The long awaited first round of the NHL Playoffs begin tonight. Just like any other season, the 2012 Playoffs are bound to be very exciting for all hockey fans.
It was a very interesting year in the NHL with a lot of unconventional teams grabbing the higher seeds, like the St. Louis Blues, New York Rangers, Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes.
Of course, that will make it infinitely more interesting by setting up first-round matches between teams like the Flyers and Penguins, and the Red Wings and Predators.
The 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs won't leave fans disappointed.
This will most likely be a better first-seed versus eight-seed matchup than most in the past.
The Senators have a lot of really good players on offense like Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek, Erik Karlsson and Danny Alfredsson, to name a few.
But the Rangers can counter with the likes of 41-goal scorer Marian Gaborik and playmaker Brad Richards. Other Rangers to watch are young guys like Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin.
I'd give the offensive edge to the Senators, slightly.
The Rangers definitely have the better goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist, who has a good chance of winning the Vezina Trophy.
Craig Anderson is his counterpart in Ottawa.
However, the Sens have given the Rangers their fair share of trouble, taking three of four from them in the season series.
Prediction—Rangers win series 4-3
Despite the Sens' success against the Rangers, they'll probably just fall short. Lundqvist is just too good of a goaltender and the Rangers offense is nothing to sneeze at.
As long as Lundqvist is up to the task, the Rangers should be able to put enough pucks by Anderson.
This will be a good matchup between two good offenses.
The Bruins have six 20-plus goal scorers. Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and Chris Kelly.
The Caps counter with Alexander Ovechkin, coming off a 38-goal season. He came down the stretch on fire to salvage his season. However, Ovie did play half the season without Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom and Alex Semin will need to make sure they're on the top of their game in order to give the Caps a chance. The Caps need their best players to be their best players.
The Bruins easily win the goaltending battle. They're rolling out Tim Thomas, defending Vezina Trophy and Conn Smythe winner.
The Caps are crippled in net. Both Michael Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun are injured. The Caps will counter Thomas with Braden Holtby, who looked pretty good in his very limited amount of games. But he's just a speck in Thomas' shadow.
Prediction—Bruins win series 4-2
The Caps simply haven't been as dynamic this season as they've been in the past. The defending Stanley Cup Champion Bruins might lose a couple of games to the Caps.
In a match of two offenses, the Bruins have the goalie to back them up. Thomas should be able to ward off the Capitals.
The Florida Panthers will surely be pumped to finally be back in the postseason after over a decade of having not made the cut.
The New Jersey Devils have the experience, though.
Also, the Panthers are the only playoff team besides Washington that has a negative goal differential.
The Panthers have guys on offense like Kris Versteeg, Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann.
The Devils offense is easily more superpowered with the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, David Clarkson and Patrik Elias.
The goaltending is fairly even. Jose Theodore is coming off a solid season for the Cats, and Martin Brodeur isn't what he used to be, but he can still get the job done.
Prediction—Devils win series 4-1
The offense and experience of the Devils will be too much for the Panthers to handle.
This has been a very entertaining rivalry for a long time. This series is sure to have a lot of banging around involved.
The Penguins have the best offense in the league. Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Sidney Crosby are evidence of that.
The Flyers have Danny Briere, Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds and Scott Hartnell to counter.
The Penguins have the offensive edge, even though the Flyers are no team to sneeze at.
The Pens probably get the edge in goaltending. Despite Marc-Andre Fleury's recent struggles, he's already won a Cup and knows how to get there.
Ilya Bryzgalov had a decent season for the Flyers, but might be feeling the pressure of justifying his contract.
Prediction—Penguins win series 4-2
The Flyers will play the Pens tough, but the Penguins offense will be too much for the Flyers to handle. Malkin, Neal and Crosby are just too good. The Pens also have a lot of depth in their roster.
The Kings offense that was supposed to be a big part of their game this season has disappointed, even with big names in the roster like Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown.
Jonathan Quick is the biggest reason the Kings made the playoffs. He's been spectacular. Quick finished at least in the top five in all major categories. He did have the most shutouts in the league with ten.
The Canucks have a lot of offensive firepower, though. Despite Daniel Sedin being out for the past several games of the season, the Canucks still won the Presidents' Trophy. They still have Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows.
The Canucks have a ton of depth.
The Kings have the better goaltender. Roberto Luongo is very good, but Quick proved he's one of the NHL's best this season.
Prediction—Canucks win series 4-1
I think there are a few games that will be very close, but the Canucks will mostly come out on top. Their offense is just too good.
The Kings anemic offense might struggle if Luongo plays well in the playoffs. Quick will keep the Kings in it but won't be able to stand up to the Canucks' offensive firepower.
The Blues owned the Sharks in the season series this year. The Blues won all four games and outscored the Sharks 11-3.
Let's start with goaltending. The tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot are much better than Antti Niemi. Halak is slated to be the Game One starter. Elliot, nursing a minor injury, probably won't be out for long.
The Blues allowed the least amount of goals in the NHL.
The Sharks have the better offense. They're lead by Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Martin Havlat.
The Blues' offensive charge consists of David Backes, TJ Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo and David Perron.
As you can see, the Blues aren't known for their offense.
But despite the Sharks suffering in the season series, do they stand a chance? Absolutely. They have playoff experience and success. Many players on the Blues haven't had a taste of a playoff game just yet.
Prediction—Blues win series 4-3
But the Blues owned the Sharks. Why seven games? Because the Sharks are built to be a playoff team. The series could honestly go either way. Its a classic offense vs. defense clash. But the old saying holds true; defense will triumph over offense in the end.
The Phoenix Coyotes turned heads when they won the Pacific Division this season. The Blackhawks had another fairly successful year.
But the Blackhawks are ready for their time of the year; the postseason. Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Victor Stalberg all have over 20 goals. Sharp has over 30.
Jonathan Toews, who had 29 goals in 59 games, was injured. He was enjoying his career year. But he has a shot at being back in the first round.
The Blackhawks have enormous offensive firepower.
The Coyotes find ways to win games. Radim Vrbata leads their offense with 35 goals. Other notables are Shane Doan and Ray Whitney.
The Coyotes have the edge in goal. Mike Smith is coming off the best season of his career. Corey Crawford will be in the opposite crease for the Hawks. He's coming off a decent sophomore season.
Prediction—Blackhawks win series 4-2
The Blackhawks offense is just too good, and will find ways to get the puck past Smith. The Coyotes will find a way to win a couple of games, but the Hawks will win this matchup.
The Red Wings are in an environment very familiar to them. Just about every player on the Wings has won a Cup or two before.
They have players like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Lidstrom, Valtteri Flippula, Jiri Hudler and Johan Franzen on the team. All of them are legit scoring threats.
The Predators have their own scoring threats too. Like Mike Fisher, Martin Erat, Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, David Legwand and Patric Hornqvist.
The goaltending edge would go to the Predators, slightly. Pekka Rinne had a brilliant year for the Preds, and leads the league in wins.
Jimmy Howard had a great year for the Red Wings too.
This is probably going to be one of the more exciting series to watch.
Prediction—Red Wings win series 4-3
All the games are going to be close, whether they're offensive shootouts or goaltending shutouts. Both teams will give each other plenty of trouble.
But in the end, the skill and experience of the Wings and the load of depth on their roster may be too much for the Predators.