A few months ago, none of us hockey fans knew what we would be doing at this point in time. Even though springtime always means playoff time, many of us were predicting that we would be doing absolutely nothing; sulking around in the sadness of another lockout or (shudder) watching the NBA.
Now, however, we are still making predictions about what will happen in May or June, but these predictions are much more exciting than the ones we made months ago.
It's that time again: the NHL playoffs are back.
One of the reasons hockey's playoffs reign above all other sports is the unpredictability. Looking at some of these series, it seems as if it would be easier to flip a coin than try to make detailed explanations about who you think is going to win.
Look what happened last year: a six-seed against an eight-seed in the Final? With the eight-seed winning? You can't write this stuff.
Anyways, the tradition continues. Many writers and analysts, including myself, will once again try (and likely fail miserably) to predict how the next two months will play out.
(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (8) New York Islanders
Pittsburgh is the top seed and the heavy favorite to win the East, but they have a tough foe off the bat in the New York Islanders. The Penguins have also struggled mightily in the playoffs the past several years, as their defense and goaltending has crumbled under pressure.
Speaking of pressure, the Islanders aren't under any pressure, as the squad led by possible MVP candidate John Tavares has nothing to lose. The Pens, on the other hand, will be under immense scrutiny if they fail again.
The Islanders put up one heck of a fight, but Pittsburgh's experience and star power puts them over the edge. Pittsburgh in six.
(2) Montreal Canadiens vs. (7) Ottawa Senators
A good matchup between two Canadian rivals. Montreal was one of this year's best stories, shooting all the way up to second in the East after finishing dead last in 2012.
Ottawa, on the other hand, just continues to impress, making it to the playoffs again despite major injury issues. Both teams have cooled off as of late, but this will still be an intense series.
This series comes down to goaltending. Carey Price has been cold lately while Craig Anderson is finally back for Ottawa...as is top-tier defenseman Erik Karlsson.
The team that pushed the Rangers to the brink in 2012 finishes the job in 2013 against Montreal, creating the upset. Ottawa in seven.
(3) Washington Capitals vs. (6) New York Rangers
Just when you think you're sick of these two playing each other, here they are again for the fourth time in five years. At this point, however, it doesn't matter. This could arguably be the best series in the entire 2013 playoffs.
Alex Ovechkin is on a tear for the Caps, but the Rangers have been making their own case at redemption after a subpar start. This series is extremely unpredictable as both teams have been red hot and each could make a definite case for the Prince of Wales Trophy two series later.
Despite the Rangers' late-season revival, Washington will overpower Henrik Lundqvist with offense and Adam Oates will coach his team past the Rangers. Washington in seven.
(4) Boston Bruins vs. (5) Toronto Maple Leafs
After nine long years, the Maple Leafs are back in the playoffs. They also get a favorable opponent, as the Bruins have won just two of their past nine games and have struggled as of late. Toronto hasn't been overwhelming by any means, but could definitely put up quite a fight.
It's tough to see the Bruins losing a series against the Leafs, but then again, it's tough to see them winning anything if you've watched them the past few weeks. James Reimer puts on a show and the Leafs pull off the upset. Toronto in six.
(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (8) Minnesota Wild
In probably one of the biggest mismatches we've seen in playoff history, the top team in the NHL takes on the ice-cold Minnesota Wild. If Minnesota steps up its game and plays the best hockey it has this season, the Wild may have a shot to take a few games if the Hawks don't take them seriously.
On the other hand, Chicago is just too good and Minnesota isn't good enough to pull off a monumental upset...or even come close to doing so. Chicago in four.
(2) Anaheim Ducks vs. (7) Detroit Red Wings
This series happened 10 years ago as the 2-7 series, except Detroit was second and Anaheim was seventh. Current Detroit head coach Mike Babcock also coached those Ducks, who were known as the Mighty Ducks at the time, to a shocking sweep of the defending Stanley Cup Champions.
Now, these two longtime rivals meet one last time in the Western Conference Playoffs before Detroit moves East, with Anaheim being the favorite for the first time. The Ducks were a great story, riding a scorching start to a Pacific Division title after being the consensus pick to finish last.
Anaheim has been consistently good the whole year, but has overachieved without a doubt. And let's face it, Detroit just played four playoff games...and won all of them. This series will be very close, but the Wings continue their momentum and pull off the upset. Detroit in six.
(3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (6) San Jose Sharks
Like Washington-New York, this has the potential to be the best series in the entire playoffs. Both teams are unpredictable; San Jose is basically unstoppable at home and mediocre on the road while Vancouver has also had its ups and downs.
The Canucks are technically the favorite, but San Jose won all three meetings and finished only two points behind Vancouver in the standings. It appears as if Cory Schneider will return to start the series for the Canucks, which should be a huge boost to the team.
However, if San Jose can steal one of the first two games in Vancouver, they should be able to feed off of the HP Pavilion crowd and knock off the Canucks. San Jose in six.
(4) St. Louis Blues vs. (5) Los Angeles Kings
In another coin-toss matchup, the Kings meet the Blues in a rematch of last year's second round series. In that series, the eighth-seeded Kings shocked the second-seeded Blues with a sweep en route to a Stanley Cup title.
This year, St. Louis is one of the hottest teams going into the playoffs and is hungry for revenge. Despite being the underdogs due to finishing with one less point, the Kings are the popular pick for this series because of what they did last year.
They have also been terrific at home, but pretty bad on the road unlike last year's playoffs. These teams will split the first four games as well as the fifth and sixth games, but St. Louis rides home ice to victory in the end. St. Louis in seven.
(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (7) Ottawa Senators
The Senators meet a tougher team in the second round, as Pittsburgh tries to advance to the Conference Final for the first time since 2009. The Penguins have a little more trouble than expected, as Craig Anderson performs well against their high-powered offense.
However, Ottawa's mediocre offense has a little bit of trouble getting the job done even against Pittsburgh's shaky defense, and the Penguins are able to score enough goals to get by. Pittsburgh in five.
(3) Washington Capitals vs. (5) Toronto Maple Leafs
After dispatching the Bruins in the first round, Toronto meets up with the hottest team in the league. The Leafs are able to put a few goals by Braden Holtby, but Washington's offensive attack is way too much for James Reimer to put up with.
The Caps pop the Leafs and end their first trip back to the playoffs. Washington in five.
(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (7) Detroit Red Wings
These classic rivals meet one last time as Western Conference opponents in an epic second-round clash. Chicago has won the past seven meetings between the two, but three of this year's four contests were extremely close as one went to overtime and two went to shootouts.
Detroit finds a way to get over the hump for a game or two, but Corey Crawford continues his dominance of the Wings and sends Chicago to the Western Conference Final. Chicago in six.
(4) St. Louis Blues vs. (6) San Jose Sharks
This series should be a little closer than last year's first-round contest that saw the Blues drub San Jose in five games. Both teams have been a little streaky throughout the year, but are both coming off of good first-round series.
St. Louis grabs the first two games at home, but the Sharks tie it up by winning both games on their ice. The Sharks then go into St. Louis and take a surprising 3-2 series lead, but the Blues return the favor and send the series back to Scottrade Center for a Game Seven.
St. Louis uses home ice to its advantage again, and the Blues go to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2001.
(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (3) Washington Capitals
Pittsburgh has dominated Washington in the playoffs over the past couple decades, and the Caps have been consistent underachievers in the playoffs despite having some very promising teams in recent years. This will without a doubt be a high-scoring series as arguably the top two offenses in hockey face off against one another.
Unfortunately for the Penguins, this has been the kind of series they have not succeeded in. Then again, they've shown that they know how to beat Washington.
The teams split the first four games, each team going 1-1 on home ice. However, the Capitals come into Pittsburgh and shock the Penguins in Game 5, and then return home to finish the job.
Alexander Ovechkin continues his torrid scoring pace, and the Caps erase their label as playoff chokers, pulling off a big upset and making it to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1998.
Washington in six.
(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (4) St. Louis Blues
Again, rivalry renewed.
The Blues would love absolutely nothing more than to spoil Chicago's Stanley Cup hopes, and they'll play their hearts out in this series. Brian Elliott is able to stifle Chicago's offense and steal a few games for St. Louis.
After losing the first game on home ice, the Blackhawks offense comes up huge in the second game. The Hawks then take both games in St. Louis, with the Stanley Cup Final in sight. The Blues, however, have different plans, crashing the party in Chicago and forcing a sixth game.
Determined not to lose all three home games in the series, the Blues deliver a masterful performance at Scottrade and force this series to a seventh game in the Windy City.
Unfortunately for the Blues, their comeback efforts are thwarted by the Blackhawks in Game 7, and Chicago heads the Final eager to capture its second Stanley Cup in four years.
Chicago in seven.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Washington Capitals
Both teams came into the playoffs scorching hot, and they both continued to play well throughout the first three rounds. While goalies Corey Crawford and Braden Holtby are similar in terms of talent, both teams are structured differently.
Chicago can score at will, but also uses its much-improved defense to control the game on both ends, while Washington overwhelms its opponents with offense.
The Caps manage to take the second game in Chicago, but the Blackhawks get the series lead back after winning Game 3 in the nation's capital. Washington uses home ice to its advantage in Game 4, but the Blackhawks end up winning the next two games to take home the Stanley Cup in six games.
Stanley Cup Champion: Chicago Blackhawks in six games