The 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs are set to take off this week.
Though the beauty of the playoffs includes the possibility of hockey's intensity to produce unbelievable moments, everyone is itching to know what will happen.
No prediction of the playoffs will be entirely accurate, but using current knowledge of various situations, the playoffs can be broken down in manner that may bring sense of what is about to occur.
Full playoff schedule of the first round can be found here.
Tortorella was fined by the NHL twice this season for a total of $50,000 for doing little more than exercising his First Amendment rights.
The Rangers coach was first tagged with a $30,000 citation for saying the officiating in the Winter Classic was bad.
Then last week, the NHL fined him for saying exactly what everyone else thinks about the Penguins.
NHL officials will be sure to screw up a call during a Rangers game this postseason. It will be surprising if Tortorella does not get fined for expressing his discontent when that happens.
Though the New York Rangers are the top seed in the Eastern Conference and therefore seem to be the favorite, their first-round series is going to be much tougher than many might expect.
The Senators won the season series against New York, winning three out of the four meetings.
The only game the Rangers won was a 3-2 game in October, the fifth win of an eventual seven-game winning streak for the Blueshirts.
There's no reason the Senators cannot continue their advantage over the Rangers throughout the playoffs.
Of all the Eastern Conference teams, only Ottawa and the Pittsburgh Penguins had a winning record against the Rangers, an advantage that they can continue to show in the first round of the playoffs.
The Rangers had the most non-shootout wins in the NHL's regular season, but they could be out in the first round.
This happened two seasons ago to the Washington Capitals.
Both of Washington's top two goalies are suffering from minor injuries. Starter Tomas Vokoun has been nagged by a lower body injury since the beginning of March.
Backup Michael Neuvirth was injured in the Capitals' April 5 game against the Florida Panthers. Neuvirth is day to day, according to Stephen Whyno of The Washington Times. Vokoun is not as close to returning and will try and skate today.
Braden Holtby started the Caps' final regular season game against the New York Rangers, giving up one goal on 36 shots.
Holtby is not going to be enough for a potent Bruins offense that was second in the NHL with 269 goals this season.
Even if Neuvirth or Vokoun return, they will not be on top of their game.
Ovechkin's 65 points this season was a career-low by 20.
Still, he is a competitor, and with more to play for now, he will step up his game.
Heading down the season's final stretch, Ovechkin totaled 14 points in 13 games. Ovechkin has 50 career playoff points in 37 games.
The Bruins had an impressive six different players with 20 or more goals this season.
Those scorers—Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and Chris Kellywill all get a goal in the first round.
The Washington Capitals won three of the four regular season meetings between these two teams, but a healthy Tomas Vokoun was the starting goaltender in all of those games, something the team does not have right now.
One of the Capitals' wins was in a shootout (meaning the actual game was basically a tie); another came when Tuukka Rask was in net.
The Bruins' potent offense should be able to handle the Capitals and their ailing goalies.
The Devils' starting goaltender was looking washed-up earlier this season at the age of 39.
Brodeur was 14-14 before the All-Star Game, with a .894 save percentage and a 2.77 goals against average.
After, he turned his season around and looked like the man who everyone recognizes as one of the NHL's best goaltenders ever.
Brodeur went 17-11 with a .921 save percentage, a 2.05 goals against average and two shutouts.
He'll continue to shine during the playoffs.
Tomas Fleischmann, Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg scored 70 of the Panthers' 203 goals this season.
No team should rely on one line for 34 percent of its offensive production. The key to stopping Florida is shutting down that line. Their lack of depth will hurt them.
The Devils split the season series with the Panthers, but they should win in the playoffs.
With an effective Brodeur, the hot Devils (six straight wins to close the regular season) will beat Florida, who won just one game in regulation in their final 10 regular season games.
Together, the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins totaled 546 goals this season, the highest among any two teams matched up in the first round.
Look for an average of at least six total goals per game in this series.
To put it simply, these two teams do not like each other.
Philadelphia won four of the six meetings between these teams this season. One of Pittsburgh's wins was in a meaningless game on the last day of the regular season.
The Flyers are a better team than the Penguins. Without the shootout, Philadelphia has a better record. There's no shootouts in the playoffs.
As for Pittsburgh's "home-ice advantage," their win on the last day of the regular season was the Penguins' first against the Flyers in that arena.
The Flyers own Pittsburgh on the road and will have one of hockey's best crowds for the home games.
The Los Angeles Kings somehow managed to make the playoffs despite having the NHL's second-fewest goals.
The biggest factor in their success is the dominant performance of goaltender Jonathan Quick, who will challenge Vancouver's top scorers.
Likewise, Roberto Luongo should not have a very hard time keeping the poor Kings offense under control.
Remember Mike Richards?
He used to be the face of the Philadelphia Flyers franchise, but now, he's little more than the guy they traded for Wayne Simmonds.
Richards totaled an embarrassing 44 points this season (not only 20 points behind last season's total, but 36 behind his career high).
Additionally, the former Frank Selke Trophy nominee was just a plus-two on the season.
Richards was dealt away from the Flyers last summer after failing to fulfill expectations. He'll continue to do that in Los Angeles during a short playoff run.
Jeff Carter was the other core player traded out of Philadelphia last summer.
NHL.com writer Corey Masisak picked Carter as L.A.'s X-factor for the series.
Look for Carter to either miss the net with scoring opportunities or blast the puck directly into Roberto Luongo.
Look for the Presidents' Trophy winner and defending Western Conference champion to roll through their first series.
Quick will steal some games for Los Angeles, but the experienced Canucks team will find their way closer to where they were last season.
The Blues are excellent defensively like the Kings, but even better, having given up a league-fewest 165 goals this season.
Unlike the Kings, they can still score goals. St. Louis had a below-average but adequate 210 total goals this season.
Part of that is the stellar play of both goalies Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot.
St. Louis went 4-0 against San Jose this season, with two of the games being shutouts and the total score of the series being 11-3.
Chicago enters the playoffs with a great home record, having won 27 of the 42 games at United Center.
Unfortunately, they are not the same team on the road, which is a problem since they're the lower seed in their series against Phoenix.
The Coyotes enter the playoffs with a five-game winning streak and have lost just two games in regulation or overtime in their last 15 games.
Phoenix's hot streak will continue against Chicago as the series starts in Arizona.
Both teams enter the series with a terrible power play.
Phoenix ranked 29th in the league, Chicago a little better at 26th.
Chicago has an issue killing penalties as well; they rank 27th in the league in penalty-killing percentage. Phoenix's power play might look good for once.
Phoenix does not have an issue killing penalties; they were eighth in the NHL this season.
Just as they did in the regular season (Phoenix won three of the four games between these teams), the Coyotes will get the better of Chicago.
Phoenix has stronger special teams, stronger goaltending and enters the playoffs on a hot streak.
Detroit is great at home, bad on the road. Nashville is good at home, a little worse on the road.
Nashville has the NHL's best power play, but Detroit recorded the second-fewest penalty minutes in the NHL this season.
Nashville has the league's best winning percentage when scoring the first goal. Detroit is the league's fourth-best team after giving up the first goal.
The teams were separated by two points in the standings.
They split the season series.
The only edge any team seems to have in this series is the Predators' home-ice advantage.
When it comes down to picking a winner, Detroit will have to be the one.
The team has much more playoff experience than the Predators, and that will get them through the opening round.
Detroit played in 15 playoff series over the past five seasons, winning 11 of them. Many of the players are still with the franchise.
Nashville is very inexperienced with playoff action; since entering the NHL as an expansion team in 1998, the Predators are 1-6 in playoff series.
These are the predicted second-round matchups with seeds:
(2) Boston Bruins vs. (8) Ottawa Senators
(5) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils
(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (5) Detroit Red Wings
(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (3) Phoenix Coyotes
Boston will be in the NHL's semifinal round for the second consecutive season.
Last year, the Bruins needed three different Game 7 victories to win the Stanley Cup. They were not the best team in the NHL for the 2010-11 season, but (with epic help from Tim Thomas) they were able to win when it mattered.
This season, they will have a clear advantage over their first two opponents (if everything goes as predicted).
Boston dominated their Northeast Division rival Ottawa Senators, winning five of six games (losing by one goal the single loss) and outscoring the Senators, 22-13.
After missing time due to a hand injury, Ottawa's starting goaltender is back. The team has depth in youth at the position; when the Bruins' deep offense opens up on Anderson, he'll be replaced.
If the Philadelphia Flyers are matched against the New Jersey Devils, the Flyers will win.
Sure, the teams split the season series 3-3 this year, but there's a reason that happened: Sergei Bobrovsky.
In all three games the Devils beat the Flyers, the back-up goaltender was the starter.
In all three games the Flyers beat the Devils, Ilya Bryzgalov was the starter.
Bryzgalov gave up just one goal in his three starts against New Jersey. With that goaltending and a superior offensive attack, the Flyers will roll through the Devils in five games.
Briere struggled at times during the season, going weeks without scoring a goal.
The veteran forward is currently injured after being hit late in a blowout win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, but he should be back by the second round.
Briere always comes through in the postseason. Look for him to make a statement this spring.
A top-six caliber forward, James van Riemsdyk missed 15 games this season due to a concussion. When he finally returned from that, he made it through five games before breaking his foot.
He missed the last 19 regular season games and isn't expected back during the opening round.
The way the predictions shaped up to this point, the Eastern Conference Finals matchup is one that hockey fans everywhere will be looking to see.
The Boston Bruins, an Original Six team with a home territory in one of the richest hockey territories in the country, will be taking on the Philadelphia Flyers, a team with a history so strong and a following so dedicated it's hard to believe they're an expansion team.
In 2010, the Flyers dropped the first three games against Boston, only to win the next three games, then win Game 7 in Boston after being down by a score of 3-0.
The next season, the two teams matched up again, with Boston managing not to blow a 3-0 lead, sweeping Philadelphia in four games.
Detroit and Vancouver will meet up in a battle of perennial Stanley Cup contenders.
The teams' regular season matchups went very even; they split the series 2-2, and even the total goal count was even.
Each team won a game in regulation by two goals; each team won a shootout.
Datsyuk is going to score on a breakaway in overtime of Game 3 in the second round.
Detroit's inability to be the same team on the road as they are at the Joe will cost them.
After a long first-round series against Nashville, the Red Wings will not be able to get rid of the defending Western Conference champions.
Detroit is the NHL's best five-on-five team, but there's a reason Vancouver won the Presidents' Trophy the past two seasons.
Phoenix scored six more goals than St. Louis in the regular season.
Not bad, until you see they also gave up 39 more.
The Blues won three of the four regular season meetings, the only loss being a 4-1 defeat in the second-to-last game of the season.
St. Louis' impeccable defense and two-headed goaltending monster led the team to 15 shutouts this year.
That's one-third of the Blues' regulation and overtime wins. The Coyotes lack the offensive firepower necessary to get by St. Louis.
Usually, it does not go this simple; if the teams with the highest seeds always advanced, there would be no point in having the playoffs.
Still, the Western Conference Finals looks like it will put the top two teams in a battle.
Before taking a look at the final three predicted series in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, take a look at how we got here:
(8) Ottawa Senators defeats (1) New York Rangers 4-3
(2) Boston Bruins def. (7) Washington Capitals 4-1
(6) New Jersey Devils def. (3) Florida Panthers 4-2
(5) Philadelphia Flyers def. (4) Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2
(1) Vancouver Canucks def. (8) Los Angeles Kings 4-3
(2) St. Louis Blues def. (7) San Jose Sharks 4-1
(3) Phoenix Coyotes def. (6) Chicago Blackhawks 4-3
(5) Detroit Red Wings def. (4) Nashville Predators 4-3
(2) Boston Bruins def. (8) Ottawa Senators 4-1
(5) Philadelphia Flyers def. (6) New Jersey Devils 4-1
(1) Vancouver Canucks def. (5) Detroit Red Wings 4-3
(2) St. Louis Blues def. (3) Phoenix Coyotes 4-0
2) Boston Bruins vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers
(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (2) St. Louis Blues
The Flyers' leading goal-scorer will score a goal, record an assist and fight someone in the Conference Finals series against the Bruins.
These two tough, physical teams have a long history, and putting that rivalry one step away from the Stanley Cup Finals is going to get a lot of players' intensity levels out of control.
Both of the last two playoff meetings between these teams ended with some team winning four consecutive games.
This year, look for the series to go back and forth, making it to seven games. The teams are very evenly matched.
Though the Bruins won the season series between these teams 3-1, two of the wins were by way of the shootout. In regulation, the teams are even with each other.
This series has the potential to be very close. The teams are essentially identical: deep scoring offenses with a tough team mentality. Tim Thomas can steal games, and when Ilya Bryzgalov is on his, he's one of the best goalies in the NHL.
Without consistent struggles in afternoon games and slow starts, the Flyers could have won another five games this season.
Their "trailing first" win percentage is the second-best in the NHL. They always finish their games strong; the issue is starting them well.
The season series against Boston showcased these issues, as the Bruins picked up two points in all three afternoon starts, while the Flyers won on opening night.
It is unlikely a Conference Finals game will be scheduled during the afternoon. The Flyers will not need to worry about that.
The Flyers will stop the Bruins from being able to defend their Cup by beating them in Boston in the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Finals.
A rejuvenated Flyers team, which by then should be healthy with the return of James van Riemsdyk and Andrej Meszaros, will win a very close series against the rival Bruins.
Philadelphia had the second-best record in the Eastern Conference this season when shootout results are disregarded. With the No. 1 team (Rangers) gone, it's the Flyers' title to win.
...but this time, it's by two goalies instead of just Tim Thomas.
The Canucks netminder had an inconsistent (and at times, utterly awful) Stanley Cup Finals series last year. Even if he pulls it together, him and the Canucks will not be able to out-duel the defensive monster that is St. Louis.
The Blues began their history with three consecutive losses in the Stanley Cup Finals. This year, they'll have a chance to reach that stage again.
The teams split the season series, with the Blues scoring just one more goal.
Keys to success include a balanced offense, greater physicality and a defensive system which will prevent the Sedin brothers Daniel and Henrik from leading the Canucks back to where their season ended last year.
St. Louis will take it in seven games.
It did not work out too well the last time they tried this reaction. Maybe the city learned something.
The Blues' leading scorers are tied with 54 points each. Seven forwards have 15 goals or more. Eleven players have a plus/minus rating above 10.
The team has two goaltenders who could backstop any team in the NHL. Their key to success is working well together as a team, something the Blues have done all season long.
The Flyers must rely on a few key players; if the top line of Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell are shut down, the team loses a large portion of offense.
If Ilya Bryzgalov forgets which universe he's playing in, the team can implode with a leaky netminder.
Even though Philadelphia is an excellent road team, the Blues are an incredible home team.
Not too many matchups work in the Flyers' favor.
The predicted Stanley Cup Champions are the St. Louis Blues.
Twelve years ago Jason Arnott scored the overtime goal that won the New Jersey Devils their second Stanley Cup.
If he does it for St. Louis, it will be their first.
If the Philadelphia Flyers make it to the Stanley Cup Finals, there is a good chance Claude Giroux will be the man leading the NHL in playoff scoring.
The Flyers' leading Hart Memorial Trophy candidate would get the playoff MVP trophy despite being on the losing team simply because St. Louis does not have one man leading the team.
The Blues earn their success through stellar defense backed by two netminders. The trophy would not be cut in half for the St. Louis goalies, and none of their offensive players will be taking charge of the team's success like Giroux can do for Philadelphia.
When the NHL's commissioner walks out onto the ice to take charge of the awards ceremony, he will very well likely be deservedly booed.
Unless, of course, previous predictions are wrong and the finals end in Pittsburgh, where Bettman will be surrounded by thousands of people who cheer for the same team that he seems to be infatuated with.
B/R Featured Columinst Jason Sapunka covers the NHL.