#1 Boston Bruins vs. #8 Montreal Canadiens
Boston thoroughly dominated the season series 5-1. Montreal is quite banged up. Top defensemen Alexei Markov is going to miss at least the first 3 games of the series for the Habs and no one knows how much they are going to get out of offensive minded Mathieu Schneider. Boston has some young unproven talent who enjoyed breakout seasons including forwards David Krejci, Blake Wheeler, and Phil Kessel. Defensive beast Zdeno Chara surveys the blue-line. This is a rematch of last years first round series where the series was reversed. Montreal had Boston's number last year and made quick work of the young, but upstart B's.
KEY MATCHUP: The scoring depth of Boston vs. the Defensive health of the Canadiens: If Boston can roll three lines as they have all year, this series could be over quite quick. Markov is the heart and soul of Habs and leaves some huge shoes to be filled. Youngsters Ryan O'Byrne and Yannick Weber will need to step it up to make this a long series.
X-FACTORS: Mark Recchi - Bos Carey Price - Mon
Recchi gives the Bruins a veteran presence and has added a much needed extra punch in the point column. Carey Price will have to answer alot of the questions he failed to in last years playoff run. If he can regain his form from his rookie campaign he may just be able to keep the Habs close.
PREDICTION: Boston in 5
#2 Washington Capitals vs. #7. New York Rangers
Washington led the season series 3-1. The Rangers got off to a blazing start, went on cruise control for about 5 months, and then turned it on for the last 3 weeks. Led by one of the best captains in hockey in Chris Drury and underrated goaltender Henrik Lunquidst , the Rangers will be not be an easy out. Newcomers Nik Antropov and Derek Morris fueled the late playoff surge by the Rangers and will be counted on again to keep the momentum going. The Capitals clinched the division long ago and have been on cruise control for sometime now. They are not playing their best hockey and have not gotten great goaltending from former MVP Jose Theodore. Alex Ovechkin and fellow Russian Alexander Semin lead a potent Capitals attack. Mike Green anchors and very average defense core with Green being the only real threat.
KEY MATCHUP: Sean Avery vs. Sean Avery: Sean Avery, without question, was a key component of the Rangers late season charge. Avery is quite capable of putting points on the board as long as he can stay out of the penalty box. If he can get under the skin of key Caps players, he could definitely give the Rangers a huge edge in the series. However, if Sean Avery acts like Sean Avery he could put the Rangers in tough position to win as the Caps have a very formidable PP.
X-FACTORS: Alex Ovechkin - Wash, Scot Gomez - NYR
Alex Ovechkin was none existent for the first 4 games of his first playoff series last season and did not show up til his team was down 3-1. If Alex disppears again, the Caps could be in for another brief playoff run.
PREDICTION: Capitals in 7 (I really want to take the Rangers, but I think the Ovie will shine)
#3 NJ Devils vs. #6 Carolina Hurricanes
Martin Brodeur is healthy and well rested. After missing 30+ games this season due to injury, Marty will be more than ready for a deep playoff run. Led by breakout player of the year Zach Parise and a rejuvenated group of 30-somethings including Brendan Shanahan, Bobby Holik, and Brian Rolston, the Devils are experienced and savvy. The Carolina Hurricanes fired their coach midway through the season and rode an 8-game winning streak to a late season playoff berth. After re-acquiring Erik Cole and reuniting him with longtime linemate Eric Staal, the Canes have been able to role 4 lines who can score. They have a good mix of offensive and defensive minded defensemen, which is the balance needed to matchup with quality opponents.
KEY MATCHUP: The age of the Devils vs. the speed and open play of the Canes: Will NJ be able to contain the offensive minded Canes or will be Canes be able to skate through the lumbering old-timers?
X-FACTORS: Jamie Langenbrunner - NJD Rod Brind'Amour - Car
The two captains square off as the X-factors in this series. Known for big goals and their rugged play, these two men will play a pivotal role in their teams success. The best leader may very well take the series.
PREDICTION: The Devils have just looked tired to me lately - Canes in 6
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Philadelphia Flyers
The two best teams on paper square off again in the playoffs, although this year in the first round. The two teams are very evenly matched in many categories. 2 of 3 best players in the world in Crosby and Malkin, anchor the Penguins quick striking, sometimes frantic offensive attack. Healthy Sergei Gonchar and grizzly Brooks Oprik man the blue-line for the very underrated Pens D. The Flyguys have arguably the top 2 two-way players in the game in Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Simon Gagne, Kimmo Timmonen, and Braydon Coburn will all be in the line-up for this years series with the Pens. No excuses this time for Flyers fans.
KEY MATCHUP: Jordan Staal-PIT vs. Danny Briere - Philly: In my opinion Crosby/Malkin and Richards/Carter cancel each other out. The supporting casts will be key in this series. Staal and Briere are very streaky players. At times both have been non-existent for stretches this season. Briere is healthy and could prove to be extra punch the Flyers need.
X-FACTORS: Dan Bylsma - PIT Martin Biron- PHIlly
Rookie coach Dan Bylsma led the Pens to an 18-4-3 record since taking over as coach. He has embraced a frantic, sometimes chaotic offensive scheme that may or may not hold up for a long playoff run. Will he out-coach John Stevens who at times has been questioned himself throughout his Philly tenure? Martin Biron stood on his head for 2 rounds last season, but has only shown glimpses of his playoff form this year. His is playing for his next contract and will need to show the Flyers more than he has to warrant another deal.
PREDICTION: Philly has been too sporadic the last months, the consistant Pens will win in 6
WESTERN CONFERENCE (abbreviated)
#1. San Jose Sharks vs. #8 Anaheim Ducks
KEY MATCHUP: Patrick Marleu and Joe Thornton - SJ vs. Chris Pronger and Scott Neidermeyer - ANA
The 2 top scorers for the Sharks will be seeing alot of the 30+ minute Pronger and Neidermeyer. How much does Scott have in the tank and is this year the Sharks finally get over the hump? This series will be brutal, given the division rivalry.
X-FACTOR: Sharks health vs. Ducks age : San Jose has some depth injury issues but their big guns are ready to go. Anaheim is a little older and has definitely lost some luster from their Cup winning team. Catalysts Samuel Pauhlson and Travis Moen have departed, Moen ironically to the Sharks. A long series could prove devastating to both teams.
PREDICTION: Sharks in 6
#2 Detroit Red Wings vs. #7 Columbus Blue Jackets
KEY MATCHUP: Depth and experience of Red Wings vs. Inexperience of Blue Jackets
Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Hossa, Franzen, Lidstrom, Osgood, the list goes on and on. Up and comers Rick Nash and RJ Umberger will look to lead the defensive minded Jackets to a first round stunner over their division rivals.
X-FACTORS: Chris Osgood - DET Steve Mason - Columbus
Pure goaltending, plain and simple. Osgood has not played well all year and Mason will win the Calder and garner alot of votes for the Vezina. The Wings have struggled with 1st round opponents - Preds and Ducks. The Jackets matchup well against their division rivals. If Mason plays the way he has all year the Jackets have a good chance to shock the world.
PREDICTION: I desperately want to take Columbus, baldy, but the Wings survive a 7 game scare.
#3 Vancouver Canucks vs. #6 St. Louis Blues
KEY MATCHUP: Mats Sundin - VAN vs. Paul Kariya - STL
Which old timer will lead his team to the promise land? Kariya has been hurt of late and Sundin has struggled at times to fit with his new team. If Kariya can come back healthy he has a chance to change the whole series.
X-FACTORS: Pavol Demitra - VAN Chris Mason - STL
Demitra needs to give the Canucks secondary scoring, the Sedin twins cannot carry the Canucks the whole playoffs. Chris Mason needs to out play one of the top goaltenders in the world in Roberto Luongo.
PREDICTION: Canucks in 5
#4 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #5 Calgary Flames
KEY MACTHUP: Youth of Chicago vs. Physicality of Flames
The wide-open youthful exuberance of the Hawks will be tested in this series against the tight-checking hard hitting Flames. Dion Phaneuf anchors a physical defense that will need slow down the high flying rookie tandem of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
X-FACTORS: Martin Havlat - CHI Mike Cammellari - CAL
Marty Havlat has all the tools to be a 30 goal player, however he tends to be a very selfish player who can get lost in the game. If he can provide the secondary scoring needed, the Hawks will win this series. Mike Cammellari was a staple with Jerome Iginla all year scoring 38 goals. He has tapered off a bit with the acquisition and subsequent line juggling of Ollie Jokinen.
PREDICTION: When the Flames are on, they are on. But they have been up and dolwn lately. Jerome Iginla is the best player nobody knows about and the Flames just seem to show up for playoff time. Calgary in 7.