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The Cup march

in Speaking of Sports by

It’s that time of year again. Hockey fans rejoice as bosses ignore bleary-eyed employees the morning after overtime and adding a hockey jersey to your regular rotation of shirts is acceptable. It’s the NHL playoffs, and it’s the official start of spring for many Canadians.

In Newfoundland it’s a different climate come playoff time. Games start later here than anywhere else in North America, so those eyes are a little blearier. We produce a small, if growing, number of NHLers, and there is special interest when one of our boys finds himself in the mix come April.

Lots to watch on the east coast

In the Eastern Conference, both Boston and Tampa Bay roster Newfoundlanders.

The Bruins will look for Michael Ryder to add some physicality to his game and put his quick release to good use – areas he’s historically struggled with at the NHL level. Things don’t come easy in the playoffs, and when things don’t come easy Ryder has stumbled from time to time. Head coach Claude Julien will give him chances, but if Ryder doesn’t come to play he’s a candidate to become a healthy scratch in a tough series.

Still, Boston is a favourite in the East, and as long as he dresses in one game along the way – which he obviously will – Ryder will get his name on the Cup should the Bs win it.

In Newfoundland it’s a different climate come playoff time. Games start later here than anywhere else in North America, so those eyes are a little blearier than those in New Brunswick or Ontario.

Teddy Purcell has been a Bolt for the past season-and-a-half, but this year the slick winger really came into his own. Finally using his size to compete as opposed to being a perimeter playmaker, Purcell was top five in team scoring all season and has become a versatile option for the club.

Much like Ryder, if he slips into old rhythms of playing on the outside and not working, he’ll probably be in the pressbox, but he’s become a coach’s favourite and should be given plenty of rope given the season he’s put together.

He and his teammates may be in tough in the first round against Pittsburgh, but they’re my pick to be 2011’s surprise team. Steady, experienced goaltending and a lethal group of forwards could be enough to cover up weak defense. I’m not saying they’re a lock for the Cup, but something about them appeals to me.

The usual suspects in the West

Out West there are also two teams rostering local boys.

Detroit has been home to Danny Cleary for the past few seasons, and he’s already put his name on the Cup once as a result. He’s the prototypical gritty winger, though he’s rekindled some of the scoring touch that made him a first round pick in 1997. Had it not been for injury, he likely would have netted 30 goals this year, and the Wings will look for that two-way game to help with another long playoff push.

Detroit is always a contender, and under coach Mike Babcock they’ve dumped much of the stigma of being upset prone in the postseason. Cleary could easily collect his second ring if goaltending holds up.

Out in California, the San Jose Sharks have been raving about Ryane Clowe for years. The big winger has become a leader on one of the better teams in hockey over the past decade, and his game is suited perfectly to the playoffs. Big, strong, mean, and willing to do the dirty work, he’s invaluable at this time of year.

Unfortunately, until they win, the Sharks can never be favoured in any situation. Too often they’ve been the sexy pick only to be ousted by a lesser foe. I’m a big fan of Clowe but I have a feeling he’s going to be pulling significant dead weight, and he can’t do that for more than a round or two before the team fizzles out.

All things considered, the real winner is the Newfoundland hockey fan. This is the first generation in which so many relevant players, who started out on the island, are playing in big games for hockey’s greatest prize, and that’s pretty exciting.

For more on Indy Sports, follow Matthew on Twitter @matthewjryder.

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