Washington vs Montreal
Washington was the run away leader in the eastern conference finishing 18 points ahead of second place New Jersey and 33 points ahead of 8th place Montreal. Washington was a middle of the road defensive team but was a truly dominant offensive team scoring on average 3.75 goals per game, more than a half a goal per game more than the Canucks who were the second most offensive team and 1.24 goals per game more than the Canadiens who ranked 26th in the league. Montreal has next to no chance of winning this series unless Jaroslav Halak can outright steal it for them. As good as Halak is, that is not likely to happen and Montreal should just hope they can steal a game or two. Washington in 5.
New Jersey vs Philadelphia
Philadephia is one of the most inconsistent teams in the league, largely due to their suspect goaltending but Brian Boucher has in the past shown he can get real hot for short stretches (he had 5 straight shutouts a couple years back) and the Flyers offense is pretty good so it isn’t inconceivable that the Flyers could upset the Devils. Brodeur is still a very good goalie but has from time to time over the past couple seasons show that he can be beaten and the Devils defense isn’t quite as reliable as it was a few years back. All that said, Parise and Kovalchuk give the Devils two elite level offensive stars and they have an underrated complimentary group surrounding them so I think this series will go to the Devils. New Jersey in 6.
Buffalo vs Boston
The easy prediction is that there probably won’t be many goals scored in this series, especially on the Bruins side of the ledger. Boston was the lowest scoring team in the NHL and the Sabres were the fourth best defensive team in the NHL and the Bruins were second best. Buffalo clearly has an edge having a much better offensive production but the games should all be very close meaning anyone could win with a few lucky bounces. I’ll stick with the Sabres and their better offense though it will be a long series. Buffalo in 7.
Pittsburgh vs Ottawa
For the third time in four years Pittsburgh and Ottawa will meet in the playoffs with Ottawa winning the first series and Pittsburgh the second so this is a rubber match of sorts. Neither Ottawa or Pittsburgh are all that great defensively as these two teams ranked 19th and 20th in the NHL in goals against average and have the lowest goals against average of any of the playoff teams. In Pittsburgh’s case they have just been consistently mediocre defensively for much of the season and in Ottawa’s case it has been result of extreme inconsistency of their goaltenders. Pascal Leclaire has had a dismal season and while Brian Elliot has looked excellent for stretches he still has too many weak games to be considered a relaible goalie. If Pittsburgh gets on Elliot early this could be a short series, but if they let Elliot and the Senators gain confidence they could be a tough opponent for the Penguins and could very well take the series. I personally am not confident in Elliot and I think the good Penguin offense will get the better of him. Pengiuns in 5.
San Jose vs Colorado
One team is hoping to finally have a playoff break through after several years of disapointments and the other is a young team hoping to extend what has been a bit of a surprise season. One team faces immense pressure to win while the other team is filled youthful enthusiasm that may revel in the thought that few expected them to even make the playoffs let alone be able to challenge the stacked San Jose Sharks lineup. When we watch this series we need to focus on the goaltenders, Nabokov and Anderson. Both of these goalies faultered down the stretch with Nabokov having a .902 save percentage and Anderson a .895 save percentage after the Olympics. Both have the potential to be much better than that but I would have a little more confidense in Nabokov as he has a track record of being able to handle a large workload while Anderson had never played more than 31 games prior to his 71 games played this year. His fall off may be a result of fatigue which wouldn’t bode well for the Avalanche especially when facing a good Sharks offense. Sharks in 5.
Chicago vs Nashville
We all know the major question mark regarding the Blackhawks. Can their goaltending stop enough pucks to take them deep into the playoffs. The answer is yes, but not always. As I wrote last week the Blackhawks goaltending is highly inconsistent and ranges from quite good to quite bad having led the league in shutouts and also having a signifant number of games having given up 4 or more goals. Nashville on the other hadn is an unspectacular team made up mostly of unspectacular players (their top point getter had just 51 points), but they are deep, play as a team, have dependable goaltending, and simply get the job done. This is one of those series I look at and say it is an upset waiting to happen. Nashville in 6.
Vancouver vs Los Angeles
This series is not completely unlike the San Jose- Colorado series in that it is a more veteren team with a solid offense going up against a young team with that youthful enthusiasm. Young teams are often unpredictable but if you let them get some confidence or underestimate them they will make you pay. That said, I like the Cancuks experience and Luongo in net and believe that the Kings are probably a year away from making a run deep into the playoffs. Canucks will take the series in a hard fought battle. Canucks in 7.
Phoenix vs Detroit
Having to face the Red Wings is a worst case scenario for the Coyotes. The Red Wings struggled for the first half of the season but when they got healthy they got good. Real good. They finished the season 16-3-2 after the Olympics. They are a deep team., they are an experiened team, and they know how to win. A lot has gone right for the Coyotes on the ice this year and there are some comparables to the Predators (no big time stars, but they have some depth, good goaltending, and get the job done), but they are no match for the Red Wings. Detroit in 5.
Update: Second round predictions: Washington over Pittsburgh, Buffalo over New Jersey, Nashville over San Jose, Detroit over Vancouver. Third round predictions: Washington over Buffalo, Detroit over Nashville. Stanley cup Finals: Detroit over Washington