Here is my opinion for all eight first round matchups.
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Boston vs Montreal
Boston takes on the ghosts of the old forum and wins this one in seven. Carey Price has been too unstable in goal this year, and Bob Gainey just hasn't been able to get this team playing any better with him than they were with Guy Carbonneau. I say it takes seven games because the Montreal fans love to hate Boston, and the Habs will be able to feed off that energy for their three home games. The only way Montreal pulls the upset is if Alexei Kovalev and Price suddenly find their game.
Washington vs New York Rangers
Great offense meets great goaltending in the battle of the red, white and blue. Washington, led by Alex Ovechkin, will win the series in 6 games. The Rangers will certainly make it difficult, especially with the number one ranked penalty kill, but they just have too many questions to answer at the moment. They don't have the offense to get by Jose Theodore, which basically means they have no offense. They do have the right mix to keep games close and give themselves a chance. If Sean Avery can get under Ovechkin's skin and maybe even take him out with a big hit, the Rangers might have a chance.
New Jersey vs Carolina
I can't think of two teams more evenly matched than New Jersey and Carolina. Obvious edge to Martin Brodeur in goal, but Cam Ward is no slouch in net either. Both teams are solid in their own zone, and both have a couple of guys who can put the puck in the net. The question I have is can Zach Parise outscore Eric Staal and Erik Cole. If he does, and Brodeur shakes off the rust, New Jersey wins. Otherwise I give the nod to Carolina in six games.
Pittsburgh vs Philadelphia
The Battle of Pennsylvania is renewed tonight as the defending Eastern Conference Champion Penguins take on the team they beat to earn that Conference title. This is not the same matchup we saw last spring. Both teams are different. Philadelphia is a better team up front than they were last year, and they don't have half their blueliners sitting out with injuries. Pittsburgh has also improved by getting rid of Ryan Whitney (-14 for the season) and adding in the gritty power forward combo of Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz. With a better defensive team and a wide-open offense that allows Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to be creative, Pittsburgh wins in six hard-fought games.
San Jose vs Anaheim
The first all-California playoff series in over 40 years goes to San Jose in six games. Yes Anaheim has lost of offensive weapons, but those weapons see too much ice time. On defense, Chris Pronger, Ryan Whitney, Scott Niedermayer, and Francois Beauchemin will take up most of the ice time. Of those four, only Pronger is not in the negative on plus/minus with an even zero. The other three are a combined -25. Jonas Hiller, a playoff rookie, will start over the playoff-proven Jean-Sebastian Giguere for the Ducks. Too many questions for the Ducks, only one for the Sharks: Are they healthy yet?
Detroit vs Columbus
Columbus has got a lot of heart to finish as strong as they did. But heart won't win this series. Detroit's shaky goaltending takes this series in seven games. Steve Mason will get a good test as a rookie goaltender in the playoffs, but he's going to need more than just Rick Nash to help him win four against these Red Wings.
Vancouver vs St. Louis
The two hottest teams in the west since Feb. 3 meet in a first round matchup. Vancouver just has too many weapons and they aren't afraid to get dirty in the corners. St. Louis might be able to bring back Paul Kariya, but at what cost? Vancouver takes this series in six games.
Chicago vs Calgary
The Blackhawks youth and enthusiasm overtake the Flames lack of defense in five games. Nikolai Khabibulan will keep the Flames from pulling away on the scoreboard, which is something Mikka Kipprusoff won't be able to do.
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