WestColorado/San Jose - Sharks in 6...
Still not convinced that the Sharks will go deep into the playoffs, but they will send the Avs home for the summer. Their goaltender Craig Anderson faltered down the stretch, perhaps from being overworked most of the season. The Sharks firepower led by Joe Thornton, Danny Heatley, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle is too much for Colorado to handle.
Detroit/Phoenix - Wings in 7... Coyotes were, in my opinion, the surprise team in the NHL. They will make it a series, but with the Wings healthy and playing their best hockey of the season, perhaps the hottest team going into the postseason. I am picking Detroit in maybe the best series in round one.
LA/Vancouver - Canucks win in 5... The Kings were certainly right behind Phoenix as one of the league's surprise teams during the regular season, but the offensive power of Vancouver led by the Sedins and Roberto Luongo in goal in won't be a long series.
Nashville/Chicago - Predators in 7... Upset special! Yes, everyone is predicting a long run this spring by the 'Hawks, but I am still concerned about Chicago's goaltending despite their firepower led by Kane and Toews. It won't be a short series. It will go the distance, but Pekka Rinne will be the series star and Predators will advance.
Montreal/Washington - Capitals win in 6... The Presidents' Trophy winning Capitals led by Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Alexander Semin are too much for the much smaller Candiens. The series maybe even shorter than six unless Montreal gets great goaltending.
Philadelphia/New Jersey - Devils in 7... This one should be a lively series. It's really the best rivalry in the first round. In the end, Martin Brodeur is the difference and look for IIya Kovalchuck to have a big series.
Boston/Buffalo - Sabres in 6... Ryan Miller will be the difference here. Goaltending is key in the playoffs and in my opinion Buffalo has the best goalie in the playoffs. The Sabres will win in a low scoring series.
Senators/Penguins - Penguins win in 5... The Defending Stanley Cup Champions make quick work of Ottawa with the likes of Crosby and Malkin having big series. As a side note it doesn't look like former Blue Jacket netminder Pascal Leclaire will get much work in the series, after what has been a disappointing regular season for him - what with injuries (again) and some poor play. I expected him to grab the opportunity in Ottawa, but things didn't work out with his only chance to play in the playoffs coming if Brian Elliott falters or is hurt in the series.
Colorado/San Jose - Sharks in 5... The Sharks were solid down the stretch 8-1-1. Colorado is the youngest team in the playoffs, so that is significant - perhaps they don't feel the pressure. San Jose only lost six home games all year long.
Detroit/Phoenix - Red Wings in 6... I don't know that there is a better story in sports right now. Phoenix has not won a playoff round as a franchise (Winnipeg) in 23 years, 1987. The Red Wings were 8-1-1 down the stretch and they look like they have it in gear. Jimmy Howard I like and it's his time and he will be a key part. Bryzgalov is the story and the Coyotes get scoring by committee.
LA/Vancouver - Canucks win in 6... Luongo and Quick have not been as good as they were earlier in the season. Vancouver added some good pieces and Henrik Sedin winning the Art Ross Trophy, but I'm cocncerned about the back end and the ability to generate offense. Luongo had a great run in the Olympics and can he amp it bacck up again in the playoffs. I think L.A. is a young team and haven't been in the playoffs since 2002. Vancouver is deeper scoring-wise than they have been in the last couple of years.
Nashville/Chicago - Blackhawks in 6... .This could be one of the better series of the first eight and both teams are playing well down the stretch. Goaltenidng question marks with Chicago, Niemi was terrific down the stretch and if there is an advantage for Nashville, it's Pekka Rinne in goal. He is a legitimate big time stopper and will be a key part if Nashville is to pull out the series win. The Predators can't match Chicago's scoring.
Montreal/Washington - Capitals win in 5... Washington can score and Montreal has a lot of questions in goal. For the Capitals, will it be Theodore or Varlamov? Either way I give the edge to Washington.
Philadelphia/New Jersey - Devils in 6... For goaltender Marty Brodeur, he and the Devils down the stretch 5-2-3 compared to 4-3-3 for the Flyers, who were taken to overtime by the Rangers in the final game of the season, so squeeze into the final playoff spot in the East, 7th overall. His focus is winning another Stanley Cup, he's led the NHL in wins and shutouts. Adding Kovalchuk as well, they might be a bit of a sleeper to win, if you can call a three-time Stanley Cup winner a sleeper. However, looking at the season series the Flyers beat the Devils five out of six.
Boston/Buffalo - Sabres in 6... More question marks in goal than any in recent years, but Ryan Miller is the best of the group and Sabres are excited to have him. Buffalo will bring great coaching and intensity.
Senators/Penguins - Penguins win in 5... The Pens are playing one of the hotter teams heading into the playoffs in Ottawa. How they do it, I'm not quit sure. Kovalev is injured for the rest of the season. I like Pittsburgh, Crosby is playing hot and they very well could wind up back in the Stanley Cup Finals for the third straight year. This is a team that has played a truckload of hockey over the past three seasons.
Colorado/San Jose - Sharks in 6... The pressure is on the San Jose Sharks, it's now time to produce. They dissappointed themselves last season and surprised the hockey community. Two players have to step up, Evgeni Nabokov and I think Dan Boyle will have to turn up the heat and help out offensively when they have PP opportunities and his transition game.
Detroit/Phoenix - Wings in 5... if it goes six games, Phoenix will be lucky. Detroit is back on it's game, puck control and puck management. This is where the mental toughness of a hockey team begins to develop and Detroit's mentaility is to possess the puck. They are positioning themselves to contend for a Stanley Cup run.
LA/Vancouver - Canucks win in 5... Quick had a poor end of the season, but they will be quick to remove Jonathan Quick if necessary. I think Vancouver has to have Roberto Luongo and Kevin Bieksa step up, and he and Salo can quarterback the power play. Ryan Kesler you had a chance to watch in the Olympic games. L.A. will get some good experience for their young guys.
Nashville/Chicago - Predators in 7... Defensively for the Chicago Blackhawks some things have changed, losing Brian Campbell and the transition game his brings. Byfuglien will have to step up. Goaltending will be a factor. Nashville has the coaching and they are looking to surprise people as they have all season long. They have three lines that can do it all, nobody stands out - Arnott and Sullivan - and I like Shea Weber and Ryan Suter on the back end.
Montreal/Washington - Capitals win in 5... I think Washington will be there at the end, but they play a "cheaters" game, where they get behind the defense and aren't very aware of their own zone. I think the Capitals will need to tighten up the ship. The games should be fairly close.
Philadelphia/New Jersey - Devils in 5... .I really think Martin Brodeur has something to prove, especially after that Olympic experience. Brodeur knows he's at the end of his career and that he has a pretty good team in front of him. We got a chance to see them late in the season and they looked very good. Offensively they were able to score at will. They've got guys down the middle when you look at Zajac, Andy Greene on defense, Zach Parise, you've got some dynamic players. It boils down to the goaltending and Brodeur is certainly an advantage versus what the Flyers have in net.
Boston/Buffalo - Sabres in 6... Lindy Ruff has been there before and Boston is just happy to be in the playoffs. Tukka Rask was the guy they hung there hat on in net and with Savard out, will that be a factor as the series goes on? I think Buffalo with goaltending and three lines, i think they are solid throughout the lineup.
Senators/Penguins - Penguins win in 6... The Pens have played a lot of hockey of the last three season, but I think it's a benefit in the playoffs not a hinderence. It boils down to goaltending. Brian Elliot has been called upon and Leclaire is a question mark. I think Mike Fisher will standout. Fluery has been there before and Ottawa's goalies have not. This is going to be one of the best series to watch in the first round.
Colorado/San Jose - Sharks in 5... Evgeni Nabokov didn't play well down the stretch or in the Olympics. Joe Thornton has not been a big game player yet, they got him Dany Heatley so let's see what they can do. Great experience for young Colorado players.
Detroit/Phoenix - Coyotes in 7... Phoenix has some young players, but replaced some from last year with veterans and they are playing well together. Bryzgalov is a Vezina Trophy candidate in net.
LA/Vancouver - Canucks win in 5... L.A. should have confidence for making the playoffs. When you heard the name Sedin in the past, you always thought of the brothers together, no Henrik Sedin has stepped out of the shadow of his brother to put up the best numbers in the league this year.
Nashville/Chicago - Blackhawks in 7... .Nashville has some scoring this year and couple that with Chicago being beaten up on D a little bit, it will be interesting to see how it plays out. Toews and Kane are the better group of forwards and have a little experience from last year's run in the palyoffs. I like Antti Niemi, I know a lot of people question him, but I think it will go the distance.
Montreal/Washington - Capitals win in 6... Jaroslav Halak has put himself into the top spot in the battle with Carey Price. The Capitals won't have to tighten it up in this series, but maybe further down the line.
Philadelphia/New Jersey - Devils in 6... The Flyers didn't make a move at the deadline, so they have Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher. Goaltending will be the difference in this series and I don't know if the Devils will go to the Cup Finals, but they will win this series.
Boston/Buffalo - Sabres in 7... It could be the series to watch in the Eastern Conference and the two teams are pretty evenly matched. Thomas Vanek is back and Tim Connolly is expected to be back for the playoffs. I think they are in a difficult position here against Boston and this one will go the distance. Home crowds will paly a factor in this series.
Senators/Penguins - Penguins win in 5... Fluery has been there before for Pittsburgh. Cory Clouston has done a really nice job in Ottawa. They are similar to Detroit, Malkin missed a chunk of the season and Gonchar missed games, and those guys will be very important. Malkin proved last year he can take over a game and Gonchar is better than most on the back end, even if he isn't 100-percent.