Boston (5-0-1) vs Montreal (1-4-1)
This one is easy. Barring a spectacular performance from Carey Price or Jaroslav Halak and Boston taking a ridiculous number of penalties, the Bruins will win this one easy. The Bruins have better goaltending, significant better defense considering Montreal’s injuries, and better and bigger forwards. Boston dominated the regular season series and will take this series in 5 games.
Washington (3-0-1) vs NY Rangers (0-3-1)
The Capitals are the young and offensively talented team while the Rangers have more experience (though not significantly so) and play a more defensive game with excellent goaltending. The key for the Rangers will be to have one of their forward lines really step up and consistently produce offense. If they can do that their defense and goaltending may be enough to get them past the Capitals. In the end though I just think the Capitals have too much offensive power with Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom,Green etc. The Capitals will win in 6 games.
New Jersey (1-3-0) vs Carolina (3-1-0)
This is a very intriguing series. You have the hottest team in the NHL in the Hurricanes (won 9 in a row before dropping the final 2 almost meaningless games) against a veteran team who struggled at times down the stretch. The Devils won 4 of their final 5 games, including a season closing victory over the Hurricanes so maybe they are back in the winning mode. Brodeur struggled a bit down the stretch as well but we know he can, and likely will, pick up his game during the playoffs. Cam Ward has been awesome for the Hurricanes the past few months as well so it could be a low scoring series. This is a tough call but I’ll go with Brodeur and the Devils in 7 games.
Pittsburgh (4-2-0) vs Philadelphia (2-4-0)
If the Devils-Hurricanes series is a low scoring one, this will be a high scoring one. Both the Penguins and Flyers have very strong offensive teams and both are capable of putting out two very good offensive lines. Both teams have some good offensive defensemen as well. Defensively both teams have some issues and both teams, particularly the Flyers, have experienced streaky goaltending. For the Flyers Martin Biron can be exceptionally good for a few weeks and then be exceptionally bad for a few weeks. Same for Niittymaki. I am going to give an edge to the Penguins in this series because I think they are playing better hockey heading into the playoffs. Penguins in 6.
San Jose (4-2-0) vs Anaheim (2-4-0)
The Sharks fired Ron Wilson as head coach and brought in Detroit Red Wing assistant coach Todd McLellan to take over as head coach last summer. The reason for the move was in hopes of having more playoff success. For whatever reason, the Sharks didn’t perform up to expectations in the playoffs despite some really good regular seasons under Wilson. The big question is, is this the year for the Sharks? In my opinion they have drawn a pretty tough opening round matchup. They Ducks ended the season on a high note going 10-2-1 in their last 13 games while the Sharks haven’t played as well in the last month or so as they did for most of the season before that. The Ducks can match the Sharks in goal and on defense but the Sharks should have a bit of an edge up front with a little more depth. The Sharks edge in this series is not as significant as many might believe based on each teams regular season point totals. I like the Ducks to upset the Sharks in 7 games.
Detroit (3-2-1) vs Columbus (2-3-1)
This is another upset waiting to happen because the Blue Jackets have generally held their own against the Red Wings and they have a rookie goaltender who is capable of stealing a game or two all on his own. The Red Wings meanwhile have goaltenders that are more than capable of giving away a few games on their own. Outside of goaltending there is really no comparison as the Red Wings are by far the better team. I’ll predict the Red Wings will win in 6, but if the Blue Jackets can pull an upset and take the series I will not be shocked.
Vancouver (2-2-0) vs St. Louis (2-2-0)
Both the Canucks and the Blues played excellent hockey down the stretch with the Canucks surging into the Northwest division title over the Flames and the Blues surging into a final playoff spot. The question I have about the Blues (and somewhat applies to the Blue Jackets too) is will the Blues just be happy to have made the playoffs or will they still have fuel left in their tanks to win a long series. I think for the Blues they may find themselves drained after a tough playoff push which shifts the series into Vancouver’s favour. But the key reason I’ll be picking Vancouver is because I believe Luongo has something to prove and will have a very strong series. I am picking Vancouver in 5 games.
Chicago (4-0-0) vs Calgary (0-3-1)
Of all the ‘good’ teams in the west I always believed the Blackhawks were the team you wanted to face in the playoffs because they have up and down goaltending and a lot of young, inexperienced players. But then I look at how Chicago dominated the Flames in the regular season and how the Flames struggled down the stretch and I have to start thinking that the Blackhawks have the edge in this series. No doubt the key for the Flames is Kipprusoff. When he struggles, the Flames struggle. Kipprusoff struggled down the stretch and if he doesn’t pick it the playoffs will be short for the Flames. As much as I hate to make this prediction, I have to predict the Blackhawks in 7.
Further down the road:
Eastern Conference Winner: Pittsburgh Penguins
Western Conference Winner: Vancouver Canucks
Stanley Cup Winner: Pittsburgh Penguins