(1) New York Rangers vs. (8) Ottawa Senators
The Senators got the Rangers instead of the Bruins on the last day of the season, but will they be able to upset the top seed in the East? As surprising as this young team has been (ESPN ranked them last in the preseason rankings), they don’t have enough to beat Henrik Lundqvist and the rest of a deep New York squad. Don’t it expect it to be too short, though, the Sens will put up a fight.
RANGERS IN 6
(2) Boston Bruins vs. (7) Washington Capitals
The Capitals have come on strong during the latter part of the season, but find themselves in an unfamiliar position: Not in the top 3 as a division winner. They draw the defending Stanley Cup champs, who boast an always strong and hard-hitting defense and a truckload of 20-goal-scorers. I don’t think the Caps can handle the Bruins and they will finish what has been a disappointing season early, especially if third-string goalie Braden Holtby has to start the majority of the series.
BRUINS IN 5
(3) Florida Panthers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils
It’s rare that picking the higher seed would be mean picking the underdog, but not many are giving Florida the credit they deserve after a season with 18 past-regulation losses. Still, Ilya Kovalchuk hasn’t been good in the few playoff games he’s played, and the Devils desperately need their top goal scorer to show up. I give the edge to the Panthers, a team almost completely created through free agent signings, in a long series.
PANTHERS IN 7
(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers
These bitter rivals played twice in the last week of the season and are poised for a classic playoff series. The Flyers’ fate hinges on the play of Ilya Bryzgalov, who was lackluster in two playoff series losses with Phoenix. Philly can keep up with the Pens high-powered scoring attack, but I just don’t see them beating what may be the deepest team in the league. Make sure you watch this one, though; there will be plenty of fireworks.
PENGUINS IN 7
(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings
Once again, the Canucks find themselves Presidents Trophy winners as the teams with the most points in the league, but will it mean another Stanley Cup run? They fell short against the Bruins last year, but don’t expect the Kings to quite deter this year’s quest for the western favorites. Although Daniel Sedin remains questionable with a concussion, I can’t see the Kings streaky offense matching the Canucks pace. If Jonathan Quick is as fantastic as he has been all year, then LA has a small chance.
CANUCKS IN 5
(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (7) San Jose Sharks
It’s surprising to not see the Sharks win the Pacific; many had high hopes for the team led by Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau this year after they reached the conference finals last year. The Blues are a surprise too, but in the opposite way; their strong goaltending and stingy defense almost got them a 1 seed after missing the playoffs last season. Be on the lookout for an upset here. The Blues faltered slightly down the stretch, and part of their goaltending tandem, Brian Elliott, has a “day-to-day” injury. It’ll be interesting to see if he looks off because of it, but I’m going to go with the upset.
SHARKS IN 6
(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (6) Chicago Blackhawks
It’s so hard for me to even pick this game, because I want the Coyotes to win so, so bad. Still, in an attempt to look at the game with an unbiased eye, it’s clear to all that Chicago has the higher powered offense, but Phoenix counters with a strong, deep defense and athletic goalie Mike Smith. This series is somewhat of a toss-up; I think that if the Coyotes get secondary scoring behind Vrbata and Whitney, they have a good chance here. But, if Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews returns from a concussion in prime form, he may be able to will Chicago to a series win.
COYOTES IN 7
(4) Nashville Predators vs. (5) Detroit Red Wings
Intriguing match-up here, both teams are very talented and it will be a shame to see one of them go home early. Wings goalie Jimmy Howard has been slowed by injuries lately, thus the Preds have the dominant netminder in Pekka Rinne. You know that Detroit’s big star will show up in the clutch, so it is up to Nashville’s scoring to step up; they need a big series from Fisher, Legwand, and Erat to counter the potent Datsyuk and Zetterberg combination. I see the Predators star-studded defense being the series-changer here; they overcome the aging Detroit core in a long series.
PREDATORS IN 7