The NHL Playoffs are here, and that means hockey fans everywhere unite! Like any other sport, the postseason in the NHL is full of fun times. I won’t waste your time with semantics; let’s get to the stuff…
First Stop: The Conference Quarterfinals.
A much tougher looking match up than you’d ascertain at first glance. While the Sharks have dominated during the regular season and are the top seed (and basically presumed top team) in the league, the Ducks have a very experienced squad whose key players were on the championship team of a couple years ago. The Sharks have better goaltending in Nabokov and better scoring. The Ducks have an elite defense. Did I mention that these two squads have been doing battle forever in the Pacific and have a pretty healthy rivalry? This will be close; the Sharks will pull it out despite this likely becoming their toughest test till they have to deal into the Redwings (if they run into them, at all).
Sharks in six.
(7) Columbus Blue Jackets vs. (2) Detroit Redwings
The Jackets are getting better. They have experience playing against the Redwings in the Central division. They also have the advantage of going against a slightly shaken Osgood, who hasn’t been himself all year. However, sadly, this won’t amount to much, because the Redwings have simply too much firepower to overcome for the Jackets. The fast, big Columbus forwards will find it hard to rough up the Wings on D and will have a harder time playing the two way game they’ll be forced to play. Wings will maybe lose a game.
Wings in five.
After an insane run from mid March till the close of the season, in which they went 12-3-2, the Blues were basically the one team nobody wanted to play. The Canucks, however, have 14 wins since the start of March and, really, are just as hot. They definitely have the edge between the pipes with super stud Roberto Luongo back there. Watch out for this Canucks offense…Mats Sundin was just starting to get into his groove as the season wrapped up and if he steps it up in the playoffs, they might be the dark horse team to sneak through. This is the best support that the Sedin twins have ever had. The Blues made a great run but they’ve got too big a task ahead of them.
Canucks in six.
Oh, the 5v4 games! Gotta love em…usually, the best series of the first round. Won’t be much different this time around for these two. It could go either way, honestly, with the nasty talented and young Blackhawks on offense and the gritty, tough defense of the Flames that can wear you into the ice. The Flames have a ton of talent up front, but they’ve largely played under their abilities for most of the season (save, of course, Iginla) and Kiprusoff has the stuff to be a shutdown goalie if he gets hot. However, he has been inconsistent and the Blackhawks are so dangerous at the top of their depth charts that they can take this series. Look for the Flames, who have been to the playoffs more often in recent years, to school the youngsters and advance.
Flames in six.
This one is one of the fiercest rivalries in the NHL. It almost certainly will get chippy, but when the smoke settles, this one will decidedly be Boston’s. The turnaround the last two years is impressive for the Bruins and now with as much elite top end talent as they have in their top lines, the real difference comes from the emergence of Thomas’ goaltending. The Habs can still make this interesting, but will definitely need both Schneider and Markov healthy and on their game to have a chance. In the end, I think the Bruins are just too balanced and too tough.
Bruins in five.
This will be a tough match up. Don’t be surprised if the Rangers take this puppy the distance…they have a load of talent up and down their depth chart, and Lundqvist is one of the top studs in the league at playing goal. Still, I’m not sure they can handle the sheer brilliance of the Capitals’ top performers, the chief one obviously being Alexander Ovechkin. Nobody is more dangerous with the puck on their stick and when all is said and done, his team will be left standing.
Capitals in six.
Even match up, really. The Devils have the better goaltending, better coaching and, overall, the better team. They may not have similar styles, but they are evenly enough balanced that it might go back n forth for a few games. The advantage in these sorts of cases always goes to the team that has the most playoff ready team. Unless the Canes get hot, the Devils have it.
Devils in six.
How did the Flyers slip to the fifth seed? Simply put, they stopped winning and limped into the playoffs with integral guys like Jeff Carter going MIA, while the Pens stormed into the playoffs winning most of their games in the last two months. In fact, the Flyers normally would have my vote for this round, but the fact they’re heading in a different direction than their cross-state rivals is overwhelming. The Flyers are big, fast and skilled, and their defense is solid…they have all the pieces in place, but will it be enough to overtake a team that was just in the finals a year before? Especially with them playing their best hockey right now? I’m not so sure.
Penguins in seven.
See ya in the next round!