EDITOR'S NOTE: Rob Mixer of BlueJackets.com will provide his take on this year's first-round series in the Stanley Cup playoffs. You can follow him on Twitter (@RobMixer) and read his work on the CBJ Today.
ROUND 1 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE
PLAYOFF PICTURE: ROUND 1 MATCHUPS
One night does not a successful prediction make, but after the first day of Stanley Cup playoffs action, I (for once) feel pretty good about my picks. Because of that, I'm fully expecting a complete about-face and a reversal of all series I picked by the weekend. I'd be a terrific weather man.
(I'm kidding, of course. I tried on-camera meterology once at COSI and couldn't even find the United States on the green screen). But getting back on topic: the teams I predicted in the opening round went 2-1 on Tuesday night, and considering the number of 0-fers I put up last year, I'll take it and smile. Tonight's games are even more interesting, beginning with the Penguins-Islanders series that may or may not get an injection of Sidney Crosby at some point soon (UPDATE: Crosby will not play in Game 1, per the Penguins).
Along those same lines, I'm intrigued by the Leafs-Bruins series that gets underway tonight at TD Garden in Boston. The Bruins didn't exactly inspire anyone with their performance down the stretch but they do have a terrific young goaltender in Tuukka Rask, and any team with Zdeno Chara on the back end has an obvious advantage on the defensive side of the puck. Toronto can score and Toronto can skate, which makes for an exciting matchup of the very tactical, physical Bruins and the skilled and crafty Leafs.
I guess I should be saving those monologues for my actual analysis, right? Alright, let's take a look at tonight's slate of first-round series getting started.
#1 PITTSBURGH PENGUINS VS. #8 NEW YORK ISLANDERS
PREDICTION: PENGUINS IN SEVEN
MIXER'S TAKE: There's a voice in my head doing whatever it can to make me pick the Islanders, and it's taking everything in me not to listen. And if you think about it, why couldn't the Islanders pull it off? No one really thinks they have a chance in the series, the Penguins are one of the most complete teams in the NHL (and they're loaded with star power) and they're only four years removed from a Stanley Cup championship. But the Islanders have played the Penguins well over the last few years and the matchup isn't always kind to Pittsburgh - and believe me, if the Islanders can steal one of the first two games at CONSOL Energy Center, everything's in play. The Penguins can make this a short series by getting out to a quick start on home ice and crashing the party in New York, but I don't think it will be that easy. I'll take the Penguins, but I expect the Islanders to push them to the limit.
#4 BOSTON BRUINS VS. #5 TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
PREDICTION: LEAFS IN SIX
MIXER'S TAKE: In this case, I'm going with my gut. See how consistent I am? Like tapioca, baby. I think the Maple Leafs are going to win this series and here's why: I think they are playing without expectations - with "house money" as they say - which seems odd for a team making its first playoff appearance in nine years and one that plays in the center of the hockey universe, but there's a lot of pressure on the Bruins. This is a team that's won a Stanley Cup in its current window, but has the talent and depth to do it again. They were pushed hard all year long by eventual Northeast Division champion Montreal Canadiens, and there's a lot riding on this series for Boston. And I want to see the Maple Leafs and Canadiens cross paths at some point during these playoffs, too; but in all seriousness, I just think Toronto's young guns and responsible style of game will serve well in this series, and if James Reimer comes to play, the Leafs are in good shape. Why not make your return to the playoffs a memorable one?
#3 VANCOUVER CANUCKS VS. #6 SAN JOSE SHARKS
PREDICTION: CANUCKS IN FIVE
MIXER'S TAKE: These first-round series are so evenly matched across the board, but for some reason, I kept getting the vibe that if one might be a short series, it could be this one. We saw the Sharks kind of sputter down the stretch and play some really questionable games en route to the finish line, and quite frankly, I'm not convinced this Sharks club has what it takes to win it all. They didn't seem like a very determined group in the final month of the season and had an opportunity to get home ice advantage in the last two weeks, but didn't get it done. It doesn't seem as though the Sharks have enough guys "going" right now, but with Roberto Luongo starting Game 1 in place of Cory Schenider, anything's possible after Luongo's rough outing in the season finale. On the flip side, the Canucks strike me as an urgent team that knows its competitive window is closing - and that's dangerous in situations like this. A healthy Ryan Kesler is a huge boost to Vancouver and I'd take their defense against just about any in the NHL, two big reasons why I think the Canucks dominate this series.