Scott Burnside couldn't let the Duffer have all the fun so he decided to make his prediction for the first round too.
Series: Leafs vs. Senators Crystal Ball: Leafs in 6 X-Factor: any Ottawa fans actually be in attendance for games at the Corel Centre? Leafs Top Scorer: Gary Roberts Senators Top Scorer: Daniel Alfredsson Series MVP: Ed Belfour Snapshot: Gee, I think goaltending will be critical in this series? Patrick Lalime saw his win totals plummet from 39 to 25 this season and his .905 save percentage is only just ordinary. With a bad knee and Ottawa fans already doing the angst dance, Lalime will have to be strong mentally to keep the Sens in this. I say here that Belfour plays him into the ground.
Series: Lightning vs. Islanders Crystal Ball: Lightning in 5 X-Factor: How do the Lightning handle being big-time favourites for the first time? Lightning Top Scorer: Vincent Lecavalier Islanders Top Scorer: Alexei Yashin Series MVP: Lecavalier Snapshot: Coach John Tortorella may be the most underrated coach in the NHL and has kept just enough pressure on his young, talented team to ensure there's no letdown come playoffs. The Islanders don't have the horses to keep up and unless Rick DiPietro borrows J.S. Giguere's jersey this spring, this one will be over quickly.
Series: Bruins vs. Canadiens Crystal Ball: Canadiens in 7 X-Factor: Andrew Raycroft wakes up and suddenly realizes he's in the NHL playoffs. Canadiens Top Scorer: Michael Ryder Bruins Top Scorer: Glen Murray Series MVP: Jose Theodore Snapshot: Bruins captain Joe Thornton enters the post-season on the limp and with an unimpressive string of playoff performances behind him. The Canadiens seemed to run out of gas down the stretch but Theodore has a way of topping up the tank when the Habs need it most. As for Raycroft, this will be lesson 1 on the playoff learning curve. Look for Alexei Kovalev to finally emerge from his season-long coma.
Series: Flyers versus Devils Crystal Ball: Flyers in 6 X-Factor: When do the Flyers' goaltending heebie-jeebies kick in? Flyers Top Scorer: Alexei Zhamnov Devils Top Scorer: Scott Niedermayer Series MVP: Robert Esche Snapshot: Esche will need to be good early on to keep the fans and media waiting for another Flyers goaltending meltdown at bay. The Flyers have too much up front for the Devils to handle without Scott Stevens' help. The Devils are asking an awful lot of rookies Paul Martin and David Hale and Brian Rafalski just back from a broken leg. Too much. Sorry champs, the Cup defense ends early.
Series: Red Wings versus Predators Crystal Ball: Wings in 6 X-Factor: When do the Predators realize it's midnight and their playoff dreams abruptly turn into pumpkins? Red Wings Top Scorer: Steve Yzerman Predators Top Scorer: Steve Sullivan Series MVP: Nik Lidstrom Snapshot: Oh, we wanted to pick the Predators. Really we did. But they aren't the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and that first-round crumble couldn't happen twice in a row to the Red Wings. Could it? Even with a circus-like atmosphere surrounding the Wings goaltending they will be too much for a dedicated if undersized Predators team that has played the Wings tough all year. It won't be easy but it will be.
Series: Sharks versus Blues Crystal Ball: Sharks in 6 X-Factor: When does Chris Pronger lose his mind and start doing his Jack Nicholson in The Shining impersonation, spending big chunks of crucial playoff time in the penalty box? Sharks Top Scorer: Patrick Marleau Blues Top Scorer: Keith Tkachuk Series MVP: Evgeni Nabokov Snapshot: Why does no one believe that the Sharks and their 104 points are for real? They play better defense than the Blues, they have better goaltending and they work hard every night. The Blues get paid way more and have a longer history of playoff choking (check the combined playoff records of Pronger, Tkachuk and Doug Weight, how many Stanley Cup rings? How many berths in the final? Zero.) Plus any team with Alyn McCauley aboard deserves some good fortune. Enough said.
Series: Canucks versus Flames Crystal Ball: Canucks in 7 X-Factor: The Canucks finally exorcise the Bertuzzi demon from their locker room. Canucks Top Scorer: Markus Naslund Flames Top Scorer: Jarome Iginla Series MVP: Ed Jovanovski Snapshot: Many are leaning towards a Flame upset in this one but the Canucks showed great spunk down the stretch, ending Colorado's division championship run at nine years. Bertuzzi wasn't the force he was last season so his absence won't be as crucial as many expect. Jovanovski, just back from a shoulder injury, is the key to the Canucks playoff run, especially against a physical, gritty Flames team. He should help a slumbering power play unit.
Series: Avalanche versus Stars Crystal Ball: Stars in 7 X-Factor: Tony Granato gets out-coached and for the second straight year a more talented Avalanche team is sidelined in the first round. Stars Top Scorer: Mike Modano Avalanshe Top Scorer: Joe Sakic Series MVP: Marty Turco Snapshot: The Stars are slowly returning to health which makes them a huge threat in the west. They'll need Jason Arnott to return to his stellar form of the regular season and Teppo Numminen to bounce back from heart concerns but they have put behind them a miserable start to resemble the Stars of 1999 and 2000. The Avalanche remain a gifted, speedy team up front but may have done too much tinkering on the back end. Still, this series will begin and end in the respective nets. Turco's got the goods. David Aebischer? Not yet.