A1) Boston Bruins vs. EWC2) Detroit Red Wings
This will be the first playoff meeting between these Original Six teams since 1957, and in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, the most likely to produce a first-round upset. Boston earned its way to their first Presidents’ Trophy for the first time since 1990 through physical play, offensive balance, and the play of one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. Detroit punched its way to a 23rd consecutive playoff berth all because when their best players were out due to injury, Gustav Nyquist carried the team on his back and into the playoffs. The Red Wings are supposed to have Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg back in the lineup, and if they play at a 100% level, this team could knock out the prohibitive favorite to win the Stanley Cup in 2014.
Prediction: BOS in 7
A2) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. A3) Montréal Canadiens
The only time these two teams met in the playoffs was ten years ago when the Lightning swept the Habs in four straight games en route to the Stanley Cup. But this time, however, both teams are evenly matched. The Bolts will be somewhat behind the 8-ball due to the injury of their no. 1 goaltender, Ben Bishop. I believe that the Canadiens have a slight advantage in this series, primarily because they have been resting their best players during the final week of the regular season.
Prediction: MTL in 6
M1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. EWC1) Columbus Blue Jackets
All signs point to the Penguins in completely everything, but in reality, this postseason is a gutcheck for Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. In the last four postseasons, Fleury has a 3.36 GAA and a .877 average save percentage. Fleury has to play like the goaltender that backstopped the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances in 2008 and 2009. The only way the Blue Jackets have a chance to pull off the upset s if Sergei Bobrovsky played higher than the level that won him the Vezina Trophy last year.
Prediction: PIT in 5
M2) New York Rangers vs. M3) Philadelphia Flyers
This will be the first playoff meeting between these rivals since 1997, and, in my opinion, this series is a virtual coinflip. In their four regular-season meetings this season, the home team won each time. Having home-ice advantage is a perk, but all it takes is one win in the other team’s arena to shift momentum in a playoff series. If the Flyers want to win the series, they have to play physical, but disciplined hockey. If the Rangers want to win the series, they have to keep playing like they have playing all season long, and if Henrik Lundqvist plays ridiculously good in this series, the Rangers have a shot to go deep into the playoffs.
Prediction: NYR in 7
C1) Colorado Avalanche vs. WWC1) Minnesota Wild
Last year, the Colorado Avalanche finished 16-25-7, the second-worst record in the NHL. Then they decided to completely go in a new direction, replacing an ineffective Joe Sacco with an untested head coach that had a familiar name in team history: Patrick Roy. Then they won the Draft lottery and got the first overall selection. They used it to pick the 2013 Memorial Cup MVP, Halifax’s Nathan MacKinnon. And since then, the Avalanche have completely turned their fortunes around, finishing the season winning 11 of their last 14 games en route to their first division title since 2003. However, they enter their playoffs without their top point-scorer, Matt Duchene, for their first few games. If the Wild want to pull of the upset, they cannot afford their big-name players carry the whole load. It has to be a full-team effort for them to repeat what happened back in 2003.
Prediction: COL in 5
C2) St. Louis Blues vs. C3) Chicago Blackhawks
The St. Louis Blues have a good team this season. Unfortunately, they come into the playoffs like an army tank riddled with bullets. They ended the season on a 6-game losing streak, some of their best players like David Backes, Vladimir Tarasenko, and T.J. Oshie are injured, and the Blues haven’t scored a goal in nearly 8 periods of hockey played. The absolute last thing to do for a playoff team like this is to come in with no momentum against the defending Stanley Cup Champions. The Blackhawks finished the season winning four of their last six games without their dynamic duo of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. The good news is Kane and Toews will be back for Game 1 Thursday. Even though the Blues won the season series 3-2-0, two of those wins came in a shootout. I’d give the advantage in this series to the Hawks for the simple fact that they’ve been there before, and they have the tools equipped to win the Stanley Cup again.
Prediction: CHI in 6
P1) Anaheim Ducks vs. WWC2) Dallas Stars
Unfinished business. That’s what the Ducks are playing for this year after being ousted by the Detroit Red Wings in seven games last year. They proved this year that last year was absolutely no fluke, and this team has what it takes to win another Stanley Cup. Dallas clinched the final playoff spot with a 3-0 shutout of the St. Louis Blues last Friday, but if you had to place odds for the Stars to win series, the odds would be around 50-1. The reason is simple: other than Tim Thomas and Tyler Seguin, the Stars are relatively green in playoff experience, and I mean green as in greenhorn, not Victory Green.
Prediction: ANA in 5
P2) San Jose Sharks vs. P3) Los Angeles Kings
Like the Rangers-Flyers series in the East, this battle between NorCal and SoCal is a virtual coinflip. Just take a look at what happened last year: the series when the full seven games, with the home team winning each game. In that series, the Kings had the higher seed. This time around, the Sharks have the higher seed. However, I see what happened last year happening again this year, the series going the distance, with the Kings winning again. Even in an evenly-matched series like this one, you know something has to give, but whoever advances from this series will be facing an even tougher challenge in the Division Final.
Prediction: LA in 7