Capitals in 5
The Capitals enter the playoffs with some added pressure after winning the President’s Trophy for the first time in franchise history. Any slip up in the early rounds and this season will be regarded as a failure. Right away they must be on the ball as the Canadiens have some talent. However, the Habs have struggled down the stretch and do have weaknesses the Caps can exploit, especially with the most explosive offense in the league. If the Canadiens are to have any shot at an upset they will need Jaroslav Halak to stand on his head, something I am not sure he is capable of.
Sharks in 5
Last year the Sharks were the top seed in the NHL and they suffered a disappointing first round exit against the Ducks. The Ducks of course were a veteran laden team that has won a cup. The Avalanche their first round foes this year are anything but as they are a young team that has reached the playoffs a year ahead of schedule. The Sharks have a world of pressure on them as anything less than getting to the Stanley Cup Finals would be considered a failure. The Sharks cannot let it get close and will look to end this one early to avoid any extra pressure by must win Game 5 with the series even.
Devils in 6
This series could present allot of problems for the Devils who dropped five of six meetings against their rivals during the regular season. However, the Flyers have a big weakness in the most important area, goaltending. Brian Boucher is essentially the Flyers third stringer who only got a chance after starter Ray Emery went down. Marin Brodeur is the best ever, and over the last few weeks started looking like the dominant Marty of old as he helped guide the Devils to a division title. The Devils will need someone to step up and score, and will need to avoid giving up opportunities on the power play.
Blackhawks in 5
This series may perhaps be the biggest mismatch in the first round. Coach Barry Trotz did a fantastic job just getting the Predators back into the playoffs. While the Blackhawks enter the playoffs after winning a franchise record 52 games, as they look to take the next step after reaching the Conference Finals last season. While goaltending could be an issue for the Hawks, the play of Duncan Keith on defense helps keep the pressure off rookie Antti Niemi. Meanwhile on offense the 1-2 punch of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane make the Blackhawks simply too strong for the Predators to handle.
Sabres in 5
If you are a fan of high scoring games and offense this is not the series for you. Both teams rely on goaltending and defense for success, and both teams can struggle at times to light the lamp. No team struggles to score more than the Bruins who were the lowest scoring team in the Eastern Conference. However, the Bruins also allowed the second fewest goals in the NHL. The Bruins do have a slight edge in experience and Zdeno Chara could be an intimidating presence on the ice. However, to upset anybody the Bruins must find a way to light the lamps, and against Ryan Miller that is going to be a very difficult proposition.
Canucks in 6
The Kings are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2002, and they may be here for a while as they are young solid team with a bright future. The Canucks enter the playoffs with the Sedin Twins, and Canada’s only realistic hope at winning the Stanley Cup in 17 years. Led by Henrik Sedin who won the Art Ross trophy the Canucks certainly have the weapons to make a run and they have a goalie in Roberto Luongo who can carry a team far. The Kings are young and pesky and will be a tough opponent, but in the end the Canucks are more battled tested and will win the series.
Penguins in 5
Two years ago when these two teams met in the first round, the Penguins dominated with a sweep on their way to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Penguins who won the cup last season still have to be considered a favorite in the Eastern Conference as they come in with the crown. They also are in the same position as last year with the four seed. The Senators break down in the series two years ago started as they were banged up before the series even began, and it’s the same story this year as a key defenseman Filip Kuba and a key forward Alexei Kovalev will be on the sidelines. To beat the Penguins the Senators must be 100% and playing their best hockey and without two key cogs that may be impossible.
Red Wings in 6
The Coyotes may be one of the best stories in the NHL this season, as the team struggles with bankruptcy, and finding a new owner off the ice, they were one of the best teams in the Western Conference on the ice. What’s their reward for such a remarkable season? The Detroit Red Wings. The Wings may have struggled through the first two thirds of the regular, but as the playoffs begin they are playing their best hockey of the season and that is not good news for anybody in the Western Conference as they are still the same basic team that came within one game of winning a second straight Stanley Cup last season. If the Coyotes are to have any chance at all they will need a super human effort from Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov who holds an edge of Wings Rookie Jimmy Howard.