Rangers in 6
The Capitals have the best record in the Eastern Conference for the second straight season, hoping to avoid a repeat of last year’s letdown. However, they don’t get any favors as they face the Rangers, a team that can at times raise its game and look like Cup contenders. They did just that against the Caps during the season, winning three of four games, including wins of 6-0 and 7-0. The goalie match favors the eighth seeded Rangers as Henrik Lundvist can carry the team at times, while Michal Neuvirth is a big unknown. If the Caps are to win Neuvirth has to raise his game. The Caps should win this series, but the Rangers ability to play up to the level of their opponent and how they played against the Caps during the season plus having the goalie edge is the recipe for the Caps disappointing their fans again.
Canucks in 5
Entering the playoffs the Canucks are the best team in the NHL, but they also carry the mark of the death the President’s Trophy. In the last two seasons the President’s Trophy winner was impeached in the first round. The Canucks first round opponent is the Chicago Blackhawks; if Scooby Doo lived in Vancouver he would say ruh-roh as the Blackhawks knocked the Canucks out of the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. However, the Blackhawks are not nearly as strong this year as they lost several key players, including Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien and Goalie Antti Neimi to the Salary Cap, both of whom were keys to the Blackhawks cup run and success against the Nucks. In addition current Chicago Corey Crawford is getting his first taste of the playoffs. The Canucks are the better team and they should win, if they don’t allow the Blackhawks to get in their heads, as the Sedin are the most dynamic duo in the league. In addition Roberto Luongo has long been one of the best goalies in the league. Beating the Blackhawks will be a huge mountain for the Canucks to climb, and they will do it in convincing fashion on the way to a long playoff run in the Northwest.
Sabres in 7
Last year the Flyers needed a win on the final day of the regular season to reach the playoffs, than got hot with two back up goalies and went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. This year the Flyers got off to a fast start and faltered down the stretch, but still managed to win the Atlantic Division. The Sabres meanwhile echo last year’s Flyers with the strong finish to reach the playoffs. The Flyers goalie situation is a bit unsettled as Rookie Sergei Bobrovsky who was strong until the end of the season could lose his job to Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton as the Flyers look at last year’s formula. That will not work this time, the run of Boucher and Leighton was a one year deal and they won’t repeat it. If the Flyers are to win the series they need a big playoff from Bobrovsky, and Chris Pronger to get healthy fast. However, in the first round the Sabres with Ryan Miller have the edge in goal and will score the upset in seven games.
Sharks in 5
The Sharks have many playoff failures in the past to overcome, last season they made it to the Conference Finals, but folded in four games. The Sharks are loaded with talent and have last year’s cup winning Goalie Antti Niemi, is this the year that Stanley learns the way to San Jose? One thing that may help is a soft first round opponent in the Los Angeles Kings who are limping in without its best offense player Anze Kopitar, which for one of the lowest scoring teams is especially bad news. The Kings are also without Justin Williams as the series begins, while deadline pick up Dustin Penner has failed to provide the punch the Kings have been looking for. The Sharks should win this series without breaking a sweat as the Kings will be lucky to win a game, as the Sharks have the experience and depth edge as well, and the only way they can mess this advantage up is to show the Kings mercy.
Bruins in 6
If you like fights and blood on the ice, this is the series for you. The Bruins and Canadiens have a long storied rivalry dating back to the early days of the NHL. No two teams have met more often in the postseason. This year the old division rivals had tempers boil over, as one game same the goalie drop the gloves in a penalty filled game, while Zedeno Chara’s controversial hit on Max Pacioretty became a bone of contention throughout all French Speaking Canada. Hab fans even wanted the Bruins captain to face criminal charges as Pacioretty suffered a sever concussion and a fractured neck. That distaste will only grow the longer this series goes. It will be ugly and it will be physical, both of which play into the hands of bruising Bruins. The Canadiens meanwhile wanting revenge will try to respond and will forgo their finesse game which would give them an advantage, The Bruins last year saw a 3-0 lead against the Flyers vanish, this year they will look to close things out before that happens, look for Chara to be the difference as the Bruins win the series in six games.
Coyotes in 6
The last time the Coyotes won a postseason series was in 1987, when they were flying around Canada as the Winnipeg Jets. Some say the Yotes may again fly to Winnipeg, as their financial troubles continue to cloud their future in the desert. However, they are making their second straight playoff appearance against the Red Wings. This time they may be in better position to actually win. Last season the Wings, finished the season strong after a slow start just to get into the playoffs, this year though winning their division the Red Wings have looked old down the stretch. One key for Detroit will certainly be health as Henrik Zetterberg; a former Conn Smythe winner is hurting as the series begins. He will at least miss the start of the season. The Coyotes have an edge in goal with Ilya Bryzgalov having another strong season that should get him Vezina consideration. While history shows the Red Wings should win as they have beaten the Coyotes several times in the playoffs this year things feel different and the Coyotes will give fans in Phoenix reason to support their team as they reach the second round.
Penguins in 5
The Penguins lost their two best players in the second half of the season as Evgeni Malkin suffered a knee injury, while Sidney Crosby has been out since early January with a concussion. Crosby is skating again, but a return seems unlikely. Yet the Penguins are back in the playoffs at the 4th seed where they won the Stanley Cup two years ago. The Lightning just three years ago where the worst team in the NHL, which enabled them to draft Steven Stamkos, who has become one of the league’s most dynamic goal scorers. For Stamkos it’s his first taste of the postseason, which likely is bad news for the Lighting. The Penguins relied a lot more on Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury this season and he came out a champ. Fleury who was always consider a solid goalie on a strong team has now become that team’s MVP and it will be Fleury who will be the key as the Penguins shut down the young Lightning to win the series in five games.
Predators in 6
Yee Haw the Predators finally have a playoff series they can honestly win. In years past the Predators have been overmatched playing against top seeds in the West, but in a four-five series they have more than a fighting chance. However, the Ducks are not a push over as they won 15 of their last 20 games. The Ducks have the top goal scorer in Corey Perry who will get strong consideration for the Hart Trophy, while the Predators have what may be the top defenseman in the league in Shea Webber, add the season Goalie Pekka Rinne had this season, and you can see why Music City has Stanley Cup fever. In the playoffs defense always seems to rise to the top. While the Ducks have a solid defense themselves their questions in goal are too much to overlook, as Goalie Jonas Hiller’s vertigo condition keeps him on the sidelines, they will have to hope for strong play from Ray Emery who is also banged up or Dan Ellis. Look for the Predators to reach the second round for the first time in team history by winning the series in six games.