The playoffs are just around the corner and we're getting ready. During the last week of the regular season (well, at least Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m.-noon ET), ESPN.com NHL writer Scott Burnside and NHL editor Joy Russo will preview and review. Keep clicking, refreshing and scrolling!
Burnside (12:01 p.m.): No danger of that. Thinking of growing a playoff mullet, though. I'm going to send Barry Melrose a note and ask him for some tips.
Russo (noon): Just don't grow the playoff beard on us. Until then!
Burnside (noon): Might just be soda water. I'm in training for the playoffs. Until tomorrow.
Russo (11:59 a.m.): You know me, I'm all about the tough questions! Molson or Labatt's tonight (you being Canadian and all)?
Burnside (11:59 a.m.): I was hoping you wouldn't ask me that. No, I think in regulation. That'll make for even more drama as the week winds down.
Russo (11:58 a.m.): Are you talking 3-2 in regulation or overtime? Remember your three-point game!
Burnside (11:57 a.m.): I think that's a good comparison. You're not just talking about great players facing off, but forwards who are in many ways the face of the league. The pressure on both of them is tremendous at the best of times, and in the playoffs, it would be even greater. As for tonight, I would expect Ovechkin will get a healthy dose of Scott Walker. If you're looking for a prediction, I'd guess Caps 3, Canes 2.
Russo (11:54 a.m.): No, it'll be out of control. You and I were scratching our heads, trying to think of a hockey comparison to those two squaring off in the first round, and we had to go back to the Howe-Richard days of the 1950s. Dare I say it would be like Bird vs. Magic?
And so you're saying the Canes can't stop Ovechkin tonight?
Burnside (11:51 a.m.): That's it with him. He's such a treat to watch. He's not just a goal scorer, either -- he made a lovely play the other night on a blind pass across the crease against Florida. Can you imagine the hype if Ovechkin plays Crosby in the first round?
Russo (11:49 a.m.): It has to be completely different than covering sports/players even 20 years ago. Everything is out there. Everything is mobile. ... But, whether or not the Canes get Whitney and/or Williams back tonight, how does Carolina stop Ovechkin. Or can you only hope to contain him?
Burnside (11:48 a.m.): I know. It's interesting how injuries become more and more mysterious at this time of year -- and the NHL is like The Forbidden Forest at the best of times when it comes to injury. There was a great piece in the Montreal Gazette by Dave Stubbs on Habs coach Guy Carbonneau asking reporters to respect players' privacy after phone calls were made to hotel rooms and cell phones in recent days looking for injury updates. It's a fine line between giving the public information they need to follow their teams and not to give up too much to opposing coaches.
Russo (11:46 a.m.): Carolina coach Peter Laviolette had a pretty funny quote in The News & Observer today regarding his lineup: "Everybody's probable. How's that? Everybody who was on the ice is probable." At least he didn't give us the "lower-body injury" line.
Burnside (11:44 a.m.): They're a funny team. They quite often seem to get off to a bit of a slow start. And against the Hurricanes, who might get Ray Whitney and/or Justin Williams back tonight, I would think a strong start is huge. Cam Ward looks like he did in winning the Conn Smythe Trophy two seasons ago, so getting to him early would be a big step in winning a game the Caps absolutely have to have.
Russo (11:42 a.m.): Same here. That, and Flames-Oil. But we've talked a lot about the potential of having Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby both make the postseason. Obviously, tonight is a must-win for Ovie and Co. What do you think they need to do to get it done?
Burnside (11:40 a.m.): Hate to be predictable. So, do you have a game of the night? For me, it's got to be Carolina at Washington.
Russo (11:38 a.m.): Nashville, Don Waddell, Mats Sundin ... I don't want to masses to think you're not a hockey lover. And did you just put "Dumont" and "Lafleur" in the same sentence? Full of surprises, sir.
Burnside (11:35 a.m.): Yes, it's still a franchise without a future given its fan and corporate support, but coach Barry Trotz is a magician. Who knew J.P. Dumont would be like Guy Lafleur? They play sound defense and are tough as nails. And the blue line? Oh my, they are going to be good for years regardless of where they end up playing. Detroit will still crush the Preds, but if they make it, it's a huge success story. As for Gore, he goes to the games after he turns off all the lights at his house.
Russo (11:32 a.m.): And we know the Oilers did just that two postseasons ago. Nashville is one of this season's great stories, especially if they make the playoffs. Kind of like Boston in the East. Depleted lineups (albeit for different reasons), front-office/staff changes and drama, and they're still competitive.
Al Gore recently bought a place in Nashville, too. Wonder if he's going to games?!
Burnside (11:30 a.m.): It's all those years in Florida -- that beach coif. Yes and no on his play. Luongo hasn't been nearly as good night in, night out, as he was last season. How could he be? The Canucks didn't take precautions to guard against the odd glimpse of mortality from Luongo and now they're life and death to sneak into the postseason. And make no mistake, if they sneak in, Detroit is going to eat their lunch. No talk of upset, no "you never know." The Canucks will be done in a week. Thanks for coming out. Nashville or Edmonton, or even Chicago, would give the Red Wings a tougher battle.
Russo (11:27 a.m.): How bad would it be for Luongo, arguably the best goalie in the league, NOT to make the postseason? I think we're seeing a goalie just get worn out by season's end, no? He's started 70 games and will likely finish the docket. That's four straight seasons of 70-plus starts. (Amazing, but he still has bad hair.)
Burnside (11:25 a.m.): Yes. This is a team that's been teetering for weeks now. Luongo is a bit off (and that's not just because of fatherhood) and the team can't score. Wonder if GM Dave Nonis wishes he'd landed some scoring help at the trade deadline? The one saving grace for the Canucks, assuming they get a point or two in their final three games, is that Calgary finishes with three on the road, including a huge game tonight in Edmonton. Too bad that the Oil appear to be running out of real estate (they only have two games left) because their run has been pretty impressive.
Russo (11:22 a.m.): So, in the West, do you see Vancouver falling out of the top 8 as it did ever-so-briefly over the weekend?
Burnside (11:20 a.m.): That's what makes me think it's way too early to write the Senators off, assuming they do make the playoffs. This is a team that has great leadership (at least, in theory) in the form of Alfredsson and Chris Phillips and a fine defensive lineup and one of the best forward lines in the game -- when they're on. If Cory Stillman can get healthy and add some secondary scoring, there's no reason the Sens can't get back on track in the next week or so. Still, there are lots and lots of seats on that Senators bandwagon right now.
Russo (11:18 a.m.): You do remember this is the same Ottawa team people were comparing to those old Montreal clubs at the start of the season. I kind of feel bad for Daniel Alfredsson for some reason. I am not supposed to have a hockey conscience!
Burnside (11:15 a.m.): Well, that's the great thing about playoff hockey in Canada -- it doesn't take much to send an entire fan base to the ledge. I don't think the Ottawa Senators will lose out (what a story that would be after a 15-2 start!), but they could easily fall to seventh or eighth and set up an interesting first-round tilt with either Montreal or Pittsburgh.
Russo (11:14 a.m.): I hope it's just the coffee! Well, what about the "fallouts"? Do you really think the Senators can fall out of the East race? Some scribes in Ottawa are walking toward the bridge!
Scott Burnside (11:12 a.m.): Well, I'm positively vibrating with the possibilities of playoff matchups, playoff charges and free-falls right out of the picture (for all you Sens fans). Of course, it might just be the coffee.
Joy Russo (11:10 a.m. ET): OK, it's show time, Scotty. I've just about recovered from Chris Drury's overtime goal and Jaromir Jagr's frightening soulpatch. Whatcha got for me?!