The New York Rangers were the best team in the NHL during the regular season, but they have stumbled in their first-round matchup with the Ottawa Senators.
After their Game 1 win, the Rangers failed to score more than two goals against the Senators after averaging 2.71 during the regular season. The Senators have succeeded behind a mediocre goalie in Craig Anderson who, in his first year as a full-time starter for the Senators, has taken his game to another level in the playoffs.
The Senators have held Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan in check, limiting them to only four goals during the first five games.
Craig Anderson and the Senators now have an opportunity to defeat the top-seeded Rangers at home in Game 6.
The Florida Panthers will win their first playoff series since 1996.
A lot of people—myself included—thought the Panthers were a false contender coming into the playoffs. They did win their division, but it was arguably the worst division in the NHL.
However, the Panthers have silenced their critics early on and are poised to advance to the second round. Martin Brodeur has outplayed Jose Theodore, but the Panthers as a team have outplayed the Devils.
Theodore may not have developed into the top-5 goalie that many thought he would. However, he is dependable and the Panthers play great defense in front of him, containing the talented Devils' forwards.
The Devils may have the two or three most talented players in this series, but the Panthers have stuck to the defensive philosophy and let opportunities in the offensive end come to them.
And it has paid off.
The Panthers will win this series because Kris Versteeg and Ed Jovanovski are going to take over the series and will them to the second round.
The reigning Western Conference champs are on the verge of losing to the Kings. The Kings have played great team hockey and have committed to their defensive strategy. The Kings—behind the great play of Jonathan Quick—have been able to stifle the offense-talented Canucks.
Despite winning in Daniel Sedin’s return, the Canucks don’t have the mental toughness and physical ability to overcome the Kings outstanding defense.
Jonathan Quick was bound to have a hiccup, as the Canucks got a boost when Daniel Sedin returned. However, the emotional boost won’t be there in Game 5 and the Canucks will go home early.
The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup two years ago because they were the third-best offensive team in the NHL and Antti Niemi was good enough between the pipes.
This year’s Blackhawks are just as talented and have more experience than the team that won it all two years ago. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have grown as players and know what it takes to come back when trailing a series. Last year the Blackhawks suffered through the dreaded Stanley Cup hangover and almost defeated the Canucks in what was one of the best series in the entire playoffs.
After Raffi Torres’ dirty hit took out Marian Hossa, the Blackhawks were given the bulletin board material needed to fire them up and drive them to win the series.
Hossa is one of the Blackhawks' best offensive players and he will be missed, but they have enough scoring ability to advance to the second round. Toews and Kane will take over this series and build the momentum needed to go on a deep run.
The Boston Bruins have struggled against the underachieving Washington Capitals, but they will win their first round matchup. The Capitals may be their equal defensively, but they lack the mental toughness on the ice and behind the bench to dethrone the Bruins.
The Capitals have been a great regular season team the past few years. Come playoff time, they have been one of the biggest disappointments in the entire league. The Capitals have implemented a new scheme under Coach Dale Hunter, with their tight defense-first mentality putting them in a position to defeat the defending champs.
The Bruins are the better team, and it will show in Game 7. After shaking up the lines in Games 5 and 6 the Bruins forwards responded and scored more. Tyler Seguin and David Krejci both scored in Game 6, sparking the entire offense. This will make the Bruins have a breakout game in the series finale that will lead to them winning the series.