The 2013 NHL playoff seeds and matchups are finally set, which naturally leads fans and pundits alike to make a series of predictions heading into the postseason.
There are obvious predictions, such as guessing that Sidney Crosby and his Pittsburgh Penguins will make it to the Eastern Conference Final (at least) or that Jonathan Toews will lead the playoffs in scoring.
While those sorts of predictions are fun, in this slide show we're going to try and look outside the box a little bit—these events are things that aren't among the most likely to happen, yet certain circumstances could unfold, giving way to these bold predictions.
Feel free to leave your own bold predictions in the comments section. The conversations about the unknown heading into the postseason are one of the best parts of this time of year, after all.
The New York Islanders are back in the playoffs—something that few saw coming heading into this shortened 2013 season. Yet now that they are in the postseason, one gets the feeling that they didn't just show up with a "happy to be here" mentality.
While teams like the Minnesota Wild, Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers were fighting tooth and nail to get into the postseason up until the final day of the season, the Islanders locked up a spot nearly a week ago.
This isn't a squad that appears to be a flash in the pan. There is enough offensive firepower here with the likes of John Tavares and Matt Moulson to get the job done against almost any team in the Eastern Conference. Even the bottom six has the talent to be effective, led by Casey Cizikas.
Evgeni Nabokov is prone to breakdowns in the playoffs. He's aware of the press surrounding him at this point, and if he can keep his head on straight, the Islanders could continue to surprise.
They'll have to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins first and foremost, but after the unlikely season that the Islanders have had, anything is possible.
Cory Schneider was outstanding throughout all of 2013, cementing management's feelings that he should be the goaltender of the future. Several attempts were made to move Roberto Luongo throughout the season, but a deal was never ironed out.
This is the playoffs now, and while being good in the regular season is outstanding, things are magnified tenfold in the postseason. If Schneider comes out and lays stinkers in the first two games of any series, how long is his leash?
If the Vancouver Canucks take a backseat in any series they play, one has to imagine giving Luongo a shot to shake things up a bit would be one of the first moves the coaching staff would make. It's a luxury to have one of the best goaltenders in the NHL backing up one of the other best goaltenders in the NHL, and the temptation could be to switch gears if things aren't looking good for the Canucks.
No one would be surprised if Schneider took the ball and ran with it, but the recipe for the goaltending controversy-monster in Vancouver to grow yet another head is certainly in place.
The regular season showed us just how much parity there is in the NHL these days. Teams are equal in talent more often than not, and few series are going to end in blowouts of any kind. These squads are just too well-coached, and players are typically even across the board.
We've seen this trend since the salary cap came into play, and while it took some time for its full effects to show, 2013 revealed exactly just how close most of the teams in the NHL are.
With that in mind, would anyone be surprised if at least half of the first and second round collectively went the distance? That's 12 series total, and it wouldn't be alarming at all to see at least six of them pushed to a Game 7.
The 2013 postseason is gearing up to be one of the most exciting in recent memory, and that excitement would only be compounded by a boatload of tightly contested Game 7s.
The Detroit Red Wings didn't resemble a playoff team for much of 2013. Injuries tore through their lineup, forcing them to use bottom-six forwards on the top line and to use stopgaps on the blue line while everyone recovered.
For long stretches, the Wings didn't have their entire projected third line in place, which has since been replaced by the dangerous combination of Joakim Andersson, Damien Brunner and Gustav Nyquist.
The Wings got healthy and got to playing good hockey just in time for the start of the playoffs, and have the tools necessary to pull an L.A. Kings and make a nice run in the playoffs despite the low seed.
Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are up to their usual tricks, motoring the Wings along in a season where many had written them off. Don't sleep on these Wings. Any team that does could quickly find itself on the wrong end of a handshake line.
This prediction goes hand-in-hand with the Game 7s guess.
Teams are just too close, talent-wise. Every team in the playoffs this year has what it takes to beat any other team at least one time. All the series won't necessarily be close, but none of them will be sweeps either.
A sweep requires an outright domination of an opponent for nearly every period over a four-game span. It takes peerless goaltending and for a squad's third and fourth lines to be heads to toes above the other team's bottom lines.
Every team at the bottom of the playoff bracket in both conferences had to fight until the very end to get there. They are already playing playoff hockey and have been since the beginning of April. Take the Minnesota Wild, for instance.
A team that features Zach Parise and Ryan Suter barely coming on as an eighth seed is pretty remarkable when you think about it.
There are no easy outs this year. The road to the Stanley Cup will be long and difficult, littered with potholes and confusing intersections.
Call it a hunch. Goaltenders won't have nearly as much rope to work with as they have in playoff years gone by. The games are going to be too close, and every single team in the postseason has a legitimate chance of making a run to the Stanley Cup Final.
It's just a crazy year where there isn't enough time for things to come back down to earth, so to speak. There are always peaks and valleys, but through an 82-game season, trends always seem to right themselves.
There hasn't been enough time for those adjustments in 2013, and the playoffs will continue to be as wacky as the regular season.
That's why starting netminders who are supported by strong backups could find themselves riding the pine quicker than usual. Both Tuukka Rask and Jonathan Quick have extremely talented backups behind them.
Jonathan Bernier and Anton Khudobin both were outstanding when called upon this season and could see some time if they appear to steady a sinking ship after Rask or Quick gets the hook early in a series.
If the Boston Bruins, for instance, find themselves in a 4-0 hole headed into the second period of the second game, it wouldn't be surprising to see Khudobin in the net for the remainder of the game. Say the Bruins respond and come back in that game while the backup stands on his head and gets the victory.
What happens then?
A scenario like this could unfold early and make things interesting the rest of the way.
Not a particularly gutsy prediction at first glance, considering two of the final four teams from 2012 failed to qualify for the postseason. Both the Phoenix Coyotes and New Jersey Devils won't be part of the playoff picture in 2013, meaning that only the New York Rangers and L.A. Kings remain from that group.
So in essence, this is a prediction that neither of the touted (despite the Rangers' low seed) teams will make it beyond the second round.
The Rangers will have their hands full in the first round against a superpowered Washington Capitals team, and even if they make it beyond Alex Ovechkin and the Caps, that series might be draining enough to cost them in the second round.
New York has had no opportunity to rest anyone, as it needed every point down the stretch to make it into the postseason. Can Henrik Lundqvist keep it together after starting 43 of 48 games?
L.A. could get bounced in the opening round, as it plays a very similarly minded St. Louis Blues team. That's going to be a knockdown, drag-out of a series that isn't going to feature very many goals. It will likely come down to goaltending, and while Brian Elliot only recently found his game, he's been outstanding through the last month of the season.
It won't be easy for the Toronto Maple Leafs to win the first round. The Boston Bruins are an outstanding hockey team that is built for the playoffs.
The B's are a remarkably tough matchup for Toronto. They have forwards who are in place for tough playoff games, the defense is rock solid and Tuukka Rask has been outstanding this year.
Still, with the entire city of Toronto cheering them on with nine years of frustration finally relieved, the Maple Leafs could be a tougher out than a lot of people realize. The motivation will be there for the Leafs to come out flying, and they are going to have one of the loudest buildings in the first round.
The team reminds me a bit of the Edmonton Oilers coming out of the lockout in 2005. The Leafs obviously aren't an eighth seed, but the situations are similar.
The crowd and adrenaline that will be flowing through the veins of this Leafs team should be enough to get them through at least one round.
This isn't a strike against any of the talented teams that managed to win their respective divisions this year. If anything, it's a nod to how strong the bottom three seeds are in each conference.
The New York Islanders, New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators are the three bottom seeds in the Eastern Conference. All three of those teams have what it takes to oust the division leaders at the top of the conference.
Ottawa is finally healthy and is regaining its early-season form now that Erik Karlsson is somehow back from a severed tendon months ahead of schedule. The kids up and down the lineup got plenty of playing time while the likes of Jason Spezza and Karlsson sat out, and the team will be better for it in the long run.
Both the Islanders and Rangers will be tough outs as well. The Islanders will be fired up to be in the postseason, and John Tavares could cement his growing status as one of the NHL's best players. The Rangers play some of the most playoff-esque hockey throughout the regular season and are poised to pull off an upset against the Washington Capitals.
The Minnesota Wild, Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks may form one of the toughest trios of bottom seeds in recent memory.
There isn't an easy game to be had against any of those teams, and all three have stars up and down the lineup.
Would anyone be surprised to see at least three of these teams advance out of the first round?
After the lockout in 2005, the Carolina Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers did battle for the Stanley Cup. The NHL likely hated this matchup, because neither team featured large followings outside of their respective cities in the U.S.
Despite that, the 'Canes and Oilers put on one of the most dramatic and exciting Finals in recent memory. It's still some of the best hockey I've ever personally seen.
While the NHL would love to see the Detroit Red Wings or Chicago Blackhawks play the New York Rangers or Pittsburgh Penguins every single year, 2013 just doesn't seem to be that kind of year. Things have been too weird for the star to align suddenly, pitting two huge teams against one another.
No one would be bummed out by a Penguins-Blackhawks final. That would be some outstanding hockey.
Something like the New York Islanders vs. the St. Louis Blues would just be a fitting end to the season that almost wasn't. That isn't a prediction in and of itself, but you see the point here. It'll be two weird teams playing each other for the cup.
Only true hockey fans will care, and it will be glorious.