Before the season started I made my predictions on where I felt the Eastern Conference teams would finish after 82 games. Needless to say I did not fare so well as a couple of teams underperformed and others had a much stronger season than expected. In the end I predicted five of the eight playoff teams that have made it and three of those picks were right on the money as far as where they seeded. The two teams that really made me look bad however, are the Ottawa Senators and the Florida Panthers. I had both of these teams at the bottom of the Conference and obviously they both proved me wrong.
The biggest disappointment was our beloved Montreal Canadiens, who I had predicted would finish in sixth. Clearly that did not happen as they finished dead last in the Conference in a nightmare filled season. So now it’s time for the second season and although the Habs will be nowhere to be seen, there are some intriguing match-ups that should keep any hockey fan entertained. Here are my predictions on who I think will advance to round two.
RANGERS VS SENATORS
The Rangers finished more or less were they were expected to finish, the Senators not so much. I can’t imagine that anybody truly believed that the Sens were going to be a playoff team this year but here they are. Ottawa proved that if you have a good coach and a group of players that play as a team anything is possible. Having a decent goalie in Craig Anderson doesn’t hurt either. Another interesting element to this series is Ottawa’s success versus New York. Will it matter in the playoffs? Probably not, the Sens might give it a go but in the end the Rangers are just too strong a team and they are also well coached. Also, let’s not forget that they have one of the best goaltenders in the league in Henrik Lundquist and King Henrik is desperate for a big playoff run.
Prediction: Rangers in six
BRUINS VS CAPITALS
Can anyone figure out the Washington Capitals? Here’s a team who used to be the elite offensive team in the league but this season they barely made the playoffs. Alex Ovechkin has struggled, ditto for Semin. Backstrom had a good season but was out with a concussion for the latter part of the year. Their free agent signing of Tomas Vokoun has not exactly worked out as planned as he seems to have had a tough time settling in with his new team. Boston on the other hand started off slow but once they found their grove they never looked back and have proven that last year’s cup run was no fluke. Many are predicting that Bruins will once again make it to the finals this year but I say not so fast. Although it’s true that the Caps have struggled this season they still have a team that can go with the best of them and I believe this series will be much closer than most believe it will be. The Bruins play a nasty game but so can the Caps and do you really want to play against an angry Ovechkin? I can already see Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic targeting Alexander the Great and I can also see Ovie burning up the Bruins in return. Ovechkin has never really had a breakout playoff series and is more than due. If this comes true and the Capitals take advantage of their power plays the Bruins might not be able to make it past the first round.
Prediction: Caps in seven
PANTHERS VS DEVILS
The Panthers have finally returned to the playoffs as the number three seed. Well, I did not see that coming. The Cats have quietly made it back to the post season by bringing back some former players while mixing and matching the rest of their roster. Now that they are in, the next question becomes can they advance? I am sure the Devils will have something to say about that. New Jersey is not the dominate team that they used to be but they still have lots of post season experience as well as a few game breakers. Martin Brodeur may be in his last season and I am sure that he will have a great first round and I can see the same type of success for Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. At the end of the day, the Devils are simply too strong for the Panthers and this one should be over quickly.
Prediction: Devils in five
PENGUINS VS FLYERS
This will be the marquee match-up of the first round. Pittsburgh vs. Philly, the battle of Pennsylvania. Who will come out on top? The Pens have dominated the Flyers in recent playoff series and although Pittsburgh has a very similar team than their last cup run, the Flyers are now quite different after a summer of house cleaning. Will this new edition of the Flyers be enough to beat their rivals? That may depend on the play of one Ilya Bryzgalov. The key free agent acquisition for the Flyers has struggled throughout the season and has only started finding his game towards the end of the season. If he stands on his head the Flyers may squeak past the Pens but that’s a very big if. Malkin has been on fire this season and Crosby seems to be as healthy as he needs to be. The Flyers have Giroux and Jagr and they should also have a big series but when you look at the rest of the line-up the Pens are the deeper team. It also doesn’t hurt that they know exactly what they have in Fleury a man that helped them win their last Stanley cup. It could go either way but one thing is for sure, it will be an entertaining series.
Prediction: Pens in seven
CANUCKS VS KINGS
Here we go again; the Canucks are the top team in the league and are expected to be Canada’s team. It feels like Vancouver just can’t catch a break. Yes the Canucks have a good team but they have Luongo in nets and there are already question marks on whether he will play all of the games in this series or not. This has to be a distraction to the team. I know that Luongo has been inconsistent at best throughout his playoff career but would it not make sense for the coach to come out and say that this is their man? Another question mark is the health of Daniel Sedin. Will he make it back this series? If so, will he be as effective? The Kings on the other hand seem to be very sure of themselves and when you have a great goaltender in Jonathan Quick, why shouldn’t you be? Quick has been one of the best goalies in the league this season and I don’t see that changing in the playoffs. On top of that, the Kings also have Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, two players that were shipped out of Philadelphia and were reunited at the trade deadline. I see them having a strong series as well as Kopitar and Doughty among others. This will be another series that will go the distance but I fear that the Kings take it in the end. Let’s hope I’m wrong.
Prediction: Kings in seven
BLUES VS SHARKS
This will be another even match-up. The Blues struggled out of the gate but once they made the coaching change they became one of the top teams in the league. They have a very well balanced team all the way to their goaltending tandem of Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak. Their goaltending may actually be their weak point however as they don’t have a clear cut number one between the two. Both goalies have similar numbers and it will be interesting to see who they will go with over the long run. Perhaps Halak will repeat his great playoff run he had with the Habs and put that debate to rest. The Sharks are also a well balanced team and have a decent goalie in Niemi. For years San Jose has underachieved in the playoffs and it makes you wonder if that trend will continue, especially since they have had an up and down season. Like the Capitals the Sharks are due for a better outcome as is Joe Thornton, for this reason alone I will go with the Sharks but it can easily go the other way.
Prediction Sharks in seven
COYOTES VS BLACKHAWKS
Phoenix is another case of a well-coached team. They proved that their success does not solely depend on their goaltending but on how the team plays as a whole. Many predicted that they would not be in the playoffs without Bryzgalov but that is clearly not the case. Chicago has also quietly had a resurgence this season as many of their quality players have returned to form. This could easily be a dark horse team in the west as they have a very similar team as to when they last won the cup. The only question mark with them is in nets. Crawford is a decent goaltender but I’m not quite convinced that he is a true number one. Regardless I still believe that the Hawks will advance and they will do it with a lot of goals.
Prediction: Blackhawks in six
PREDATORS VS RED WINGS
Will this be the year that Nashville hits another gear? Maybe, but they will have their work cut out for them against Detroit. The Red Wings are still very much a very strong hockey team with a mix of youth and veteran leadership. Oh, and that guy between the pipes is not too shabby either. I don’t believe the Wings will dominate the series but their experience will definitely be an asset. The Preds have made a lot of changes to their team at the trade deadline and also added former star Radulov to their roster near the end of the season. The Radulov return may be their undoing however, as Karma could be a factor. It’s no secret that many teams were upset that Radulov was allowed to rejoin the Preds without clearing waivers as they felt it gave them an unfair advantage. For whatever reason, in the world of sports these things seem to correct themselves and it would not shock me if this ended up being the case here. The only way I see Nashville advancing is if Rinne out-duels Howard and that may be tough to do.
Prediction: Red Wings in seven