First Round of the NHL Playoffs

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First Round of the NHL Playoffs
(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

The race for the Stanley Cup begins again Wednesday night. While the guy pictured above probably won't win, the other sixteen teams who have made it in still have a chance. The Stanley Cup playoffs resemble running a gauntlet for two months.

Even if it turns out you can do it you won't come out unbruised. Here's how I see the first eight best of seven playoff series finishing up.

 

EAST    

Montreal VS Boston-   Boston in Six

The Bruins should cruise. They’ve played with passion all year while Montreal has fizzled.Their goaltending has been the best in the league. Wideman gives them a good offensive defenceman and Chara is the definitive shut-down guy with a huge shot.

Ference made his reputation in Calgary as an undersize, strong skating defenceman who never makes a mistake but he might not be ready for the first round. Aaron Ward is likewise very solid.

Hunwick and Stewart provide young depth and montador and hnidy a veteran presence. The coach can mix and match depending on how the series goes. Offensively Marc Savard is having another of a series of great, creative offensive years. Dave Krejci has broken out with .85 points per game.

Kessel has done the same despite his bout of mono.Recchi has been a nice addition and can play on any line. Ryder replaced Glen Murray ably and Blake Wheeler picked up off the trash heap has shown flashes of brilliance.

Under achieving post-concussion Patrice Bergeron and still dangerous and Chuck Kobasew with 21 goals in 68 games can both contribute. Sturm is out for the season and Axelsson may miss the first round.

Still, Boston will score.

Raspy Milan Lucic ,Shawn Thornton and Stephane Yelle provide a checking line with presence and offence. Tim Thomas has the best numbers in the league on a team that gives up a lot of shots.

Yet this team last year lost to this same Montreal team in seven. The goaltending in Boston always looks good until the games get important and then it falls off. This terrible looking Montreal team could have still beaten these Bruins.

Unfortunately Montreal's skinny defense suffered a crippling loss when Andrei Markov was injured. In the same way they couldn’t win a game when Komisarek was out they will struggle without Markov.

Boston has given up the fewest goals in the league.They’re the second highest scoring team in the league. They should eat Montreal alive. The Habs will win a couple games but more is too much to expect.

 

Carolina vs NJ-Carolina in Seven

I don’t really like either of these teams. Carolina is a too old team with questionable defense and a volatile goalie. New Jersey has a questionable defense, an old, old goalie and not a deep enough offense. New Jersey is twelfth in shots given up in the league and fourth in goals against.

Those are both good numbers but I think they’d do better with Scott Clemmenson in nets. Brodeur has had some great and horrendous starts since he’s been back. My memory of him last year in the playoffs not being able to bend over fast enough to pick up a puck is still kind of traumatic for me.

They’ve managed to put together two good scoring lines this year and everyone seems healthy. Will Langenbrunner,Madden,Rolston and Shanahan be able to take the pounding?

If Madden and Holik can stay healthy they’ll have one of the most experienced checking lines in hockey. Can they keep up with Staal and Cole?I'm thinking no. The devils need a power play quarterback.

Anssi Salmela, recently dealt, was not the answer. New Jersey and Carolina score the same. I just believe a hot Ward and three lines of scoring in Carolina, plus a power play quarterback in Joe Corvo spell victory in this round.

By the end of it though Whitney, Samsonov and Brind'Amour are all likely to be hurt and I believe they bow out quickly in the second round. Cullen has a sore foot but is expected to play.

 

New York Rangers vs Washington- NYR in Six

Ovechkin and the Capitals are a popular pick this year. Washington has been good all season. They have perhaps the best player in the game in Ovechkin and have a great first line and a fair second line. Mike Green is the best offensive defenceman in hockey.

Washington gives up as many shots as New Jersey but their GAA is the 19th worst in the league.

Their goaltending is not to be relied on. Chris Clarke is out for the playoffs and Tom Poti might not start in the first round. Washington is one of the great offensive teams in the league. You can’t let them get on the power play.

Their statistics have been fattened up on a SE division which has teams like Tampa Bay who don’t think you need defenceman to play hockey. I don’t like the rangers.

I don’t like Sean Avery. Still they have good goaltending in Lundquist and a fair young defense and some defensively responsible forwards. If they can sit on Ovechkin they can win this series and I believe they’ll sit on Ovechkin. Look for Marc Staal to hit Ovechkin every time he tries to move.

Rangers are another team who shouldn’t beat anyone in the second round, unless they face the winner of Carolina – NJ. Washington might do well to try Varlamov in nets. He could be better then Theodore.

 

Philadelphia vs Pittsburgh - Philadelphia in Seven

This is another coin flip of a series.I’m taking the flyers based on my belief they have good goaltending ,a good if skinny defense and too many offensive weapons to be stopped.

A healthy Briere gives them two of the best offensive lines in hockey. Pittsburgh is one of the hottest teams in the east right now and has a bundle of talent with Crosby and Malkin.

If the Flyers lose Timmonen or Coburn or Jones to injury they’re in real trouble. The Penguins have extended themselves getting into fourth. Fleury is starting to look like a good goalie and the return of Sergei Gonchar has amped up the offence.

They have a good supporting cast with Guerin,Kunitz,Sykora and Staal and Talbot. Kris Letang seems to have evolved as an offensive defenceman. I just believe Carter, Richards,Gagne, Briere, Knuble, Hartnell, and Lupul are better as a group then Pittsburgh’s forwards.

Their D and goaltending is good. Pittsburgh could easily win this series and I think whoever does win meets Boston in the east final.

 

WEST  

Columbus vs Detroit - Detroit in Six

Columbus is a good young team that has finally made the playoffs. They play a tight defensive system and have gotten stellar rookie goaltending from Steve Mason. They playoffs hopefully won't turn out to be his Roman Cechmanek moment.

They have a full roster of role players and with Rick Nash, one of the great players in the game. Their defense is good if average. Unfortunately they lack a No. 1 center and Antoine Vermette a checker with speed is not it. RJ Umberger is a great number two center, he's just not a starting center.

The loss of Derek Brassard for the season has kept them from seeing if he could be that player for them. Huselius is still suffering from a concussion and Tollefson is still hurt This is not the lineup to defeat the defending Stanley Cup Champions with. Detroit, despite their egregious goaltending, should swamp them.

They have more offense then Columbus can handle and once they figure out they need to start Ty Conklin in nets they will cruise past the young jackets. Columbus is probably just happy to be there.

The experience should be good for their young players. Detroit has too much scoring, too much skating and the best three defenceman combo in the league.

 

Anaheim vs San Jose- Anaheim in Six

I’ve picked SJ to win the cup the last three years. I won’t do it again. I don’t believe their offensive depth ,stingy defense and good goaltending will outpace the resurgent Ducks. San Jose gives up the fewest shots per game in the league and the third fewest goals.

Nabokov is a steady enduring presence. The offence trails only Detroit and is in a group with Washington, Pittsburgh, Boston, Calgary and Chicago. Their injuries seem to be healing and they have Grier, Lemieux, Roenick, Goc, Clowe, and Blake back.

Anaheim has four legitimate snipers and a defense that is better then when they won the cup. Wisnewski and Whitney provide young minutes and Niedermeyer and Pronger give Stanley cup quality defense.

Beauchemin has returned from injury and should be able to provide good power play minutes. They have two good NHL goalies and if their shut-down players prove to be superior to the recently dumped Pahlsson and Moen they could go places.

I’m sorry San Jose, I just don’t believe in you anymore.

 

Calgary vs Chicago -Chicago in Five

This is probably the worst matchup for a healthy Calgary Flames team. With Borque, Giordano, Phaneuf, Sarich, and Regehr all threatening to miss the first game and Regehr likely to miss the whole playoffs, expect Jim Vandermeer to be skated around for most of this first round.

Kiprusoff has been good, if overworked, but Khabibulin is grading into brilliant at just the right time.

Throw in the depth of Chicago’s young talent and I expect them to skate rings around Calgary. Iginla, Jokinen, and Cammalleri are one of the best lines in the league and if Borque, Langkow, and Bertuzzi are healthy there will be some secondary scoring but I don’t believe it’ll be enough.

Chicago has too much talent to lose to this broken up Flames team. Calgary should show some improvement now that they'll be playing with a full roster again.  

 

St Louis vs Vancouver - Vancouver in Six

Vancouver won the playoff lottery when St. Louis finished sixth. This is about the only team Vancouver can beat. Their goaltending is better, their defence is better, and they have enough experienced scoring to offset St. Louis’s youthful offense.

Brewer and Johnson are going to miss the playoffs but there is talk Paul Kariya could be back. It won’t make a difference. Vancouver's defence is aging but currently healthy. The presence of Vaananen on the major league roster indicates organizational depth problems.

They may not be able to deal with injury. They have two solid lines and then a bag of crap. Vancouver plays in a weaker division, so St Louis might actually be better then them, but I don’t think it’ll prove so this playoff.

I'd watch out for St Louis next year when they get Eric Johnson back. They could go places.

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