Only The Strong Will Survive
In a place called Omak, Washington they hold a Stampede and at that Stampede there is a crazy-arse event called the 'Suicide Race'. It's a full gallop charge down an embankment, across a shallow river, and to a finish line at the arena. Not everyone makes it.
The 2012 W. Conference playoff stampede is a 'suicide race'
It's basically eight teams, feet in stirrups, reigns whipping backsides, going hell-bent-for-leather down a hillside, racing to be one of the first three across the finish line come April 10th.
Dallas, Colorado, Calgary, LA, San Jose, Chicago, Minnesota, and Anaheim comprise the ponies.
Health, confidence and goaltending will ultimately decide which three get in, but rest assured all eight are going to kill themselves (and opponents) to get in.
So let's handicap the insanity:
Stars - should get Benn and Morrow back in the next few days/weeks which should have quite the impact. Kari Lehtonen is as good as any netminder in the league. Any.
Colorado - currently hottest team in the race. Goaltending has a mix of veteran savvy (Giguere) and an athletic yet spasmatic youngster (Varlamov)
Calgary - is getting healthy with return of Glencross and Smith last week, Moss this week, and Stempniak eventually. Kiprusoff is their MVP and like Lehtonen he can win games by himself.
LA - has Jonathan Quick in net. That's strong to very strong - he has been phenomenal. With all the moves they've made (coach change, trades, etc.) they have the potential to surge, but will they? Or, will it be the same goal-challenged act we've witnessed?
San Jose - is currently a mess. They've lost their standing as Pacific division leader and a lot of swagger. The goaltending of Niemi and Greiss has been well short of awe-inspiring. What they do have going for them though is: experience, a returning Martin Havlat and games in hand. However, games in hand are only good if you win them.
Chicago - is a mystery. How a team with that collection of talent can have such crap special teams results is baffling. Their captain isn't healthy and that stings. In goal sophomore Corey Crawford has, not surprisingly, suffered a sophomore slump and Ray Emery looks stiff as a corpse.
Minnesota - has Nik Backstrom in net and although he sucks in Shootouts he shines in stealing games behind a very suspect d-corps. Half of that defense has been turned over in the past week. Health has been part of their problem but so has lack of NHL talent. They addressed some of that in a trade with NJ.
Anaheim - got a late start but is making a furious charge. Hiller gives them excellent netminding although his style is an acquired taste. When Visnovsky was injured they weren't very good. He isn't hurt. The only question is, can they keep up the pace or have they exhausted the nag?
Take a deep breath, dig those heals in and banshee-scream 'Hehya!!!'
And...hang-on for dear playoff life.