Well, all the racing is done in the NHL. Sixteen teams continue to play on for a chance at one of the biggest trophies in sports, while fourteen others (including my beloved Buffalo Sabres, who fell two excruciating points short) will be headed home to empty out their lockers. McMullen’s Musings now takes a look at the first round of the NHL Playoffs:
No. 1 Boston Bruins vs. No. 8 Montreal Canadiens (Boston won season series 5-1) The Bruins dominated the Northeast Division, winning by 23 points and narrowly missing out on the President’s Trophy. They didn’t look very impressive in their next-to-last game, losing to Buffalo 6-1, but do not think they will be that soft against the Canadiens. The Bruins haven’t won a series since 1999, but don’t expect that streak to continue into next season. Bruins in four.
No. 2 Washington Capitals vs. No. 7 New York Rangers (Capitals won season series 3-1) The Rangers were the fourth out of four teams to make the playoffs from the Atlantic Division, while Washington breezed through the Southeast Division and won by 11 points. Can Sean Avery annoy the Capitals enough to upset them? (No.) Will the immovable object of Henrik Lundqvist be able to stop the irresistible force of Alex Ovechkin? (No.) Will the Rangers upset the Capitals? (No.) Capitals in four.
No. 3 New Jersey Devils vs. No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes (Hurricanes won season series 3-1) Martin Brodeur is back, and that’s what stopped Carolina from sweeping the Devils on April 11th. The Devils blew into the playoffs, winning four out of their last five games. The Hurricanes looked like an ill wind, coming in on a two game losing streak, and one of those was to…guess who? The wall that is 500-game winner Brodeur will be almost unstoppable as New Jersey rolls into the second round. Devils in five.
No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 5 Philadelphia Flyers (Penguins won season series 4-2) The first real match up in the East. The last time these two met, the Penguins shredded the Flyers 6-0 en route to getting destroyed by the Red Wings in last year’s Stanley Cup final. The Flyers will try to use that to light a fire under them, but Sid the Kid and Evgeni Malkin will be too much for the Broad Street Bullies. It’ll be close all the way, but the Penguins will dispatch of them easily at the end. Penguins in six.
No.1 San Jose Sharks vs. No. 8 Anaheim Ducks (Sharks win season series 4-2) Give some credit to the President’s Trophy champions. They swept through the Pacific Division, winning that by 26 points. But guess who was right behind them? The Ducks. They have enough firepower to hang with the Sharks, but San Jose has more talent and enough motivation (they’ve lost in the conference semifinals the last three years) to turn the Ducks into chum. Sharks in five.
No. 2 Detroit Red Wings vs. (7) Columbus Blue Jackets (Season series tied 3-3) Trust me, this Red vs. Blue series will not be as silly as the YouTube phenomenon of the same name. Columbus is in the playoffs for the first time ever. The defending Stanley Cup champions are in it for the umpteenth time. The Blue Jackets do have the experience to run with the Red Wings, but not enough to upset them. Have you ever heard the phrase “act like you’ve been there?” That’s exactly what the Red Wings have done since their inception way back in 1932, and that is exactly what they will do in this series. Red Wings in four.
No. 3 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 6 St. Louis Blues (Season series tied 2-2) The Blues are running into the playoffs with both guns blazing. They’ve won four of their last five. The Canucks come in the same way, winning three of their last five. This series will be no different, as both teams look evenly matched. This is one of the unsung series of the playoffs, but it sure will make everyone stand up and take notice when all the rest are done in four or five. Blues in seven.
No. 4 Chicago Blackhawks vs. No. 5 Calgary Flames (Blackhawks swept season series 4-0) What a difference a season makes. Last season, Chicago finished 27 points behind division winner Detroit and three points out of a playoff spot. This season, they finished only eight points behind the Red Wings and flew high en route to a first round series that starts at the United Center. The other side of the coin: The Calgary Flames, who blew a 13-point lead to eventual champion Vancouver. Jarome Iginla cannot carry this team, and it will show when the Flames are one-and-done. Blackhawks in four.
So there it is: the first round of the playoffs. Who will drink from Lord Stanley’s Cup when the smoke clears? We’ll find out in June!