Well the regular season is finally over, and now the real season begins. The sixteen best teams in the league will take to the ice this week in an attempt to bring home the most iconic trophy in all of sports, the Stanley Cup. Here are my predictions and breakdown of the first round.
#1 Boston Bruins vs. #8 Montreal Canadiens
This is a rematch of last seasons opening round matchup, except this time the seeds are reversed. The Canadiens started off the season hot, but Montreal has been a soap opera since January, culminating with the firing of Guy Carbonneau back on March 9th. Boston has been a solid team all season, finishing with the second best point total in the league at 116 points.
Boston wins the first three games of the series. Montreal wins game four, and their fans go nuts and riot in the street, torching cop cars and causing general mayhem. That's how they celebrate wins in Montreal right? Boston then finishes Montreal off in game five.
#2 Washington Capitals vs. #7 New York Rangers
What are the two most important things in the playoffs? Goaltending and defense. One of these teams has both, the other doesn't have either. Yes, New York hasn't played that well since their fast start, but Henrik Lundqvist is the second best goalie in the playoffs, and the Rangers have a much better defense than the Capitals do. Alexander Ovechkin has the ability to take over the series, but the Capitals don't have the depth or balance that New York has, and earned a high seed because they play in the worst division in hockey.
Lundqvist stymies the high octane offense of the Capitals just enough to send Washington packing in seven games.
#3 New Jersey Devils vs. #6 Carolina Hurricanes
Three weeks ago, the 'Canes were looking at an early offseason. Then they ripped off a nine game winning streak to jump back into the thick of things. They dropped their final two games, and cost themselves a shot at home ice, but this team is playing well right now, and they can beat anyone they play. The Devils are playing the opposite of the 'Canes right now. They were one of the hottest teams in early March when Brodeur returned from injury, but then they went on a six game losing streak, which dropped them to third in the conference. However, they will always be a favorite for winning the conference as long as Martin Brodeur is in goal.
The greatest goalie in the game gets the Devils past the first round with little hiccup. Devils win in 6.
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Philadelphia Flyers
It's a rematch of last season's Eastern Conference Finals, which the Penguins won in 5 games. The Flyers are a lot healthier this year, and they are as deep as they've ever been. If the Flyers can play to the best of their ability, there's no reason they can't sweep the Pens. However, Cindy Crosby and Evgeni Malkin always seem to play their best against the Flyers so this should be a tight series.
The Flyers are looking for revenge after being embarrassed last May. They'll get it. Flyers in 6.
#1 San Jose Sharks vs. #8 Anaheim Ducks
The Sharks put together one of the best NHL seasons in recent history. They had only three losses in regulation at the end of 2008, before slipping a bit in the second half the season. They still finished with a 53-18-11 record and won the President's Trophy. The Ducks on the other hand, didn't secure a playoff spot until the last week of the season. The Stanley Cup Champions from two years ago are always a dangerous team, but the Sharks have far too much firepower to lose this series.
Joe Thornton + Evgeni Nabokov + Patrick Marleau = Sharks win in 4
#2 Detroit Red Wings vs. #7 Columbus Blue Jackets
The Red Wings are the defending champions, and finished just shy of the #1 seed. The Blue Jackets are making the franchise's first ever appearance in the post season. That emotion should be good for netting the Jackets a win or two, but Detroit is too balanced, and too experienced and that will overwhelm the Blue Jackets.
Blue Jackets wingers R.J. Umberger and Rick Nash will do all they can to keep Columbus in the series, but will ultimately fall to the balanced Red Wings in six games.
#3 Vancouver Canucks vs. #6 St. Louis Blues
The Blues are making their first appearance in the playoffs since the lockout. They have all the important things going for them: balanced scoring, a hot goalie, solid defense, and (most importantly) the best home uni's in the NHL. Vancouver has Roberto Luongo. Game over.
Luongo and the Sedin twins carry the Canucks into round two. Canucks in 7.
#4 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #5 Calgary Flames
Is there a team in the NHL that has more potential than the Blackhawks? Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Martin Havlat and Patrick Sharp are all in, or entering their prime. Add in a solid defensive corps that includes Brian Campbell and Brent Seabrook and a goaltending tandem of Nikolai Khabibulin and Christobal Huet and you have a strong dark-horse candidate for the Stanley Cup victors. Calgary is an explosive team in their own right. Jerome Iginla is consistent as ever, and fowards like Mike Cammalleri, Ollie Jokinen and Craig Conroy make them a dangerous team. Goalie Mikka Kiprusoff can be lights out when he gets hot too.
The Blackhawks win their first playoff series since 1996 behind young phenoms Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
Round 2 Matchups and Winners:
Boston Bruins beat New York Rangers (4 games to 1)
Philadelphia Flyers beat New Jersey Devils (4 games to 2)
Chicago Blackhawks beat San Jose Sharks (4 games to 3)
Detroit Red Wings beat Vancouver Canucks (4 games to 1)
Conference Finals Matchups and Winners:
Philadelphia Flyers beat Boston Bruins (4 games to 3)
Detroit Red Wings beat Chicago Blackhawks (4 games to 3)
Stanley Cup Finals Matchup and Winner:
Detroit Red Wings beat Philadelphia Flyers (4 games to 2)
6 years ago