My predictions at the beginning of the year for the Atlantic and Pacific Divisions in the NHL were way off. The Stars probably would have finished second had they had Loui Eriksson and Brad Richards all year like I said, but they didn't. Both were injured for the majority of the season, along with Brendan Morrow.
The Penguins got in, but not in first place in their division. The Flyers are much better than I thought. The only thing I got right was the Sharks, running away with their division, and as of tonight, one point from wrapping up the President's Trophy for the league's best regular season record.
So what are the playoffs going to look like? Even though there aren't solidified positions right now, the following is what we can expect to see in the first round of the NHL postseason.
No. 1 Boston vs. No. 8 New York
This series will be quick and over in short order. The Rangers are on a free fall. If it wasn't for the Florida Panthers never being able to close the deal and make a run, they wouldn't even be in the playoffs.
The Bruins have been successful all year long, and are starting to pick up their game at the right time, while the Rangers haven't been consistent at any point. Despite having a better goaltender, the Rangers won't be able to hold back the likes of Lucic, Krejci, Savard and Chara.
Result: Bruins 4-0
No. 2 Washington vs. No. 7 Montreal
Although the Capitals lack a goaltender that can carry them far, they do have something else that can at least get them through one round. Alex Ovechkin is looking to get his team to the next level, and will dominate the equally poor Montreal goal tending.
Unless Kovelev, Kostitsyn, or anyone else from this depleted roster can step up, (Schneider is done for the year) the Capitals should have at least enough bandwidth to move on.
Result: Capitals 4-1
No. 3 New Jersey vs. No. 6 Pittsburgh
A strong push at the end of the season will definitely help the Penguins, despite not getting the home ice they strived for. The Penguins will win this series for the same reason NHL analysts think the Devils will: Marty Brodeur. He is an outstanding goaltender, but if there's one team that has his number, it's the Penguins. Remember Alexei Morozov? Probably not, but I bet Brodeur does.
Result: Penguins 4-2
No. 4 Carolina vs. No. 5 Philadelphia
This series might be close, or it might be a mauling. I’m going to go with close. Carolina is on a hot streak going in, not to mention the hot goal tending they've been getting lately from a resurrected Cam Ward. Add in the Flyers' shaky Marty Biron, and you have a recipe for a Canes' victory.
Result: Hurricanes 4-2
No. 1 San Jose vs. No. 8 St. Louis
St. Louis is the story here. Despite the Sharks being able to dispose of them, the mere fact they made the playoffs at all is impressive. Battling injuries all year, they will give the eventual Stanley Cup Champions a fight they won't soon forget.
Result: San Jose 4-3
No. 2 Detroit vs. No. 7 Anaheim
Anaheim will get the matchup the Blues wanted because of a slightly more successful end to the season.
However, maybe had the Blues gotten this seed, Detroit might have got knocked out early. The Ducks will fight and make it a good series, but Osgood will have his issues, and it will take more than what the Ducks have to knock the crown off these redheads.
Result: Detroit 4-2
No. 3 Vancouver vs. No. 6 Columbus
A tale of two fantastic teams, meeting in a round where it's literally anyone's game. The Canucks will make a run at the end to get into the third seed, and while Columbus will make a superb effort, they may be a little overwhelmed by their new surroundings.
This may not be Rick Nash's last trip to the playoffs, but it will be his shortest. Luongo and Sundin are just too tough for the Jackets, but as Columbus head coach Ken Hitchcock said, "This is all a learning process."
Result: Canucks 4-1
No. 4 Chicago vs. No. 5 Calgary
A rematch of the '95-'96 first round where Chicago swept the Flames right out of the postseason. Calgary lost the Northwest Division lead on the last day, due to a free fall of epic proportions (including a 0-37 power play stretch).
Chicago is coming in on a hot streak, and with the young talent on its side and a suddenly hot goaltender in Khabibulin, the Flames are no match for the Blackhawks this time around either.
Result: Blackhawks 4-1
Second Round Matchups
No. 1 Boston vs. No. 6 Pittsburgh
This series is one that the Bruins hoped to avoid, but are still good enough to win. The Penguins, the only team to pull off a round one upset, will undo the standard that Stanley Cup bridesmaids don't win playoff rounds the next year.
However, they won't be able to keep up the Bylsmagic any longer. Somewhere, Cam Neely is smiling.
Result: Bruins 4-2
No. 2 Washington vs. No. 4 Carolina
The Capitals' goal tending problems will shine brightly, as the Hurricanes don't even begin to have that issue. This will be a series of contrasts, and the Canes will make the hockey world wonder, what if they had picked up speed earlier and won the Southeast?
Result: Hurricanes 4-1
No. 1 San Jose vs. No. 4 Chicago
The Sharks are on a mission this year, with a bunch of guys who have been in this situation before. While the Blackhawks are happy to have gotten this far, the Sharks won't be satisfied until they win it all. Nabokov will shine his brightest, and all the preseason acquisitions will begin to pay major dividends.
Result: Sharks 4-0
No. 2 Detroit vs. No. 3 Vancouver
A crazy series that will have people asking "Can Detroit really repeat with these kind of efforts?" It will be unfortunate to see Sundin's run come short yet again, especially with a team that begins to struggle at the wrong time.
However, you can't win games when you let in upwards of 40 shots on a consistent basis. Despite how much better Luongo is than Osgood, Osgood isn't going to face nearly that many shots.
Result: Detroit 4-3
Third Round Matchups
No. 1 Boston vs. No. 4 Carolina
This is the moment Bruins fans have been waiting for for 18 years. A chance to dance in the Finals yet again. Carolina will put up a massive fight. In fact, this series may swing both ways throughout.
However, the difference will be the home ice that the Bruins have fought so hard to get this season, and in Game Seven, in front of a raucous Boston fan base, the Eastern Conference will belong to the Bruins.
Result: Bruins 4-3
No. 1 San Jose vs. No. 2 Detroit
I've said it all year long. Had the Sharks been able to score one more goal in Game Six vs. the Dallas Stars, there may have been a different Stanley Cup Champion. The Sharks are fierce, hungry, and determined, while the Red Wings, traditionally, are relaxed, steady, and have been here before.
That won't matter this time. The Sharks have been waiting a long time to silence their critics, and by knocking off the defending champs, they will finally put those criticisms to rest.
Result: Sharks 4-2
Stanley Cup Championship
No. 1 San Jose vs. No. 1 Boston
It happens so rarely that a pair of No. 1 seeds get this far. This series will have a ton of story lines. Joe Thornton returning to stop his former team from winning the big one; Boston trying to recapture the glory days; Nabokov trying to silence his critics.
Two of the toughest, most talented teams the league has seen in some time won't just give entertainment that will rival last year's Finals match up, they will beat each other senseless and not give one inch.
But one inch is all it will really take. In a thrilling Game Seven in San Jose, the Sharks will pull one last victory from the Bruins and win their first ever Stanley Cup.
Result: San Jose 4-3
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