1) New York Rangers vs. 8) Ottawa Senators
Ottawa may have taken 3 out of 4 from the Broadway Blueshirts in the regular season, but it’s highly unlikely that the Senators will take a best-of-7 playoff series against the best team in the Eastern Conference.
Prediction: NYR in 5
2) Boston Bruins vs. 7) Washington Capitals
The defending Stanley Cup champions may have lost 3 out of 4 from the Capitals, but without Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth, the Caps now have to rely on third-string goaltender Braden Holtby to play like a number one. For the Capitals to dethrone the defending Stanley Cup champions, their offense needs to be the offense that was once feared across the NHL.
Prediction: BOS in 7
3) Florida Panthers vs. 6) New Jersey Devils
The Florida Panthers were a big surprise this season. Thanks to a career year by Kris Versteeg and the emergence of Jason Garrison as an offensive defenseman, the Cats earned their first division championship in franchise history. However, the New Jersey Devils have more playoff experience, and that could be the difference in this series.
Prediction: NJ in 6
4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 5) Philadelphia Flyers
This series is a virtual coin-flip. “The Battle of Pennsylvania” is built on intensity. Look at the last two meetings between these two teams in the regular season. With that intensity, this playoff series feels like a best-of-9 than a best-of-7. The key to this series is can Philadelphia’s physical play outwork and shut down the high-octane offense of the Penguins; an offense that produced a league-high 282 goals this season? Can Ilya Bryzgalov remain solid in net? Either way, only one Cup contender will be out at the end of this series.
Prediction: PIT in 7
1) Vancouver Canucks vs. 8) Los Angeles Kings
For the second straight year, the Canucks won the President’s Trophy. However, facing the Los Angeles Kings is no easy task. Potential Vezina Trophy finalist Jonathan Quick led the league in shutouts with 10, finished second in GAA, and 5th in save percentage. If the Kings find a way to score goals in this series, they might have a shot to pull off the upset.
Prediction: VAN in 6
2) St. Louis Blues vs. 7) San Jose Sharks
The story of the St. Louis Blues’ 2011-12 season is one you couldn’t even write. Back in October, they were the worst team in the NHL. Insert Ken Hitchcock in the picture as the new head coach, and the Bluenotes pulled off a complete 180 to their season, earning their first division title since 2000. In the playoffs that year, they were upset by the Sharks in the first round. I don’t see history repeat itself this time around, because the Sharks had to play desperate in the last two months of the regular season just to earn a playoff spot. Also, with the recent injury to Brian Elliott, Jaroslav Halak has to bring back the magic he had when he backstopped the Montréal Canadiens to an appearance un the Eastern Conference Final run in 2010 to give the Blues the same chance he gave the Habs not too long ago.
Prediction: STL in 5
3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. 6) Chicago Blackhawks
Like the Florida Panthers, the Phoenix Coyotes earned their first division championship in franchise history this season. And they did it on the heels of the hottest goaltender in the NHL right now, Mike Smith. Yet this series is a virtual coin-flip. The Blackhawks come in with one of the worst power play and penalty kill efficiency rates this season, and for the last 22 games, their best player, Jonathan Toews, was sidelined with a concussion. If “Captain Serious” returns in this series, and their goaltending becomes consistent, the Hawks can pull off the upset. Personally, without bias, I believe they will.
Prediction: CHI in 6
4) Nashville Predators vs. 5) Detroit Red Wings
The Predators and the Red Wings meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third time. In the previous two meetings, the Wings defeated the Preds in 6 games. This time, Nashville has home ice, and the Red Wings don’t seem that imposing as they once were. Both teams have good goaltending, but the Preds are a better team than they were back in 2004 or 2008. But like the Flyers-Penguins series and the Coyotes-Blackhawks series, it’s a virtual coin-flip
Prediction: NSH in 7