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by Kevin Sylvester / Buffalo Sabres
These are my BOLD predictions for the first round series in the Eastern Conference.

1 Boston Bruins vs. 8 Montreal Canadiens:  These two met in the first round last year, with the eighth seeded Bruins nearly pulling off the upset, losing in seven games.   That won’t happen this year.  Boston is 5-0-1 against the Habs this year and has much more firepower with Blake Wheeler and the ageless Mark Recchi.  Montreal is also hurting without Matthieu Schneider and Andrei Markov likely out with a shoulder injury. 

Do I even need to mention that with one more victory, The Sabres would have been the eighth seed instead of the Canadiens?

Boston in a Sweep.

2 Washington Capitals vs. 7 New York Rangers:  The Rangers better hope Henrik Lundqvist brings his A-game and that Wade Redden is ready to earn his salary, because the scoring machine that is the Washington Capitals are ready to bring it. 

The Caps have size, speed, and tremendous power play led by reigning league MVP Alexander Ovechkin (Any chance he doesn’t win it again this year?). He did something with the man advantage back on April 3 against the Sabres I haven’t witnessed before.  

Late in the third period on the power play, the puck was cleared by Buffalo after a good 40 seconds in the zone, instead of leaving the ice with the rest of the power play unit, Ovechkin skated to the bench signaling the equipment manager and was handed a different stick.  The one he had was perfectly fine, he just didn’t like the release on his last shot.  The blade he went to appeared to have a bit more curve. 

You might be wondering what the significance is?  Here is a player that late in the game has enough energy to stay out for the entire man advantage, the presence of mind to recognize something is off, and who prepares for different scenarios before the game so he can go to them when he feels needed. Impressive.  Add to Ovechkin, Norris Trophy candidate Mike Green who potted 31 goals from the blue line, and you have a deadly combination.  Washington was also 29-9-3 at home this season, while the Rangers were 17-19-5 away from home.  Any guess as to which team I like in this series?

Caps in 5

3 New Jersey Devils vs. 6 Carolina Hurricanes:  This has the potential to be a great series.  The Devils have limped a bit down the stretch; while the Hurricanes had been excellent until the Sabres whacked them at home 5-1 to end a nine-game win streak and 12-game home-winning streak.  Cam Ward and Erik Cole have been the keys in my opinion.  Ward gave the team confidence that he would make the big save (much like Ryan Miller), and the addition of Cole at the deadline reunited him with Eric Staal and it was like putting peanut butter back with jelly; they just go together. 

New Jersey has perhaps the biggest bargain in the NHL in Zach Parise, who’s contract was $2.5 million this year and $3 million for next.  Parise scored 45 goals and posted 94 points.  Captain Jamie Langenbrunner also had a great year with 68 points, including 29 goals.  Add Gionta, Elias, Shanahan, and rest of the seasoned pros on that squad and they’re the fashionable pick to win the East. Oh yeah, they also have a pretty good goaltender.  

Devils in 6

4  Pittsburgh  Penguins vs.  5  Philadelphia Flyers:   A rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Final and a battle for the keystone state.  The Penguins won four of the six regular season match-ups, and have home ice advantage. 

Pittsburgh also has the best forward tandem in the league with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.  However, the Flyers also have two pretty good ones in Jeff Carter and Mike Richards.  They’re grittier too.  Too often it comes down to goaltending, and Marc Andre Fleury has been more consistent than Martin Biron and/or Antero Nittymaki.  

Penguins in 7

As always, fee free to send me your thoughts. 
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