So how do you want your playoffs?
Since this is your NHL, or My NHL or however they put it, it only seems natural that playoff hockey would be served your way. And if it was served your way, how would you take it?
Not an easy question to answer, is it? Saying you hope referees swallow their whistles, particularly in overtime, isn't necessarily turning your back on the changes that made the regular season so compelling.
After all, even before the crackdown on obstruction, when clutching and grabbing ruled and the dearth of scoring alienated mainstream sports fans, every hockey fan used to say it: There's nothing better than playoff hockey.
Why was that? Well partially it's the passion that hockey fans bring to the arena every night for nearly three months. You can sense a playoff atmosphere the moment you find your seat, if not sooner. If for some reason the sensation escapes you, it'll be hammered home after the first hit along the board or the first scoring chance or the first goal, regardless of the wait.
And that's where the new NHL and the old NHL conflict. Normally, a single goal blows the roof off the place. Will the same hold true when series are settled by Wimbledon scores: Detroit d. Edmonton, 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-5, 6-0? Will "there's nothing scarier than a four-goal lead" be every broadcaster's new clich line?
And then there's overtime, normally a badge of honor for hockey fans. Be sure to kiss the wife and kids goodbye, because you're not sure when you'll see them again. If the crackdown holds up, and the first stick across the midsection in overtime results in a raised arm and a two-minute power-play, the only thing to kiss goodbye is that stay-out-late excuse.
This can still work, of course. A 6-5 game can be every bit as exciting as a 2-1 result, assuming hockey fans hold up their end. And considering they came out in record numbers this season after all the league put them through last year, there's no reason to believe they'll turn their backs now.
In our final Power Rankings of the season, Yahoo! Sports ranks playoff hopefuls 1-16 with an outlook for each team.
(Records and rankings through end of regular season)
1.Detroit Red Wings (58-16-8; Previous: 1) – Best case: Self-described playoff weak link Manny Legace gets the job done in net, the playoff grind doesn't wear this team down and the Stanley Cup returns to Hockeytown for the first time since 2002. Worst case: Legace falters and Chris Osgood can't pick up the pieces, Pavel Datsyuk doesn't return and San Jose or Anaheim pulls off a second-round upset. Reality: Detroit is deep enough to survive an injury &nash; assuming Datsyuk can play – and barring an upset will send Steve Yzerman out a champion.
2.Ottawa Senators (52-21-9; Previous: 2) – Best case: Ray Emery fills in admirably until Dominik Hasek returns, Ottawa's blueline holds up and memories of recent playoff failures are erased. Worst case: Hasek never makes it back, Emery's recent struggles continue and another championship-caliber regular season is wasted. Reality: Hasek's health isn't the only concern. On defense, Chris Phillips, Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara have all missed games recently. Healthy, this team is a Stanley Cup finalist.
3.Dallas Stars (53-23-6; Previous: 3) – Best case: Mike Modano stays healthy, Bill Guerin rescues a lost season and Marty Turco improves on his 7-10 career playoff record. Worst case: Minus their secret weapon, the shootout, the Stars prove vulnerable, Jose Theodore recaptures the magic for the Avs and the Stars are sent packing early. Reality: Only one playoff team ranked lower in power play percentage in the regular season. Dallas' special teams need to get better to facilitate a deep playoff run.
4.New Jersey Devils (46-27-9; Previous: 4) – Best case: The momentum that allowed New Jersey to capture the Atlantic Division title carries into the playoffs, Martin Brodeur is his typical postseason self and the Devils win their fourth Stanley Cup title. Worst case: History repeats itself and New Jersey can't beat the Rangers in the playoffs. Reality: Brodeur holds the key. He had a streaky season. Is it asking too much to carry this latest streak through to the finals?
5.Carolina Hurricanes (52-22-8; Previous: 5) – Best case: Guys like Rod Brind'Amour, Mark Recchi and Doug Weight prove this isn't a kids game – yet, Eric Staal thrives in his first postseason and Carolina is back in the finals for the second time in four seasons. Worst case: The team with the East's best home record pays the price for not overtaking Ottawa, and the Canes can't get past the conference finals. Reality: Though they wisely added some veterans, these Hurricanes are still built to thrive in the new NHL. If speed still rules in the playoffs, Carolina is well suited for a deep run.
6.Calgary Flames (46-25-11; Previous: 6) – Best case: Miikka Kiprusoff wins the Conn Smythe, Dion Phaneuf becomes a household name and the Flames finish what they started in 2003-04. Worst case: The Flames don't score, physical play results in a parade to the penalty box and a tough first-round matchup with Anaheim ends their title dreams. Reality: If things do backslide a bit on the enforcement side, Calgary will take advantage.
7.San Jose Sharks (44-27-11; Previous: 10) – Best case: The Joe Thornton line chugs ahead, Vesa Toskala holds up under pressure and one of the NHL's hottest team steams ahead. Worst case: Toskala stumbles, San Jose turns to the inconsistent Evgeni Nabokov, and before the Sharks find their legs, they're gone. Reality: The Sharks defensemen are woefully short on playoff experience. Whether this is a deep drive or a learning experience depends largely on their blueliners.
8.Buffalo Sabres (52-24-6; Previous: 7) – Best case: Ryan Miller is solid in his first playoffs, the Sabres continue to get balanced scoring from unexpected sources and Buffalo wins its first Stanley Cup. Worst case: Coach Lindy Ruff sours on Miller, video review rears its ugly head and Buffalo is bounced by Philly. Reality: The Sabres have piled up wins lately against the elite of the Eastern Conference. Anything can happen.
9.Philadelphia Flyers (45-26-11; Previous: 9) – Best case: Coach Ken Hitchcock's decision to start Robert Esche in goal doesn't backfire, Peter Forsberg stays healthy and this team makes the run everyone expected in October. Worst Case: The goalie controversy won't go away, injuries bite again and Buffalo continues its regular-season dominance over the Flyers. Reality: The goalie situation is a mess, and Forsberg can't be counted on to stay in the lineup. Getting past Buffalo is a longshot.
10.Anaheim Mighty Ducks (43-27-12; Previous: 11) – Best case: J.S. Giguere gets Jiggy, Scott Niedermayer shows the way and Anaheim wins at least one series. Worst case: The Ducks can't solve Miikka Kiprusoff, their youth shows and 2005-06 is viewed as a successful rebuilding season. Reality: Teams will do everything they can to shut down the Andy McDonald-Teemu Selanne line. Anaheim needs some secondary scoring to emerge.
11.New York Rangers (44-24-12; Previous: 8) – Best case: Henrik Lundqvist rediscovers his Olympic magic, the Rangers forget about their slow finish and Jaromir Jagr wins the Conn Smythe as insurance for missing out on the Hart. Worst case: A Sandis Ozolinsh gamble costs them a game, a lack of depth is exposed and the NHL's dream of a New York final evaporates. Reality: The league needed the Rangers to rebound, and they did, but a sub-.500 post-Olympic record is a sign this isn't the year.
12.Montreal Canadiens (42-31-9; Previous: 12) – Best case: Coach Bob Gainey picks the right goalie, Montreal's power play clicks and Saku Koivu becomes a factor again. Worst case: Gainey is second-guessed for going with either Cristobal Huet or David Aebischer, a lack of scoring depth is exposed and the Habs are sent packing by Carolina. Reality: Huet rescued Montreal's season and should get the call, but getting out of the first round is a longshot.
13.Colorado Avalanche (43-30-9; Previous: 13) – Best case: Jose Theodore justifies the blockbuster trade, Rob Blake elevates his game and Joe Sakic continues his inspired post-Olympic play. Worst case: Theodore is yanked, Peter Budaj struggles and Dallas sends Colorado home. Reality: Colorado struggled down the stretch and injuries have taken their toll. They'll be seeing Stars this offseason.
14.Nashville Predators (49-25-8; Previous: 14) – Best case: Goalie Chris Mason stays hot, Steve Sullivan returns and is productive and Nashville becomes this year's feel-good playoff team. Worst case: Both Sullivan and defenseman Marek Zidlicky are gone, the loss of Tomas Vokoun stings and the Predators can't get past San Jose. Reality: Nashville is the most vulnerable home team in the opening round.
15.Tampa Bay Lightning (43-33-6); Previous 16) – Best case: They take advantage of a banged-up Senators team, Carolina gets upset and suddenly the East is up for grabs. Worst case: Coach John Tortorella never gets No. 1 play from either goalie, Martin St. Louis is neutralized and there won't be a repeat champion in 2006. Reality: Up front, Tampa is deep and playoff-tested. It's all about goalie play, which is slowly driving Tortorella crazy.
16.Edmonton Oilers (41-28-13; Previous: 15) – Best case: Dwayne Roloson is the rock in net the team has needed, Michael Peca does something (finally) and the Oilers' speed is a handful for Western Conference opponents. Worst case: Chris Pronger's playoff frustrations continue, goalie play is spotty and Edmonton is blown out by the Red Wings. Reality: Though the Oilers had modest success against Detroit in the regular season, Edmonton will pay the price for finishing eighth in the West.