Last spring, I sat down and reviewed the 16 playoff teams, considered different scenarios and made predictions from the first round all the way through to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Well, my playoff pool of course.
I did pretty well, nailing the winners of every single Eastern Conference series and also successfully predicting the Canucks would win the Western Conference.
To my great chagrin, two months before it happened, I picked the Bruins to beat the Canucks in seven games for the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately, I was correct.
This year, I'll attempt to repeat my predictions with the same accuracy of last year's predictions.
I've also highlighting specific series to watch in the early rounds, where even with a PVR, there is too much hockey to handle unless you are on vacation.
Of course, if you disagree (and I'm sure many will) with my predictions, feel free to post your brackets in the comments.
Key Matchup: Jason Spezza (Senators) vs Henrik Lundqvist (Rangers)
Spezza has found his scoring touch and leads the resurgent Senators. But he'll run into a brick wall named King Henrik in the first round.
Prediction: Rangers in five games
Senators were good early, but faded hard down the stretch. The Rangers, on the other hand, are the real deal. This will be a short series
Boston Bruins (2) vs Washington Capitals (7)
Key Matchup: Alex Ovechkin (Capitals) vs Zdeno Chara (Bruins)
Alex the Great is looking more like himself this season, with 38 goals. But if the lumbering Hal Gill can shut down Ovechkin in the playoffs, Capitals fans better get used to seeing the bigger and nastier Zdeno Chara standing over a fallen Ovechkin. For added measure, we might even get to see Brad Marchand using Alex Semin as a punching bag, just because he feels like it.
Prediction: Bruins in five games
The Bruins and Capitals can both score. But only one team can defend, and only one team is built for a nasty playoff series. The defending champs will dispatch the Capitals fairly easily, and Ovechkin will have a nice long summer to party. Again.
Key Matchup: Marty Brodeur (Devils) vs Jose Theodore (Panthers)
It is a sucker bet to think that Jose Theodore will be the best Montreal-born goalie in this series. Bet on Brodeur to outshine his competition.
Prediction: Devils in six games
Brodeur is fading, but he has at least one more good series in him. And as much as I like seeing Florida make the playoffs after almost a decade of futility, being ranked third is a practical joke played by the NHL seeding system rewarding the winners of a pathetic division.
Key Matchup: Ilya Bryzgalov (Flyers) vs Marc-Andre Fleury (Penguins)
One goalie has 41 playoff victories and a Stanley Cup ring. The other goalie has 12 playoff victories and hasn't won a playoff series since he was a backup in Anaheim. Fleury will outshine the erratic Bryzgalov.
Prediction: Penguins in seven games
The battle of Pennsylvania will be a nasty, brutish affair. Which hopefully doesn't detract from the scoring, as Giroux, Malkin, Neal and Crosby put on a show. Still, the Flyers can't match the firepower of the Penguins with a healthy Crosby, especially if Briere is still injured.
New York Rangers (1) vs New Jersey Devils (6)
Key Matchup: Marty Brodeur (Devils) vs Henrik Lundqvist (Rangers)
Two of the best goalies in the modern era go head-to-head. Lundqvist is much younger, and that should be the difference after a hard fought first round.
Prediction: Rangers in six games
The Rangers are a deeper, more physical team. And to add insult to injury, they can defend better than the Devils can. This is the last gasp for the Devils, who will need to rebuild, at least in goal, after this season.
Boston Bruins (2) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (4) ***Series to watch***
Key Matchup: Evgeni Malkin (Penguins) vs Zdeno Chara (Bruins)
Chara shut down one Russian superstar in the first round, but he won't have the same sort of success in the second round. Malkin, unlike Ovechkin, actually gives a damn in the playoffs, and can elevate his game.
Prediction: Penguins in six games
Chara can neutralize Malkin or Crosby, but whoever he isn't shadowing should have free reign to rack up points against the Bruins lesser defence pairings.
This should be a nasty series, as there is a history of bad blood between these teams in recent memory, from the Matt Cooke blindside hit on Marc Savard to the more recent injury to Johnny Boychuk. But the massive firepower that the Penguins can bring to bear should stop the Bruins.
New York Rangers (1) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (4)
Key Matchup: Evgeni Malkin (Penguins) vs Marian Gaborik (Rangers)
Gaborik had 41 goals in the regular season and will have to be in top form to outscore his counterparts on the Penguins.
Prediction: Penguins in six games
Just as they did in the second round, the massive firepower of the Penguins will humble a Vezina-calibre goalie. The Rangers are a good team, but they just can't compete with a lineup that can boast Crosby on a second line.
Vancouver Canucks (1) vs Los Angeles Kings (8)
Key Matchup: Roberto Luongo (Canucks) vs Jonathan Quick (Kings)
Two excellent goalies will be dueling in the first round, but that might make this a boring series from a scoring perspective
Prediction: Canucks in six games
The Kings have underachieved all season long and had to squeak into the playoffs in the final week of the season.
The Canucks, on the other hand, have been waiting for the playoffs to start since last June and coasted through the regular season while still winning the Presidents' Trophy for a second consecutive year.
Unless the Kings suddenly remember how to score, this will be a short series.
Key Matchup: David Backes (Blues) vs Joe Thornton (Sharks)
Both are huge centres with good hands. One of them is physical and likes to play the body, and the other doesn't. Look for Backes to outperform his counterpart in a physical series.
Prediction: Blues in five games
The Sharks only scored three goals in four games as the Blues swept the regular season series. No reason to think the Sharks will suddenly find a will to battle now.
Key Matchup: Mike Smith (Coyotes) vs Marian Hossa (Blackhawks)
Like Bryzgalov before him, Smith is the reason the Coyotes are in the playoffs. Can Hossa continue to be a playoff beast and get some goals in a tight series?
Prediction: Blackhawks in six games
The Coyotes ride a hot goalie and use a defensive system to make the playoffs. Sound familiar? However, the Hawks are eager to get back into the playoffs after being bounced in the first round by the Canucks last spring and should have more than enough firepower to defeat the Coyotes regardless of whether or not Toews is healthy enough to play.
Key Matchup: Shea Weber (Predators) vs Niklas Lidstrom (Red Wings).
Lidstrom, the best defender of his generation, goes up against Weber, a player who could possibly win a few Norris Trophies of his own.
Prediction: Red Wings in seven games
Nashville is a great team. They are built for the playoffs with a rugged defensive, a great goalie and a good system. They also got Radulov back from the KHL to add some skill up front.
But the Red Wings are the best team of the modern era and are healthy. You simply don't bet against the Red Wings.
Vancouver Canucks (1) vs Chicago Blackhawks (8) ***Series to watch***
Key Matchup: Daniel Sedin (Canucks) vs Duncan Keith (Hawks)
The 2011 Art Ross winner against the Norris Trophy-winning defender who infamously injured him with a cheap shot earlier this spring.
Prediction: Canucks in six games
The Canucks and Blackhawks will meet for the fourth year in a row in the Western Conference's best rivalry. Last spring, they met in an epic series that went to Game 7 overtime before the Canucks won.
This spring, the Canucks are a deeper team than last year. The Hawks can't say the same, even if Toews is healthy, which is questionable.
St Louis Blues (2) vs Detroit Red Wings (7)
Key Matchup: David Backes (Blues) vs Niklas Kronwall (Wings)
The Blues are a big team, led by players like Backes. But in this series, they are going to run into some nasty hitters, like Kronwall.
Prediction: Wings in six games
The Blues have overachieved just to finish second in the conference and win the first round. Just playing in the first round this spring doubled the teams amount of collective playoff experience. (Many of their key young players have only experienced being in the playoffs when they were swept by the Canucks a few years ago.)
Detroit's veterans and playoff experience trump youthful enthusiasm, and the Wings will win a close series.
Vancouver Canucks (1) vs Detroit Red Wings (7)
Key Matchup: Alex Edler (Canucks) vs Nicklas Lidstrom (Wings)
Edler, Kronwall and Lidstrom will compete to see which Swedish defenceman is the best at this point in their careers. And unfortunately, at this stage in his fabled career, and after a couple of tough playoff series, Lidstrom won't even be the best Swedish defenceman on his own team.
Prediction: Canucks in six games
The Canucks have skill to burn. The Red Wings can match them.
The Canucks have a physical element and relentless forecheck that the Red Wings had during the Bowman years have, but are lacking now. This allows them to wear down a battered and bruised Red Wings roster and win their second consecutive Western Conference Finals.
Vancouver Canucks (first in the West) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (fourth in the East)
Key Matchup: Ryan Kesler (Canucks) vs Sidney Crosby (Penguins)
If the Canucks are to have any success, Kesler will have to be back in his Selke Trophy-winning form to minimize the impact that Crosby has on the series.
Prediction: Canucks in seven games
This will be a battle between two of the most skilled teams in the NHL.
Or if you care to listen to John Tortorella of the New York Rangers or Blackhawks, Bruins or Flyers fans, the two dirtiest and most arrogant teams in the NHL.
In any case, these teams are very similar in composition, and this should be an entertaining, high-scoring series.
But the travel, lack of conditioning and three physical series against the Flyers, Bruins and Rangers will take their toll on Crosby, reducing him to mere superstar prowess instead of being the best player in the NHL.
With that edge, a healthier Canucks squad should be able to defeat the Penguins in a hard-fought series.