After a long, but spectacular NHL season, the moment that many have been waiting for is finally here; playoff time.
There were so many great story lines throughout the regular season, and that should bode well come playoff time. Last year's finalists, Detroit and Pittsburgh, are both poised to make runs, but young teams at the top like Chicago and Washington will be tough to beat.
Who will be raising Lord Stanley's Cup when all is said and done?
Here are my picks for the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs:
No 1. Washington Capitals vs. No 8. Montreal Canadiens
The Habs have been playing better as of late, but still don't have the guns to match up with the Capitals. The Caps have been on cruise control for a while now, so it'll be interesting to see how quickly they can turn it on. Montreal is a tough place to play, but the Caps are just too good.
Capitals in five
No 2. New Jersey Devils. vs. No 7. Philadelphia Flyers
I was ready to pick the Devils to get to the finals until they drew the Flyers. Of all the playoff teams in the East, the Flyers are the only one that the Devils have a losing record against. The Flyers are a deep and talented squad, and if Goalie Brian Boucher can step it up, they should take this series.
Flyers in seven
No 3. Buffalo Sabres vs. No 6. Boston Bruins
The Bruins have been playing some of their best hockey heading into the playoffs and will be a tough matchup to go against. These familiar foes will both rely on their goaltending. Can Tuukka Rask match Ryan Miller? There will be a lot of low scoring, hard-nosed games in this one. In the end Buffalo will find a way to win.
Sabres in six
No 4. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No 5. Ottawa Senators
While the Penguins' poor play has lead to their fall to the #4 spot, this team is built for late season success. Ottawa was dealt a big blow when they lost Alex Kovalev to an ACL tear. Sid' and Co. will get it together, and barring some shaky play by Marc-Andre Fleury should win this series easily.
Penguins in five
No 1. San Jose Sharks vs. No 8. Colorado Avalanche.
Breathe easy Sharks fans (for now). The Sharks are not going to be one and done this year. While the young, resurgent, Avalanche team is a nice surprise in cracking the top eight, their inexperience and lack of depth will hurt them. The Sharks are focused, and Dany Heatley will be a huge difference this time around.
Sharks in four
No 2. Chicago Blackhawks vs. No 7. Nashville Predators
The Blackhawks failed to clinch the top seed when they lost on the last day of the season and will take on a tough Nashville squad. Nashville is deep along the blue line, but lacks the scoring to stay with Chicago. The biggest question mark for the 'Hawks is if they can find some consistent goalie play.
Blackhawks in six
No 3. Vancouver Canucks vs. No 6. Los Angeles Kings.
Vancouver has flown under the radar this season, but could be the dark horse here. The Sedin brothers are both having tremendous years, and the Canucks are deep. Certainly, Roberto Luongo can carry a team on his back. The Kings are a young, hungry team, but need another year under their belt.
Canucks in five
No 4. Phoenix Coyotes vs. No 5. Detroit Red Wings
Every Coyotes fan must have been rooting for the Blackhawks to beat the Red Wings, but the Coyotes are the lucky ones, drawing the red-hot Wings in the first round. This Phoenix team thrives on its team defense, and Ilya Bryzgalov has been tremendous. Detroit has played its best hockey of late, and if rookie Jimmy Howard can come up big, this is a VERY dangerous Red Wings team.
Red Wings in seven
No 1. Washington Capitals vs. No 7. Philadelphia Flyers
Offense, offense, and more offense in this one. Both teams will try to push the puck, but no one can score goals in bunches better than the Capitals. The deciding factor in this one will be which team gets better goalie play. In the end the Capitals will be too much.
Capitals in six
No 3. Buffalo Sabres vs. No 4. Pittsburgh Penguins
This would certainly be an intriguing match-up between teams with contrasting styles. While the Penguins have the talent and the playoff experience, something has been off with them. The Sabres have welcomed back Thomas Vanek from injury, which is a big plus for them, and Ryan Miller is just simply a far superior goalie to Marc-Andre Fleury.
Sabres in 6
No 1. San Jose Sharks vs. No 5. Detroit Red Wings
Sorry Sharks fans, it ends here. This is a Detroit team that simply knows how to get it done in the playoffs. If there was any series that really could go either way I think it's this one. While the Sharks have arguably the best line in hockey, Evgeni Nabakov has been less than stellar, and Detroit will just find a way to scratch and claw their way to a victory.
Red Wings in seven
No 2. Chicago Blackhawks vs. No 3. Vancouver Canucks
Last year the Blackhawks won this series, but their goaltending situation worries me. Both teams can score, but while Chicago has a better defense, it's Luongo who will be the difference. When it comes down to it, these are two very good, evenly matched teams, but I think Bobby Lu will be the difference in a great series.
Canucks in six
No 1. Washington Capitals. vs. No 3. Buffalo Sabres
Talk about a stark difference in styles here. Buffalo will rely heavily on Ryan Miller to keep things close. I really want to go with the Sabres, but the Capitals have just done such a good job of using their offense as a great defense, simply by controlling the puck and keeping it in the offensive zone. I would usually go with the team with the better goalie, but Washington just seems to always find a way.
Capitals in six
No 3. Vancouver Canucks vs. No 5. Detroit Red Wings
No San Jose or Chicago? I must certainly be crazy. I just like the balance that Vancouver has and the playoff moxie that Detroit carries. It will be a lot to put on a rookie goaltender to win a conference final. With guys like Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows and Christian Erhoff, Vancouver will outlast the Wings.
Canucks in seven
Stanley Cup Finals
No 1. Washington Capitals vs. No 3. Vancouver Canucks
What a tremendous series this would be! While many may argue Vancouver's place in this final, Washington certainly belongs here. The Capitals will just try to rush the puck and pepper Luongo. Vancouver's top line will be able to find success against the Washington defense, and this could be a very high scoring series. In the end, I think the Capitals will buck my trend of good goaltending being the difference, and light the lamp frequently en route to a Stanley Cup victory.
Capitals in six