|Stanley Cup playoffs logos being prepped. (Getty Images)|
New York Rangers (1) vs. Ottawa Senators (8)
All season long, the Rangers have been playing a hard, playoff style of hockey under coach John Tortorella. Ever shift has mattered, and the team has reaped the results; they are first in the East and were points away from the Presidents' Trophy. Henrik Lundqvist has been fabulous in net (even more so that usual) all season long, and the Gaborik/Richards combo has produced sustained offense. Ottawa, meanwhile, surprised nearly everyone by handily making the playoffs, on the backs of great seasons from Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, and Erik Karlsson. Can either team match their regular season success? Were the Sens just a smoke-and-mirrors affair all season? Do the Rangers have enough left in the tank?
Prediction: Ottawa puts up a fight, but King Henrik powers the Rangers to a 4-2 series victory.
Boston Bruins (2) vs. Washington Capitals (7)
Last year's champions face off the team that many predicted would be this season's champions, though its safe to say that those predictions went out the window long ago. The Bruins look to be the huge favorites, with pundits more or less unanimously predicting a win for Boston. But, the Bruins have been less than fantastic after New Year's, with their season record largely coming as a result of their otherworldly November and December. This will be a very interesting season to watch... how will the Caps' react to having absolutely no pressure? Which Bruins team will show up?
Prediction: The Capitals shock everybody, and beat the Bruins, 4-2.
Florida Panthers (3) vs. New Jersey Devils (6)
Somehow the Florida Panthers not only made the playoffs, but won the Southeast Division, and in fact have home ice against the Devils, a team with 8 more points and 10 more wins on the season. Both teams have relied heavily on the shootout for a large amount of their wins, but even without the shootout, the Devils are clearly the better team. As long as Martin Brodeur can shut the door in net, this should be fairly easy for the Devils.
Prediction: Too easy. Devils beat the Cats, 4-1.
Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (5)
Perhaps the two best teams in the Eastern Conference face off in the first round; a dream matchup for everyone except the two fan bases. It's going to be hard, probably dirty, and exciting. Both teams are more or less at full strength (save for the lack of Chris Pronger, who's been out for most of the season anyway), and this will be a power battle. Goaltending will be key.
Prediction: The Penguins, presumed Cup-champions-in-waiting, will get KO'd by the Flyers in 7. 4-3 Philadelphia.
Vancouver Canucks (1) vs. Los Angeles Kings (8)
The Vancouver Canucks are back as 1st in the West, and back as the Presidents' Trophy champs. They face the Los Angeles Kings, home of super-goalie Jonathan Quick and a curious lack of goal support. This has the potential to be a close series, but even if Jonathan Quick is fantastic in net, the Kings need to score more to have a chance. I doubt their chances.
Prediction: The Canucks slip by Jonathan Quick & the Kings, with a 4-2 series win.
St. Louis Blues (2) vs. San Jose Sharks (7)
The San Jose Sharks made the playoffs, after faltering for much of the season. The Blues, meanwhile, turned a new leaf after the hiring of Ken Hitchcock, and have not looked back. Save for some better high-end offensive talent on the Sharks, the Blues do everything better than San Jose. This should be a long series, but in the end the better team is going to win.
Prediction: The Blues manage to stop the Sharks in 7.
Phoenix Coyotes (3) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (6)
The Coyotes have succeeded because of Mike Smith and the coaching of Dave Tippett. The Blackhawks have succeeded despite missing their captain, Jonathan Toews, for much of the stretch run. Toews should be back starting for Game 1, and the rest of the Chicago team is the same as it has been. This could be the swan song for the Coyotes in Phoenix, and it will be a good one; but, the Blackhawks are better.
Prediction: Toews is back, and the Blackhawks beat Mike Smith & co. in 7 games.
Nashville Predators (4) vs. Detroit Red Wings (5)
The Nashville Predators have finally arrived as an elite NHL team this season, and they get to face the king of kings in the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings are the standard bearers in terms of franchise respectability and success of late, and deservedly so. But, the Nashville Predators' time is, I think, now, and will manage to not only beat the Detroit Red Wings, but everyone in the West and maybe even the Eastern conference champion too... en route to their first ever Stanley Cup. After which the team will be broken up of course, due to cap restraints (#SuterToTheCaps).
Prediction: Preds beat the Red Wings in 6, with Rinne shining in net.
* * *Also, ever the optimist, here's my bracket for the playoffs...