Stanley Cup First Round Predictions

MJ LithgowContributor IApril 6, 2008

Another season gone.

This year's Stanley Cup tournament will, in my opinion, be a very open contest. There's a great mix of teams in the playoffs this season.

Perennial contenders the New Jersey Devils and the Detroit Red Wings are back for another run. High scoring teams such as the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ottawa Senators, and Montreal Canadiens are all in it, and tough, grinding teams like the Calgary Flames and Minnesota Wild are also contending.

This year the playoffs will feature Washington Capitals sensation Alexander Ovechkin, who netted goals no less than 65 times in the regular season, and notched 112 points, leading the league in both categories during the season.

Six of the eight matchups are intra-division, and there are five teams contending that were headed for the golf course this time last year, including the Philadelphia Flyers, who finished dead last in the NHL last season.

Normally predictions are hard, but last year, even though I only did unofficial predictions, I did pretty well.

So here it goes:

Eastern conference:

Montreal vs. Boston
Montreal won the season series 8-0. The Canadiens have been solid performers all season long. For what Boston have, they have done pretty well this season. Montreal really shouldn't have much trouble winning this series—they have a great powerplay, good penalty kill, and many avenues to goal. They will win this series in five games.

Pittsburgh vs. Ottawa
A rematch of their first round playoff matchup last season. Don't expect the Senators to walk all over the Penguins this time around. Ottawa was on a roll last year, and Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, and Dany Heatley were hot. The Penguins are a bit better equipped this time—Evgeni Malkin has taken the next step up, and they have the services of quality players Marian Hossa and Petr Sykora. Not to mention Sid the Kid. Pittsburgh will win this series in six games.

Washington vs. Philadelphia
The Capitals are riding on a huge wave of momentum after clinching the Southeast Division title in their final game, going 9-1 in their final ten, but the Flyers finished 7-1-1 in their last nine, so this is a battle of two in-form teams.

Every hockey fan (maybe not Flyers fans) is eager to see what Alex Ovechkin can do on the big stage, in a big game situation. These two teams are very evenly matched, and it's hard to pick a winner—both teams did not feature in the playoffs last year, and have come a long way in recent times. I think the Flyers may take this one in seven games.

Why? Philadelphia's ten-game losing streak happened without Mike Richards, and since he returned, the Flyers have gotten back on track.

New Jersey vs. New York Rangers
Despite the fact New York dominated the season series 7-1, this will be another close series. This is likely to be the lowest scoring series of the playoffs; of all the 16 playoff teams, these two are in the bottom four in terms of goals scored for the season. The Rangers powerplay this season was very low for a team that boasts high-scorers Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan, Scott Gomez, and Chris Drury. If they fire on the powerplay, they will win the series. I think the Rangers might prevail in seven games.

Western Conference:

Detroit vs. Nashville
It is remarkable that the Predators qualified for the playoffs. It wasn't remarkable that the Red Wings did. On paper, Detroit have this series in the bag, but Nashville will just be glad they haven't drawn against San Jose again, who they were ousted by in the first round the last two seasons.

Detroit has scoring depth, a good defense, and two high class goaltenders in Chris Osgood and Dom Hasek. Everyone is expecting Detroit to win this season, and most have them pinned as Cup favorites, and Nashville are just happy to be in the playoffs, so one could argue they will be playing with no pressure because they're not expected to beat Detroit. They may pinch a game from the Red Wings. Detroit will win in five.

San Jose vs. Calgary
This will be the most grinding, physical series. San Jose was the best team in the final quarter of the season, with the arrival of Brian Campbell from Buffalo. Calgary have been ousted from the playoffs in the first round the last two seasons, and will be looking to make amends. The Flames actually won the season series 3-1, and may cause an upset. This series will go down to a battle of two outstanding goaltenders, Evgeni Nabokov and Miikka Kiprusoff, but maybe I'm a little biased as a Flames fan, but I think the Flames might get up in seven games.

Minnesota vs. Colorado
This series doesn't seem to have an x-factor or buzz about it like the other seven, but it should be quite an entertaining contest. The Wild had better powerplay and penalty kill during the season, and the Avs are the only team in the playoffs that had a sub .500 record on the road, and with Minnesota having home ice advantage, that should be enough for them to take the series in six games.

Anaheim vs. Dallas
After a hot streak in February which took the Stars to the top of the Pacific division, they have struggled. The Ducks, on the other hand have been relatively consistent in their title-defense season. The Stars scored 37 more goals than the Ducks, and only Columbus scored fewer goals than Anaheim in the Western Conference this season, so that may be a problem for them, especially if Marty Turco is on his game.

Champions respond though, and they know what it's like going all the way, and they can do it again. I see the Ducks winning in six games.