Before the NHL Playoffs get into full swing, I thought I would run through the matchups and make some picks. I'll admit, I do have a slight bias as I am a Red Wings fan, but I'll do my best to be objective with my picks.
The Bruins plowed through the East in the regular season, won the season series 5-1, and after winning a battle in Game One, came back in Game Two to take a commanding 2-0 lead in this series. I would love for this to turn into a long series, but I have a feeling that the Bruins may have already taken the Canadiens' best shot in Game One and will consequently cruise through this series.
Bruins in four
The Caps won the season series 3-1 and obviously were the second best team in the East, beating out the Devils in the last week of the season. They also have the best player in the game in Alex Ovechkin, along with a slew of other talented players featuring a power play with an absurd amount of firepower.
That being said, they have been outplayed in almost every facet of the game and find themselves down 0-2 and playing in the Garden for Game Three. I have to think the Caps will pull it together, that Ovechkin will find the back of the net with one of his 13 shots, that the Rangers won't be able to keep up this level of play...but they are in quite a hole.
Because I picked the Caps to make a run this year, I will stay with them, but if they don't come out with some serious fire in Game Three, then it will be on to round two for the Rangers.
Capitals in seven
(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (3) New Jersey Devils
I'm not going to lie, I like the Devils in this one. More specifically, I like Marty Brodeur in this one. There's no need to explain that Brodeur is one of the best goalies in NHL history—his 557 wins show that—but this year he is also rested as a result of his injury earlier this season and has been excellent in the playoffs (three Cups in four trips since 1995).
In addition to Brodeur, the rest of the team is not bad either, as they were among the top four teams in the East all year, even as Brodeur was out of the lineup, and they have plenty of veteran experience, including Brendan Shanahan, for a playoff run. The Canes are a solid team and actually won the season series against New Jersey, but I just can't see them winning this series.
Devils in six
This didn't set up as a very good series from the get-go, and the Pens' domination of the first two games has done nothing to change that. I see the Flyers putting up a better fight at home, especially against their bitter rivals from across the state.
That being said, I think that, with the way Sidney Crosby has been playing (especially since Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin came over midseason) and with the fact that they also have the NHL's leading scorer in Evgeni Malkin, I just can't see them losing this one, although I do see a possibility for some interesting extracurriculars later in the series.
Penguins in four
(4) Penguins vs. (1) Bruins
This is one of the series I am looking forward to this year, and I'm not quite sure who I like in this one. You've got the big, bullying Bruins against the quick, immensely skilled Penguins in a great Eastern Semi matchup.
As much as I like the Penguins, and even though the Bruins have been known to choke in the playoffs, I just see the Bruins beating up Malkin and Crosby while Tim Thomas shuts them down (to an extent), leading to a Boston win. This should be a long and entertaining series that is just about a toss-up, but...
Bruins in seven
(3) Devils vs. (2) Capitals
This is yet another great second round matchup, pitting the game's best goal scorer against the best goalie, and as in every sport, defense wins in the playoffs. Therefore, I look for Martin Brodeur and the Devils to advance to the conference finals with a win over Ovechkin and the Caps.
Both teams will be coming off of hard-fought series in round one, and both have solid all-around teams, but I think the goaltending of Marty, along with the Devils' postseason experience, puts them over the hump.
Devils in six
(3) Devils vs. (1) Bruins
In the Eastern finals we have another good matchup featuring teams that split the regular season series 2-2. I love the Bruins' style of play and think they have a great collection of talent this year, but on the other hand they have not done well in the playoffs recently.
Also working against them is Martin Brodeur. Not to keep repeating myself, but he is a beast, and I just have a hard time seeing the Bruins (yes, the same Bruins that were second in the league in scoring) putting the puck past Marty enough to advance. At the other end of the ice, Tim Thomas has been amazing, but he just isn't Brodeur.
This is a long, hard-fought, low-scoring series, but I see the Devils squeaking by and into the Finals...just barely.
Devils in seven
This is just horrible luck for the NHL-best Sharks. Although they are the top seed, they have to feel as though they are in a four vs. five matchup, as the Ducks are one of the hottest teams in the league and are definitely not the team you want to be seeing in the opening round.
As hot as the Ducks have been, the Sharks were the best team in the NHL all year and took the season series from the Ducks 4-2. Although I could easily see the Ducks stealing this series, I think the Sharks, battered and bruised, will escape with this series after taking a beating at the hands of the Ducks.
Sharks in seven
(7) Columbus Blue Jackets vs. (2) Red Wings
I want to be objective, I really do. I could point out that the Jackets have Rick Nash, one of the game's best players, they infused their roster with a ton of veteran experience (especially with playoff experience), and Steve Mason was otherworldly for much of his rookie season—but it just doesn't matter.
This is the absolute most perfect possible first round matchup for the Wings. They have next to no travel time, are facing a rookie in goal, have players with more playoff experience than the entire Jackets roster, have the best offense in the game right now, have been playing well the last month or so (Chris Osgood especially has stepped it up), and so on...all I'm saying is that even an objective observer couldn't say that this series will go more than five games.
Wings in four
Vancouver is a very dangerous team and should have no problem with the Blues. Yes, they split in the regular season 2-2 and yes, Brad Boyes is solid and Chris Mason had a nice year, but I just can't see the Blues having any kind of a shot at this series. The Sedin brothers are an absolute treat to watch, and Roberto Luongo is a man in net. Throw in Mats Sundin's experience and home ice, and I've got to call this a TKO.
Canucks in four
Another Western matchup that I just don't think will be that good. Again, the Flames have had a solid year, and with Jarome Iginla, Craig Conroy, and Miika Kiprusoff you can't rule them completely out of the series, but they're just not as good as Chicago. With Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, along with the Bulin Wall in goal, I look for them to advance easily.
Blackhawks in five
(4) Blackhawks vs. (1) Sharks
The Sharks come into this game beat up from their grueling first round matchup with the Ducks, while the Hawks come off of a fairly easy win over Calgary, and in this matchup that could be the difference. Although the Sharks are the better team, I just see this all setting up against them this series. The Sharks are at an immediate disadvantage because of their first round series, and this should only be exacerbated by their cross-country trips for this series with Chicago.
On top of that, the Sharks have not had the best track record in the postseason as of late and will be facing a very formidable Hawks team with Nikolai Khabibulin at the back end and Toews and Kane with Patrick Sharp and Brian Campbell attacking the goal all series. I think the Hawks pull out the upset, knocking out the top seed.
Hawks in six
(3) Canucks vs. (2) Red Wings
I think this will be an absolutely wonderful series to watch. Detroit's skill players, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa, Johan Franzen...matched up against Roberto Luongo, and at the other end, Vancouver's talented front line against an Osgood that looks to be back to his 2008 Cup-winning form.
That being said, I think that Detroit's offense is just too much, and Ozzie steps up just enough to win the series.
Wings in six
(4) Blackhawks vs. (2) Red Wings
Again, I admit that I am a Wings fan, and therefore am no fan of the Hawks. This being said, I do not see the Hawks winning a series against Detroit. Chicago has had a fair amount of success against the Wings in the last few years and have had a wonderful season, but they are going to have to wait at least one more year for a chance to play for their first Cup since 1961.
Wings in five
STANLEY CUP FINALS
Devils vs. Red Wings
In a rematch of the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals, we have the Devils going for a fourth Cup against the defending champion Wings in search of a 12th triumph for Lord Stanley. As far as I can tell, this series will come down to which Osgood the Wings get in net.
With Brodeur, who is capable of singlehandedly winning a few games in a series, on the opposite end of the ice, there is not much room for error from the veteran netminder. As good as Brodeur is, he will need to be on top of his game to cancel out all of Detroit's numerous offensive weapons, and trust me, he is well up to the task.
If Nicky Lidstrom stays healthy all the way through the playoffs, I think he (along with the rest of Wings' solid defensemen) will be able to protect Ozzie enough to bring home another cup to Hockeytown.
Your 2009 NHL Champion Red Wings in six