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Mix’s Picks: Thursday's Stanley Cup Playoffs Primer

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets
The first night of the Stanley Cup playoffs was a kind reminder that, yes, playoff hockey is back and we’re in for a thrilling ride in the next seven weeks. An offensive explosion early for the Pittsburgh Penguins, an old-fashioned chess match between the Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators, and a late-night gem in Vancouver were just the beginning of what is shaping up to be an awesome postseason.

I’m back for more predictions, and I didn’t do too poorly last night – so let’s do it again! We have four series getting under way tonight, so without further ado, I’ll break it down:


Let’s get started with Mix’s Picks for tonight’s opening-round series:

WHERE: Madison Square Garden | New York, NY
WHEN: 7:00 p.m., NHL Network (HD)

MIXER’S TAKE:: I was bullish – perhaps too much so – on the Ottawa Senators when they started to make a charge up the Eastern Conference standings this year. Head coach Paul MacLean has done an exceptional job with a team many pegged to be a bottom-feeder, and at one point, the Senators were as high as fifth in the conference and challenged Boston for the Northeast Division crown. When the chips fell, they ended up in the No. 8 spot and are tasked with unseating the top-seeded Rangers – who have been the NHL’s most consistent club all year long.

The Rangers, according to some, are the team to beat and have Henrik Lundqvist manning the net. John Tortorella’s aggressive, in-your-face style is tailor-made for the playoffs, and that makes them the winner in this series.

PREDICTIONS: Rangers in six games - check out Bill and Bob's selections below.

WHERE: TD Garden | Boston, MA
WHEN: 7:30 p.m., NBC Sports Network (HD)

MIXER’S TAKE:: On the surface, the Capitals’ ongoing goaltending issues would make them no match for the overwhelming Bruins. But these are the playoffs, and as we all know, stranger things have happened. The uncertainty surrounding Michal Neuvirth’s injury (and the same for Tomas Vokoun) means Braden Holtby is the guy between the pipes for Washington, and the fate of Dale Hunter’s club likely rests in the youngster’s hands. The Bruins are the defending Cup champs, so the road back to the Final goes through Boston – and the Capitals need to split the opening two games to have any chance.

Tim Thomas is locked in once again and the Boston offense has been electric at times this season, making the Bruins a matchup nightmare for the opposition. If Washington’s stars show up and start finding the back of the net, it could be a long series. But any kind of offensive drought from Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Nicklas Backstrom or Mike Green could spell a quick doom for the Capitals.

PREDICTIONS: Bruins in five games - check out Bill and Bob's selections below.

WHERE: Scottrade Center | St. Louis, Mo.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m., CNBC (HD)

MIXER’S TAKE: Yes, I know, the St. Louis Blues were one of the most dominant teams all year long and rarely (if ever) lose in their building – unless they’re playing the Blue Jackets. Ken Hitchcock could very well win the Jack Adams award for his turnaround job in the Gateway City, where the Blues just missed the top seed in the West and play one of the more intimidating brands of hockey in the NHL. Are the Sharks up to the task? It’s a strange blend of strategy, where the Sharks prefer to beat teams off the rush and capitalize on their power play, and the Blues enjoy grinding teams away and making the opposition match their compete level.

Jaroslav Halak gets the first crack as the starting goaltender for the Blues, and he’s matched up against a guy who already has a ring: Antti Niemi of the Sharks. Can San Jose move past its consistency struggles and eek out four wins against St. Louis? I’m one of those who thinks they can.

PREDICTIONS: : Sharks in six games - check out Bill and Bob's selections below.

WHERE: Arena | Glendale, Ariz.
WHEN: 10 p.m., NBC Sports Network (HD)

MIXER’S TAKE: This one’s tough, primarily because both the Blackhawks and Coyotes are so evenly matched and the games they played against each other this year were wildly entertaining. Phoenix is a hard team to figure out: are they the product of a disciplined system and red-hot goaltender? They will need to find a way to score goals in order to keep up with Chicago, which could get captain Jonathan Toews back for this series. Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Dave Bolland are familiar playoff faces for the Blackhawks and the Coyotes will see a lot of those guys as the series progresses.

For the Coyotes to have a chance, they need Mike Smith at or above the level he showed in March and April. Is it possible? Absolutely, but any slip-up from the Coyotes means they will trail in games – which completely disrupts their system.

PREDICTIONS: : Blackhawks in five games - check out Bill and Bob's selections below.

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