#1 New York Rangers vs. #8 Ottawa (Senators won season series 3-1)
If you didn't put who won the season series, you'd take the Rangers without any hesitation. But knowing that the Senators won the season series gives a little pause to think about it. The Rangers are really good. Marion Gaborik is one of the better players in the game and Henrik Lundqvist has been awesome in net. Brad Richards really helped the offense in the regular season. He was a good catch in free agency. I just don't think Ottawa, despite their regular season success, can win a best of seven series with the Rangers. I like the Rangers in five.
#2 Boston vs. #7 Washington (Capitals won season series 3-1)
Another matchup featuring the underdog winning the regular season series. To say the Capitals have under-achieved this year is an understatement. Their coach was fired midway through the year and they struggled to just make it into the postseason. When you have Alex Ovechkin, that shouldn't happen. The Capitals have underachieved in the playoffs in recent years and they have a tall task ahead of them in knocking off the defending Stanley Cup champs. Boston is out to defend their title and hold onto the cup and based on what we've seen from Washington this year, Boston should win. The Capitals winning would be awesome for hockey because of the greatness that is Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals have the confidence that they can beat the Bruins having won three of the four games in the regular season, but I think Tim Thomas will loom large in net and the Bruins will knock off the Capitals in a hard fought seven game series.
#3 Florida vs. #6 New Jersey (Season series tied 2-2)
Some people did not expect the Panthers to make it to the postseason, but they have some good young talent and a goalie in Jose Theodore who played awesome during the regular season and kept the Panthers in games, a good thing to do considering the Panthers ranked 27th in the league in scoring. But the Devils have more talent. Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and Martin Brodeur. That's pretty tough to beat. I like the Devils to win in six.
#4 Pittsburgh vs. #5 Philadelphia (Flyers won season series 4-2)
Most compelling playoff series by far. The inner-state rivals hate one another and seeing them go seven games would be awesome. Each team has the talent to win the Stanley Cup this year. The Penguins hit a little snag towards the end of the year, but won the regular season finale against the Flyers. With a healthy Sidney Crosby, along with Evgeni Malkin, I think the Penguins will get by the Flyers in a fistacuff seven game series. Whoever wins this series will enter the next series battered and bruised. That's how physical the games will be.
#1 Vancouver vs. #8 Los Angeles (Season series tied 2-2)
The Canucks proved once again why they are the best team in
the western conference, maybe the entire NHL.
They can beat you in so many ways.
They have awesome goaltending, great special teams and players like
twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin who can create plays and
provide many mismatches. The Kings are
good, but I don't think they can last a seven game series against the Canucks
and come out ahead. I like the Canucks to win this series in six
#2 St. Louis vs. #7 San Jose (Blues won season series 4-0)
Don't you think this Blues team is flying a little under the radar, in large part because people don't know a ton about them? I'm guilty of that. But what I do know is that this team won the toughest and best division in hockey and will be out to prove in the playoffs that it was no fluke. The Sharks are a gritty team though, with several good players like defenseman Brent Burns, but they do not have a very good track record in the playoffs. Look for it to continue. I like the Blues in six.
#3 Phoenix vs. #6 Chicago (Coyotes won season series 3-1)
Another series that is a little shocking to me that the underdog (don't kid yourselves, the Blackhawks are a better team than the Coyotes) won three of the four games in the regular season. Phoenix is on a role as of late, ending the season on a five game win streak and winning the Pacific Division. The Blackhawks though are too talented. With Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews, the Blackhawks have the talent to win the Stanley Cup. If they can get some good goaltending in the playoffs, they'll be able to get by most teams and that starts with the Coyotes. I like the Blackhawks to win this series in six games.
#4 Nashville vs. #5 Detroit (Season series tied 3-3)
How compelling is this matchup? Apart from Penguins-Flyers, this is the best matchup of the first round no question. The Red Wings are a veteran savvy team who can win anywhere on anyone's home ice, but they are particularly dangerous on their home ice which is why the Predators being the four seed is so crucial. That means they'll have one more game at home than the Red Wings will at Joe Louis Arena. And that will be the deciding factor. Back and forth these two teams will go with each team winning on the opponent's home ice once. For the Red Wings, that one win won't be in game seven though. I'm excited for this series. It is going to be awfully entertaining. I like the Predators in seven.
There you have it, predictions for the first round of the playoffs. My early prediction for the Stanley Cup Finals? I like Chicago against Pittsburgh with the Penguins lifting Lord Stanley's Cup high into the air. Of course, anyone who knows me knows my predictions are off much of the time so folks in Chicago and Pittsburgh should be warned. The NHL playoffs are going to be awesome this year. Enjoy them and invite your friends to watch some playoff hockey with you. They won't find much better action anywhere else.
Games Wednesday night:
Philadelphia @ Pittsburgh 7:30 ET
Detroit @ Nashville 8:00 ET
Los Angeles @ Vancouver 10:30 ET
Coming up Thursday: NHL playoff reaction plus other top sports headlines
Comments and suggestions on what to write about are always welcomed and appreciated.