MVP RATIONALECONDOR: Let's get this out of the way -- Alex Ovechkin wins the Conn Smythe for a stellar four series, only because super-sub goalie Braden Holtby doesn't save the Caps until sometime during the Stanley Cup Final against Vancouver, when fellow young goalie Michal Neuvirth falters from playing too many pressure games in a row. Washington makes it scary for its fan base, but Ovi will dominate a big game or two and a Mike Knuble/Jason Arnott-type will win another series-clincher. In the West, it's tempting to pick Chicago or Anaheim to upset Vancouver, but the Sedins (look for Henrik, especially) prove too much this postseason with Ryan Kesler in full stride and enough healthy defensemen come May and June.
ROARKE: The 2010-11 Stanley Cup Playoffs are going to be all about redemption. San Jose, which has fallen short so many times, finally wins its first Cup, knocking off Boston in a thrilling Final. The Sharks beat the Ducks in an all-California Western Conference Finals, while Boston upends top-seeded Washington to end its own run of Eastern Conference disappointments. Joe Thornton, knocked for his inability to produce in the postseason, is crowned MVP after beating the team that gave up on him. But San Jose is not the only feel-good story of this postseason. Buffalo and Chicago are the upset darlings in the first round before falling short.
KIMELMAN: The Philadelphia Flyers muddled their way through the last six weeks of the 2010-11 season, but it's different in the playoffs. With their depth in all areas, the return of a healthy Chris Pronger and solid goaltending from rookie Sergei Bobrovsky, they'll top Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Finals, and after watching San Jose dispatch Vancouver in the Western Conference Finals, the Flyers -- led by Conn Smythe winner Claude Giroux -- snap Philadelphia's 36-year Cup drought.
ROSEN: All the Flyers had to do to earn the top seed in the East was stay above par over the final month, and they couldn't do it. They'll be out quickly. It will be Washington's year to make it to the Stanley Cup Final because the Capitals finally realized how you have to play in the playoffs. Vancouver had a great run this season, but the Red Wings, with all of their experience and championship rings, remain the team to beat. It'll come down to a conference final between those two, but Detroit wins out and then takes down the Caps in the Stanley Cup Final. Pavel Datsyuk leads the charge and takes home the Conn Smythe Trophy.
MORREALE: When healthy, there's no team in the League deeper up front than the Flyers. So long as those forwards can continue their relentless puck pursuit, as they did last spring en route to the Stanley Cup Final, there's no reason to believe they'll be denied once again. Defensively, the team needs Chris Pronger if it has any hope of making a serious run at the grand prize. Goalies Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher need to come up big -- and they will.
MASISAK: There's been a pretty good run of late from teams that "didn't deserve to be there," so here's a hunch that the defending champs use the "nobody believes in us" theme to spring an upset and beat the Canucks again. I think Anaheim's luck in one-goal games runs out and the Predators make a surprise run, but the Sharks will win the West. Tempted to pick Washington in the East, but a penchant for taking too long to close series eventually will cost them -- though a run to the Eastern Conference Finals would be progress. Might not be a ton of goals in a Sharks-Bruins Final, but give San Jose the advantage because a) the top teams in the West are superior to their Eastern counterparts and b) expect the Sharks to have less wear and tear on them once they get there thanks to upsets of the Canucks and Wings. Two straight Cup wins for Antti Niemi with two different teams -- one of the great quirks in the history of the sport.
LOZO: Sometimes it's about sticking to a preseason prediction, which is what I'm doing here with the Sabres. But they have a lot going for them entering the playoffs, like a 16-4-4 mark to close the regular season and a first-round meeting with the struggling Flyers. Ryan Miller is getting healthy at the right time and enters the playoffs having played nine fewer games this season than he did last season (he played six games at the Olympics). The Sabres can score -- they finished ninth with 245 goals -- and 2009-10 leading scorer Derek Roy could return from injury later in the postseason. The Canucks are a deeper, more talented team, but they'll be worn down by three grueling series in the West, opening the door for the seventh-seeded Sabres to pull the shocker.