(1) Washington Capitals vs. (8) New York Rangers
We all know the story of the Washington Capitals. They are terrific in the regular season but always seem to fall flat on their face come playoff time, most notably when they fell to the 8th seeded Montreal Canadiens in the opening round last year.
But this time, they are playing the Rangers, who always underachieve in the playoffs as well. Since Ryan Callahan got injured, the Rangers have looked lackluster and they cam close to missing the playoffs. Henrik Lundqvist keeps them in every game but the Capitals have the overall edge and it will show.Capitals in 5
(2) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (7) Buffalo Sabres
The Flyers are in the opposite position of where they were last year. Last year they were the seventh seed but now this year they are playing the seventh seed as one of the favorite in the East. However, they have the same revolving door at goalie and the injury to Chris Pronger really weakens their defense, which almost completely undermines their strong offense. Meanwhile, the Sabres have one of the finest goalies in all of the NHL and they are a terrific offensive club. I like the Sabres to pull off the upset.
Sabres in 7
(3) Boston Bruins vs. (6) Montreal Canadiens
Both of these clubs have terrific goaltenders, Tim Thomas for Boston and Carey Price for Montreal. These two Originial Six teams also have good defenses. But the key difference is the offense. The Bruins are in the top five in goals scored while the Canadiens are only 21st in goals scored. Montreal will not make it an easy series for the Bruins but their offensive defeicies will prove costly.
Bruins in 6
(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Tampa Bay Lightning
Only twice have the Penguins played with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal and in fact we do not know whether Crosby will be ready to go come playoff time (I would put my money it, but you never know). But the Penguins have found success focusing on their defense and now this formerly high scoring club has more of a blue collar theme. The Lightning struggled in the last quarter of the season but I think the extremely talented threesome of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, and Vincent Lecavalier will lead the Bolts to an upset.
Lightning in 7
(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Chicago Blackhawks
I really like this Canucks squad and I think they will win the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history. Their mix of terrific goaltending, great offense, and strong defense makes them the team to beat in my opinion. That said, it will not be easy against this Blackhawks team. Yes they struggled to reach the playoffs but they are still the defending Stanley Cup champions and the core of that team reamins intact. The Canucks will advance, but it will not be an easy escape by any means.
Canucks in 7
(2) San Jose Sharks vs. (7) Los Angeles Kings
The Sharks are the Western Conference equivalent of the Capitals in that they never seem to play to potential in the playoffs and I think history will repeat itself this year. The Sharks's stars will not be able to shine as this young and talented Kings squad led by defenseman Jack Johnson will win this battle of California hockey clubs.
Kings in 6
(3) Detroit Red Wings vs. (6) Phoenix Coyotes
This is a rematch of the opening round matchup of last year, where the Red Wings prevailed in seven games. I think the same result will happen, only in fewer games. The Coyotes are a solid club with a goalie who is lethal when on fire in Ilya Bryzgalov but the Red Wings not only have the best coach in the NHL in Mike Babcock they are a very experienced and talented club. The Wings will take this one rather easily.
Red Wings in 5
(4) Anaheim Ducks vs. (5) Nashville Predators
Will this be the year the Predators break through in the Western Conference playoffs? No. The Ducks are hot and have sprinted into the fourth position in the West. Left winger Corey Perry will continue his fantastic season as he and the Ducks will get past the Predators but will struggle to do so.
Ducks in 6