Best Eastern Race in Years

2003-2004 has done something that no one really could have predicted- given us huge excitement out of the Eastern Conference. In years past, New Jersey was the dominant team, with minor challenges from the likes of Philly, Toronto, and Ottawa. Now, The typically “phone it in” Devils stand small, at the 6 seed. Now, I am not fooled by this, as they are still considered the class of the east, until someone proves otherwise; however, the 5 teams above them are for real, for a nice change. A quick breakdown, from an unbiased perspective: 1- Toronto- Tons of offense and veteran leadership make this team formidable in the post season. One has to think they will pick up something in the way of D (my guess is either Wesley or Boughner, with a lean toward Wesley). Spotty D and Belfour’s injury are the question marks.

2- Philly- A powerful offense (that seemingly awoken from years of slumber) has been decimated with injury. If- IF – they are healthy before the post season, they match up well with anyone. A blend of speed, and power, coupled with the ability to roll 4 lines is the biggest assett a team can have. D is powerful- question mark- gee, this is new- GOALTENDING.

3- Tampa- 5-0 vs. Philly says something! Speed and youth makes the energy on this team enough to be a real contender. They have games in hand on the entire conference, and if the top two falter, they might just come knocking! Goaltending is tough, but not yet battle tested….

4- Boston- Who would have guessed this? Questions in gaol for the past several years, and they finally fid their guy in the form of Andrew Raycroft? Talented offense is why people watch, but team defense and surprising goaltending are the reason for success. Tough team in the East, as the top 2 lines can challenge anyone in the league. Depth and experience are the biggest questions. Interested to see how the youngster handles big time games.

5- Ottawa- Do not take stupid penalties here! PP is a monster. With the addition of Bondra, this team is a scary Offensive machine…. are they tough enough? Haven’t we heard this before?? No, they do not match the grit of Toronto (not sure who does), or the size of Philly, but skill conquers much of this.- Remember, you cannot hit what you cannot catch! Lalime is a bit shaky, but this team can virtually outscore any opponent to win a game!

6- NJ- well…… the best active goalie in the league, continued success, balanced offense, and intimidation make this team what it is. I do not feel like I have to keep going…. question mark lies in the health of Scott Stevens- they look like a lost puppy without him right now. Still a contender for Lord Stanley, but if Stevens cannot return, this race is up for grabs!

Well, this is just my thought on the real contenders- 6 powerful, well balanced teams, that can beat any one on any given day. As a Philly native, and Flyer fan, I hope this was an unbiased look at things.

Just consider this- a first round match up of Boston vs. Ottawa (or NJ replacing either of these teams) at the 4/5 proves the added depth. The spectacular offense in the West will get a real challenge from any of these well balanced teams. In a year where CBA has overshadowed most, we may get our best playoff treat in years. There is no clear cut favorite in this league- everyone has weakness, which makes more excitement. If they sit out next year, at least we can all say we got one fine farewell..