The regular season is complete, and that means it's time for another epic quest for the Stanley Cup. Will the Los Angeles Kings pull through with another dominant run, or will this year's championship go to an unexpected team like the Toronto Maple Leafs or New York Islanders?
As always, anything can happen as we find out who has what it takes. That said, the following are my 20 predictions for the 2013 NHL playoffs.
If my prediction comes true and New York manages to win one game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, many would view that as a great accomplishment for the Islanders.
The inexperienced Islanders are simply no match for the Penguins and the excess of talent they possess.
The Ottawa Senators have battled through a great deal this year with the losses of key players in Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and Craig Anderson.
With Anderson (who posted the best 20-plus game regular-season save percentage since the stat has been recorded) and Karlsson (last year's Norris Trophy winner and arguably the best defender in the game) back in the lineup, it's hard to view the Senators as the underdog in this series.
Montreal, who struggled toward the end of the season, will have their hands full this time.
Starting the season, the New York Rangers were the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. Not anymore.
Not only did the Rangers barely make the postseason, but they are now against one of the hottest teams over the past few weeks.
With Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green, Niklas Backstrom and Brayden Holtby all stepping up, the Capitals will be near impossible to contain for the disappointing Rangers.
It's finally happened! The Toronto Maple Leafs have made the playoffs after seven consecutive seasons (eight years) of falling short.
They still have a ways to go, however, and they have a wall of Bruins standing in their way. The question is, can they get over it?
I think this wall may be a bit high for the inexperienced Maple Leafs.
The Los Angeles Kings are among the best in the league in just about every category, with the ability to win a game with offense, defense, goaltending or physicality.
Some may argue that if they really are this good, they would have finished higher. There's no better rebuttal than simply pointing out what the Kings did last season.
The St. Louis Blues are talented as well, but they will be out-dueled by the Kings.
Most wouldn't call this a bold prediction, with the Toronto Maple Leafs taking the most penalties in the league and the Boston Bruins finishing 10th.
But nonetheless, this will be one physical clash, which should make for an exciting series and a few highlight reel plays.
The Vancouver Canucks have a history of losing key players in the playoffs. There's a good possibility of the trend continuing when they face the big, punishing San Jose Sharks in the first round.
Despite toppling the New York Islanders in just five games, Jarome Iginla will lead all players in points after the first round of play.
At the end of the playoffs, Jonathan Quick will lead goaltenders in save percentage, but he will not finish the playoffs.
Despite a second-round elimination, Quick will be the a star this year, as he was during last year's Cup run. Failure to perform on other levels will lead to Los Angeles' demise.
Alex Ovechkin really heated up toward the end of the season, as he passed Steven Stamkos to win the Richard Trophy. He'll keep that pace to propel the Washington Capitals to the Eastern Conference finals, where Ovi will face a familiar rival.
The Chicago Blackhawks will take the shortest route to the conference finals, doing so in just 10 games, as they easily defeat the Minnesota Wild and Detroit Red Wings.
The Washington Capitals will take the longest route, as they take 14 games to get through the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins.
There's no arguing how stacked the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup is, with or without Sidney Crosby. Once Crosby returns, the Pens will be too much for any teams in the East.
The Vancouver Canucks, despite struggling with injuries, will prevail to defeat the dominant Blackhawks in the Western Conference finals.
It won't be easy, however, as the series will go the distance.
When the season started, I predicted the Pittsburgh Penguins to win the Stanley Cup. They have since added Jarome Iginla, Jussi Jokinen, Douglas Murray and Brenden Morrow.
This team is as unstoppable as any we've seen in recent memory, and as much as I'd love to see the Canucks bring the Cup to Vancouver, they're no match for Pittsburgh.
Sidney Crosby may start the playoffs a tad late, but that's a small step for the best player in the world to overcome. After all, he did finish tied for third in the regular season despite missing the final quarter of the season.
He'll lead the team to the Cup and will score a ton of points while doing so.
One of the league's most offensive defenders on arguably the league's best team. If Pittsburgh goes all the way, it's hard to imagine anyone other than Kris Letang leading in this category.
If there's one thing we learned the past month in Sidney Crosby's absence, it's that the Penguins are just fine without him (not to take anything away from Crosby).
Because of this, the MVP will be awarded not to the winning team's highest point scorer, but the new leader who motivated everyone to get the job done.
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