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
Is it really the third night of the playoffs already? My goodness...feels like yesterday that I was making my picks for the opening night of Stanley Cup-driven action. After the first slate of games gave us a mixed back of excitement (Los Angeles and St. Louis was the best game of the night, best of the tournament so far), the second night was hit-or-miss as well.
Pittsburgh did pretty much what we all expected, jumping on the New York Islanders early in the first period and never looking back. The scariest part for the Islanders? The Penguins played the third period without James Neal or Jussi Jokinen, but Jokinen was on the ice for practice today and could play in Game 2. On the other hand, Neal did not skate and there was no update on his status from coach Dan Bylsma. It's going to be an uphill battle for the Islanders to get back in the series and they need Evgeni Nabokov to be better than he was on Wednesday night.
I'll admit: I expected a much better performance from the Toronto Maple Leafs, a roster full of young, energized kids with a lot to prove and a few veterans who know what it takes to win in the postseason. They looked alright after scoring the opening goal, but the Bruins were pretty solid the rest of the way. Look for some lineup changes and significant adjustments from Randy Carlyle before Game 2. That guy loves to tinker.
San Jose was a big surprise for me, especially with how they controlled most of the game in a tough environment last night. Antti Niemi was very good and didn't give the Canucks many secondary opportunities, but I also thought Vancouver was exceedingly flat for the majority of Game 1.
We've got a pair of Eastern Conference quarterfinal series beginning tonight, so without further ado...
#3 WASHINGTON CAPITALS VS. #6 NEW YORK RANGERS
PREDICTION: RANGERS IN SEVEN
MIXER'S TAKE: It's hard to pick against the Capitals and the run they put together just to get into the playoffs, but man, the Rangers look like a team on a mission. They needed all the points they could get down the stretch to hold off the Winnipeg Jets and won an overtime thriller in Carolina on the season's final weekend, fighting back from a third-period deficit in the waning minutes of regulation and getting the OT winner from captain Ryan Callahan. Having one of the best goaltenders in the business is another plus for John Tortorella's club, which looks to have gotten back to its blue-collar style of play just in time for the postseason. But then there's Alex Ovechkin, the league's goal-scoring champion once again and a guy who's on a tear headed into the playoffs - but the big question for Washington is whether their goaltending and power play can prop them up when Ovechkin is neutralized. If the Capitals' support scorers step up, they have a chance but I think the Rangers' depth and commitment to defense gets them through this series.
#2 MONTREAL CANADIENS VS. #7 OTTAWA SENATORS
PREDICTION: SENATORS IN SIX
MIXER'S TAKE: As I looked at my playoff bracket the other day, I tried to come up with a team that could surprise everyone and make a run at the Stanley Cup. Weighing all the important factors (unsung heroes, goaltending, special teams), I kept coming back to the Ottawa Senators. They have one of the top netminders in Craig Anderson, a guy who - for my money - is one of the top players in the league in Erik Karlsson, and a solid balance both up front and on defense. They have skill, grit, a sound structure and head coach (Paul MacLean, former Red Wings assistant) who knows a thing or two about winning in the playoffs. Montreal is no slouch, though, with Carey Price between the pipes and a stout systematic game of its own - not to mention a power play that can make opponents pay dearly for mistakes. But I'm going with my gut once again, and I think Ottawa has a perfect storm going right now: good goaltending, a game-breaker in Karlsson and a chip on its shoulder that has been there all year long as injuries mounted to key players in its lineup. I think Anderson is going to be a huge player in this series and he will help the Senators move on.