and called him “not the sweet kid” and “not the perfect gentleman” and revealed that within Crosby “there’s a little punk.” And: “Screw him, hit him.”

Milbury, later, said sorry.

***

So who’s going to win? QMI’s Terry Jones says Boston beats Vancouver again: “Second time, same as the first. Minus the riot.”

From the Las Vegas bookies Bovada.com:

Pittsburgh Penguins 4/1
New York Rangers 11/2
Vancouver Canucks 11/2
St. Louis Blues 15/2
Boston Bruins 8/1.

At NHL.com, where last year the consensus was backing San Jose for a Stanley Cup, ten of its 15 writers/prognosticators picking Pittsburgh, followed by two votes for New York’s Rangers and one each for Chicago, Nashville, and Vancouver.

At Sports Illustrated, Mike Keenan is picking a Vancouver-Pittsburgh final with — okay, I guess maybe he’s saving his prediction of winner for later.

No such hesitation at WhatIfSports.com, You Sports Simulation Destination. Using up-to-date rosters and statistics from the season past, the good fantasists there simulated the entire Stanley Cup playoffs a grand total of 1,001 times to arrive at the exciting conclusion that 35.56 per cent of the time, Boston beat Detroit.


[i] “Thank you all! Thank you for your support, kind words and experiences-good season, but ahead of the fun))) Have a good mood)))”