1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 8) New York Islanders
Historically, when these two teams meet in the playoffs, this series would be an upset special. In 1975, The Islanders came back from a 3-0 deficit to upset the Penguins in seven games thanks to players like Ed Westfall and Glenn “Chico” Resch. In 1982, both teams went the distance again, and once again, the Islanders prevailed with a Game 5 overtime winner by John Tonelli. The Isles and the Pens last met in the playoffs in 1993. The heavily favored Penguins took on the surprising Islanders without one of their best players, Pierre Turgeon. Again, the series went the distance in overtime when David Volek pulled off one of the most stunning goals in Stanley Cup Playoffs history.
Unless Evgeni Nabokov turns back the clock, John Tavares plays Superman, key Penguin players get seriously injured, and Marc-Andre Fleury plays like the goaltender that gave up 30 goals to the Philadelphia Flyers last year, I see the Penguins roll through the Islanders easily.
Prediction: PIT in 5
2) Montréal Canadiens vs. 7) Ottawa Senators
This will be the first playoff meeting ever between the Habs and the Sens. However, the Habs and the original Ottawa Senators did meet four times, the last being in 1927, when the series was a 2-legged match determined by aggregate goal score. However, in the first all-Canadian Stanley Cup playoff series since 2004, both teams are evenly matched. Both teams split the regular-season series. Both teams have Norris Trophy-caliber defensemen (Subban, Karlsson), and both teams have elite goaltenders (Price, Anderson). However, I give advantage to the Senators because the Canadiens have struggled down the stretch run. If Carey Price can rebound, maybe the Canadiens might have a chance at taking the series.
Prediction: OTT in 6
3) Washington Capitals vs. 6) New York Rangers
This will be the fourth playoff meeting in the last five years between these two teams. In 2009, the Capitals won in seven games. In 2011, the Capitals won in five games. And last year, the Rangers won in seven games. During the regular season, the Rangers took two out of three games. However, the Rangers are facing THE HOTTEST TEAM IN THE NHL. When the sleeping giant known as Alex Ovechkin woke up, he carried the Capitals to a Southeast Division Title. The Rangers can pull off the upset, but they’ll have to try to shut down the high-octane Capitals offense. Not to mention, Henrik Lundqvist has to play like …well, Henrik Lundqvist. Either way, I think this series will go the distance again.
Prediction: WSH in 7
4) Boston Bruins vs. 5) Toronto Maple Leafs
It’s been nearly a decade, but the Leafs are back in the playoffs. The bad news: they’re facing a well-established Boston Bruins team that has been to the mountaintop before. And just like last season’s series between the Florida Panthers and the New Jersey Devils, having players with experience counts more than a team that’s “happy just to be in the playoffs.” These two teams haven’t met in a playoff series since 1974, and I’d expect to see this series play like that same series in 1974: physical, and somewhat high-scoring. Not to mention, you might just hear a big, sarcastic “Thank You” to Phil Kessel if this series ends in Boston.
Prediction: BOS in 6
1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. 8) Minnesota Wild
Out of all the matchups in the Western Conference, this is the only one that has a clear-cut favorite. The Presidents’ Trophy winners take on a team that clinched a playoff spot on their final game of the season. Yet, if the Minnesota Wild, who haven’t made the playoffs in five years, want to pull off something their predecessors, the North Stars, did in 1991, they’d have to play a near-perfect series against Chicago. Zach Parise has to play like the player that led the New Jersey Devils to a Stanley Cup Final last year, and Niklas Backstrom has to play out of his mind and steal multiple games in Chicago, which is probably the toughest thing to do in the NHL. In the end, I see the Blackhawks get through the Wild with ease.
Prediction: CHI in 5
2) Anaheim Ducks vs. 7) Detroit Red Wings
Everyone thought that with the retirements of Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom, the Detroit Red Wings would be half the team they were, and their 21-year playoff streak would end. Much like the Capitals in the East, the Wings went on a roll, finishing the season on a four-game win streak, and squeaked in to the playoff picture as the seventh seed. Anaheim, on the other hand, with nothing to play for, surprised everybody and won the Pacific Division, propelled by the emergence of goalie Viktor Fasth and a bounce-back season from captain Ryan Getzlaf. But I’m not sure Anaheim wanted to see the Red Wings in the first round. The Wings took two out of three games this year, which were back-to-back wins at The Pond. This series is a virtual coin-flip, but I think this series could have the making for a potential upset.
Prediction: DET in 7
3) Vancouver Canucks vs. 6) San Jose Sharks
The Vancouver Canucks’ season was one straight out of a script of a daytime drama. Schneider or Luongo? Schneider or Luongo? Schneider or Luongo? Well, as long as ONE of those goalies played solidly and consistent, this team is just as good as the team that went to the Stanley Cup Final two years ago. However, the Sharks won all three regular-season meetings this season, and if they want to pull off the upset, they can’t afford to play streaky-hot, streaky-cold. If the Sharks play streaky-cold hockey, this series will be short and will be in favor of Vancouver. But like the Ducks-Red Wings series, it is a coin-flip, with the Sharks having the potential to pull off the upset.
Prediction: VAN in 7
4) St. Louis Blues vs. 5) Los Angeles Kings
The defending Stanley Cup Champions begin their quest to repeat against a team that they swept in four straight games last year en route to the Cup. But this is not the same St. Louis Blues the Kings will face in the first round. Yes, the Kings won all three regular-season games against the Blues this season, but the Blues come in to the playoffs winning eleven of their last thirteen games of the season, and Brian Elliott is undoubtedly THE HOTTEST GOALIE IN THE NHL. The Blues also have loaded up on the back-end, acquiring defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold via trade. I wouldn’t expect a sweep this time around, but the Kings have been there before, and the Kings do have what to takes to win the Stanley Cup again, but this matchup is not going to be a cakewalk.
Prediction: LA in 7