Editor's Note: BlueJackets.com's Rob Mixer is notorious for his terrible playoff predictions, so he's back to drop them once again. Let him know how bad they are by tweeting him at @RobMixer.
New York Rangers vs. Washington Capitals
Boy, did the Capitals ever play a sound, composed Game 7 against the New York Islanders. It was an impressive performance – perhaps most impressive for the Capitals’ patient, measured approach against an Islanders team that loves to push the pace and make things happen with its four-line speed and mobile, pinching defense. This is definitely a different team under Barry Trotz and one that looks equipped with experience and resolve, two things that go a long way in the Stanley Cup tournament. Braden Holtby certainly did his job in the opening round, and the Capitals got scoring from the usual suspects (Backstrom and Ovechkin) and some perennial playoff performers like Joel Ward. They’ll need both the timely offense and strong goaltending to continue into the second round if they have any hope of eliminating the Rangers, who look primed to get back to the Cup Final despite losing Mats Zuccarello indefinitely. What the Rangers can’t do, though, is sleep on the Capitals and lose home ice advantage considering how well they’ve played at Madison Square Garden. This could end up being the Rangers’ biggest test on their path to a Stanley Cup and the franchise’s first championship in 21 years, but I think they make it through and make their second straight appearance in the Eastern Conference final.
PREDICTION: Rangers in 7
Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
When these two teams met in the playoffs last year, things were…quite different. The Lightning had to make do without the services of No. 1 goaltender Ben Bishop due to injury, and they were taken care of by the Canadiens in a four-game sweep. This time around, the series has a much different feel and it has all the makings of a classic; Tampa Bay is feeling pretty good after a dramatic Game 7 win over the Detroit Red Wings, and the Canadiens used terrific goaltending from Carey Price to send the Ottawa Senators packing after six games. Goaltending was a story for the Lightning, too, and Bishop was an X-factor for them – particularly so in the final two games of the series against Detroit. Both the Canadiens and Lightning can skate, but it’s Tampa that boasts the more potent offensive attack despite not getting a lot of offense from captain Steven Stamkos so far in the playoffs. Tampa coach Jon Cooper warned in the previous series that it’s only a matter of time before Stamkos starts finding the net, and if that happens in this series, the Canadiens will need more than just Price. Some things I’m watching as this series gets underway: how will Montreal coach Michel Therrien handle the Lightning’s “Triplets” line with the red-hot Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov, one of the hottest trios in the playoffs? Also, can the Lightning limit the Canadiens’ time on the power play and be more disciplined than they were in the opening round? I liked the Lightning in the first round and felt that, if they got through, they’d get a ton of confidence from it and build from there, so I’m sticking with the Bolts in the second round.
PREDICTION: Lightning in 6