TORONTO - Four different networks are gearing up to broadcast the NHL playoffs to the masses starting Wednesday and their assortment of experts are already busy making their opinions known.
The San Jose Sharks and Boston Bruins are popular picks to meet in the Stanley Cup final. The Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers also get some love.
No one is under more pressure this post-season than Sharks centre Joe Thornton, the experts say. And no Canadian team is going to last longer than the Vancouver Canucks, who open up at home Wednesday against the streaking St. Louis Blues (CBC, 10 p.m. ET).
"I'm not saying I want them to," Hockey Night in Canada's Don Cherry said on a conference call Monday, "because I really like the way they play in Calgary. And I don't know whether (goalie Miikka) Kiprusoff is too tired or not, but the odds are Vancouver, I'll say they'll go the longest."
The CBC can only hope Cherry is right on that count. The public broadcaster is also carrying the Montreal-Boston series - the Bruins host Game 1 Thursday (CBC, 7 p.m. ET) - and few expect the Canadiens to last long in that series.
TSN has the only other series featuring a Canadian team - Calgary opens at the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday (TSN, 7:30 p.m. ET) - and the injury-riddled Flames also face an uphill climb to escape the first round.
"The only thing that makes me pause about Calgary is just the injury situation going in," said Ed Olczyk of American broadcasters NBC and Versus. "Having watched Chicago a fair bit now and having been at their game (Sunday), they've just got a lot of good stuff going on.
"It's going to be a very tough series for Calgary. But if they were healthy I'd probably say them."
While Olczyk likes the Flyers to survive the East - they open at the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday (CBC, 7 p.m. ET) - Cherry, Pierre McGuire of TSN and NBC, and Mike Milbury of CBC and NBC pick the Bruins to make it all the way to the final. The Eastern Conference champions boast the stingiest goaltending tandem in the league, a balanced scoring attack and start off with a Habs team that just squeaked into the playoffs.
Yet Cherry says that can sometimes be a dangerous mix.
"I always hated when I was a first place club playing a team that snuck into the playoffs because they're going to be loosey-goosey, and you've got a gun to your head," he said. "When you're a first place club, those first series are always the toughest. But I'm taking Boston in five, possibly six."
Cherry, Milbury and Olczyk are picking the Sharks - who host the Anaheim Ducks in Game 1 Thursday (CBC, 10:30 p.m. ET) - to emerge from the Western Conference. McGuire expects the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings - who start play at home versus the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday (TSN, 7 p.m. ET) - to play for the title again.
All were confident in their choice, although the Canucks are a team that makes Cherry worry.
"Vancouver with (goalie Roberto) Luongo, I wouldn't bet against them, either," he said. "I just like that Luongo, I think he's going to come on strong. But I'm going to go with San Jose. I think this year they have a good coach behind the bench."
Todd McLellan led the Sharks to a 53-18-11 record and a league-high 117 points.
Meanwhile, Canadians fans shouldn't expect too many changes to the broadcasts they saw from CBC and TSN last year.
CBC will be launching a Stanley Cup I-Desk, with Scott Morrison and Jeff Marek blogging live during every game CBC airs and offering Twitter updates.
The TV broadcasts will be adding more cameras to capture the nitty-gritty play often lost during broadcasts of regular-season games.
"One of our philosophies is isolation," said Sherali Najak, Hockey Night in Canada's executive producer. "It's man-to-man as opposed to zone. We'll add cameras for isolation coverage, so you won't see a penalty from a wide camera, but we'll attempt to give you the penalty from tighter cameras that are focused on the players."
TSN, meanwhile, has full coverage of a playoff series featuring a Canadian team for the first time and will bolster its usual broadcast crew with additional studio analysts.
Joining NHL on TSN host James Duthie, Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger and Darren Pang, will be guest analysts Brad May, John Anderson, Peter Laviolette and Matthew Barnaby.
TSN.ca will offer games on demand along with blogs, highlights and interviews.