(1) Washington Capitals vs. (8) New York Rangers
It’s too simplistic to point to Alex Ovechkin and declare the Caps winner in this series. Washington also finished 1st overall last season only to be knocked out in the first round. There is no question Henrik Lundqvist will be a factor and is the only reason the Rangers qualified for the post-season. Meanwhile Washington is going with an unapproved goalie. Both teams are hobbled my injuries going into the playoffs. Still Washington finished very strong and slipped past Philadelphia and Boston to take the first seed. Their defensive game is much improved which has been Bruce Boudreau’s objective over the regular season.
Prediction: Caps in 6
(2) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (7) Buffalo Sabres
The Flyers were really the Cinderella team last year when the slipped into the playoffs and rode a minor league goalie all the way to the finals. This year has been entirely different. The Flyers have been one of the stronger teams this season until their goaltenders let them down. Management has already gotten into panic mode by recalling 2010 playoff hero Michael Leighton. Not exactly a vote of confidence for the goalies. Meanwhile the Sabres are firing on all cylinders with red hot Ryan Miller. Chris Pronger can change the complexion of a series on his own but is he healthy enough to carry the Flyers.
Prediction: Sabres in 7
(3) Boston Bruins vs. (6) Montreal Canadiens
Lots of hate hear even before the Chara hit on Pacioretty. A lot of question marks in this series. Will Mike Cammalleri be able to repeat his clutch scoring for last year? Have the Bruins learned from their monumental collapse to the Flyers last year after being up 3-0 in the series? One thing for sure, the goaltending will be superb. However, Tim Thomas will neutralize any edge Carey Price may have provided the Canadiens. The physical Bruins will eventually wear down the Canadiens if the series goes deep.
Prediction: Bruins in 7
(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Tampa Bay Lightning
Will Crosby play? That’s all you need to know about this series. The answer seems to be that he will not be available for the first round. That swings to offensive advantage to the the Lightning who have Steve Stamkos and an array of other weapons. Then down the stretch GM Steve Yzerman wisely picked up 41 year old Dwayne Roloson to fix his goaltending problems. Rollie hasn’t disappointed. Still there is an experience factor with Pittsburgh and they have done fine for the past 3 months without both Malkin and Crosby.
Prediction: Bolts in 6
(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Chicago Blackhawks
The reigning Cup champions have an experience factor that cannot be overlooked. Yet they are just a shell of the team that dominated last season and barely qualified for the post season. Patrick Sharp has come back early from his knee injury so hard to say how effective he will be. In the past the Hawks have had Vancouver’s number though the Canucks are thinking this may be payback time. But looking back the President Trophy winner often struggles in the first round of the playoffs. Will Vancouver imitate the Caps of 2010? Will the superb Sedin twins be able to carry the very deep Canuck team in the competitive West?
Prediction: Canucks in 6
(2) San Jose Sharks vs. (7) Los Angeles Kings
The Kings have lost Anze Kopitar and they have no scoring depth. Doesn’t look good. The Sharks started off slow but have been gaining momentum in the second half. They also did well in last year’s playoffs and come in with the experience factor. This should be a short series.
Prediction: Sharks in 5
(3) Detroit Red Wings vs. (6) Phoenix Coyotes
This is a repeat of last year’s first round match up. Teams actually don’t look much different than last year either. The Red Wings are a little banged up but have the depth and still have an edge in scoring. However that is offset but the clear edge Ilya Bryzgalov has over Jimmy Howard. Then there is the ageless Nik Lindstrom to control the play both on offense and defense. Despite the fact that the moving trucks are already parked in front of the Jobing.com arena, the threat of relocation has never seem to distract Phoenix. Uncertainty is no doubt the norm for the Coyotes.
Prediction: Wings in 7
(4) Anaheim Ducks vs. (5) Nashville Predators
Who would have thought at the start of the season that Corey Perry would be the NHL’s only 50 goal scorer and a Hart Trophy candidate? Not me. Then there is a 40 year old Teemu Salanne scoring 80 points. That’s just nuts. Throw in Ryan Geflatz and Bobby Ryan and you have a lot of offense. But then Predators have the best shut down pair in hockey with Shea Weber and Ryan Sutter who are sure to see close to 30 minutes of ice time per game. Also Anaheim’s goaltending situation is unclear because of injuries although they just need one healthy goalie to give themselves a chance.
Prediction: Ducks in 6