Cup playoffs promise no sure things

Updated: April 12, 2011, 4:49 PM ET
By Nick Ghanbarian | Special to

The second season begins Wednesday with the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs, although didn't it seem like there were so many different seasons within this one NHL season?

There was everything surrounding the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals leading up to the Winter Classic, then another month leading up until the All-Star break, then another month before the trading deadline, then this final home stretch leading us into the playoffs.

Teams have to work so hard and remain consistent throughout all 82 games in an NHL schedule just for the shot to enter the round-by-round tournament, and if there is one thing most teams aren't, it's consistent. Think about the teams that never got it going, the teams that had it all year, the teams that got it going too late, the teams that had it, and then lost it. I'm sure your favorite team fits into one of those categories. Unfortunately, it seems as if fitting into only one of those categories will get you into the playoffs.

In the Western Conference we have the current Stanley Cup champs, the Chicago Blackhawks, looking to prove their recent playoff dominance over this year's Presidents' Trophy winners, the Vancouver Canucks. Who has more pressure on them to live up to their earned titles?

Then there is a battle of California with streaking San Jose and ailing Los Angeles, where the Sharks seem to have themselves all figured out going into the first round, and we all wonder if the Kings can cope without injured star center Anze Kopitar.

Lots of injuries have hit the top guns of the Detroit Red Wings this season, including Henrik Zetterberg, who will miss at least Game 1. But they might just be a healthy enough group right now to show the Phoenix Coyotes how much their massive accumulation of playoff experience matters.

Another California team that seems to have gotten all their ducks in a row are none other than the Anaheim Ducks. The NHL's top line in the second half of the season had to have been the Ducks' Corey Perry-Ryan Getzlaf-Bobby Ryan line. And with a supporting cast of a few players remaining from Anaheim's 2007 Stanley Cup champs combined with good puck-moving blueliners as well as (potentially) three No. 1 goalies, netminder Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators need to be on the top of their game if they want to escape the first round for the first time in franchise history.

[+] EnlargeBobby Ryan, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf
Don Smith/NHLI/Getty ImagesThe Ducks' top line of, from left, Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf will be hard to stop.

The beasts of the East wound up being the Capitals by the time game No. 82 rolled around as they locked up first place in the conference again. Did the New York Rangers treat them that way during their four head-to-head games this season? Nope. The blue-collar Blueshirts outscored the Capitals 18-6 during the regular season, boasting two shutouts. The Capitals seem ready to finally prove they can play some grind-it-out, tough playoff hockey, and there might be no better team for them to prove it against than the Rangers.

The last quarter of the season the Philadelphia Flyers seemed to have hit a downturn, while the Buffalo Sabres came together with a new sense of pride and focus after an ownership change. If the Flyers can regain the form they had during last year's Cup run, combined with the confidence they had at the beginning of this season, they should have what it takes to move into Round 2.

It seems more so than not that the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens meet in the playoffs, yet it never loses its luster. This is the premier goalie matchup of the first round with Boston's Tim Thomas and Montreal's Carey Price proving to be top performers night in and night out. Just think back to how both teams fared last spring and then ask yourself who you think is the favorite to win this series; it'll make your head spin.

The big question in the Pittsburgh Penguins-Tampa Bay Lightning series, heck, in all of the playoffs, is will Sidney Crosby see any playoff games this spring? With No. 87 in the lineup, Pittsburgh is a bona fide contender, but he hasn't suited up in three months suffering from post-concussion effects. Since his injury, the Pens have not only kept the ship afloat, they steered it straight into having home-ice advantage in the first round, so what that says to me is the team is well coached and its remaining parts are still talented and capable enough to move onward past the first round and hope for their captain to make a late entrance and provide an other-worldly boost.

Going into the opening games of the 2010-11 playoffs, only one thing is certain right now: The Stars, Flames, Blues, Wild, Blue Jackets, Avalanche, Oilers, Hurricanes, Maple Leafs, Devils, Thrashers, Senators, Islanders and Panthers will not win the Stanley Cup. Enjoy.

Bayside bassist Nick Ghanbarian, whose band is currently on a U.S. tour, will be contributing a blog for ESPN Music periodically during the Stanley Cup playoffs.