Sunday afternoon, the NHL's playoff picture finally achieved clarity. With two exciting overtime finishes and a winner-take-all shootout, the seeds are set and the matchups are known.
So who wins it all?
The numbers don't lie: This could be an exhausting playoffs. Five playoff virgins will be between the pipes in the Western Conference, and a sixth hasn't played in the second season in four years.
Meanwhile, the East will have some teams that have historically hated each other doing battle for the chance to raise the Cup. For Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, they don't want to let go of it.
But to get to the Cup, these teams will first have to advance past the first round. Is there a Cinderella eight seed that could sneak up on a No. 1? Is there a darkhorse that might shock the world?
Let's look at the matchups and make some predictions.
1. Washington Capitals
(54-15-13, 121 points Southeast Division champion)
8. Montreal Canadians
(39-33-10, 88 points, fourth place in the Northeast Division)
Nov. 20 @ WAS - MON 3-2
Nov. 28 @ MON - WAS 4-3 SO
Jan. 5@ WAS - WAS 4-2
Feb. 10 @ MON - MON 6-5 OT
Game One: Thurs. 7:00 pm EST
This series puts the highest scoring team in the league, Washington (3.83 g/gm) up against a Montreal team that allowed just 2.66 per game. Obviously Montreal did something right during the regular season if they split the season series.
The problem for Montreal is that it produced only 2.56 goals per game this year. Even if Jaroslav Halak and/or Carey Price stands on his head for a week, it won't matter against the potent Caps if the Habs can't get the puck in the net.
Prediction: Washington in five
1. San Jose Sharks
(51-20-11, 113 points, Pacific Division champion)
8. Colorado Avalanche
(43-30-9, 95 points, second in Northwest Division)
Oct 1 @ COL - COL 5-2
Oct 31 @ SJ - SJ 3-1
March 28 @ SJ - SJ 4-3
Apr 4 @ COL - COL 5-4 OT
Game One: Wed. 10:30 pm EST
This series could get interesting quickly. Colorado has a big question mark surrounding Pete Mueller after he suffered a concussion late in the Avs win on April 4 between these two teams, and now rookie sensation Matt Duchene left Friday night's game against Chicago with a torso injury. Injuries could be a concern for the Avalanche.
For the Sharks, though, the concerns are largely between their ears. Evgeni Nabokov is only 9-7-1 with a 3.04 goals against average and just a .900 save percentage since the Olympics, in which he wasn't very good, either. Against the Avs this year, Nabokov has a poor .871 save percentage and has allowed 3.62 goals per game with a 1-1-1 record.
Colorado's Craig Anderson has had his own issues between the pipes, however, and the young Avalanche will struggle to overcome their health issues. San Jose's veterans might have failed in the first round in the past, but this year they advance.
Prediction: Sharks in six
2. New Jersey Devils
(48-27-3, 103 points, Atlantic Division champion)
7. Philadelphia Flyers
(41-35-6, 88 points, third in Atlantic Division)
Oct. 3 @ NJ - PHI 5-2
Nov. 16 @ PHI - PHI 3-2
Dec. 12 @ NJ - NJ 4-1
Feb. 8 @ PHI - PHI 3-2
Feb. 10 @ NJ - PHI 3-2 OT
March 28 @ PHI - PHI 5-1
Game One: Wed. 7:30 pm EST
Looking back over this season, someone in the Devils organization watched the shootout between the Rangers and Flyers hoping New York would find a way. After all, if anyone had Martin Brodeur's number this season (other than the United States), it was Philly.
Arguably the best netminder in history struggled to post a 1-4-1 record against his division rivals from Philly this year with a pedestrian .878 save percentage and a mediocre 3.34 goals against average. Brodeur had problems against the Flyers.
The other side of the coin is that the Devils, unlike the Flyers, knew they were into the dance well before Sunday. Despite his struggles against the Flyers, New Jersey ended the year with the league's best goals against average of just 2.28.
Oh, and which of the 25 goalies the Flyers have used this year is healthy enough to start the playoffs? Anyone? Bueller?
This could turn into a bloody, epic first round battle between hated division foes.
Prediction: Philadelphia in seven
2. Chicago Blackhawks
(52-22-8, 112 points, Central Division champions)
7. Nashville Predators
(47-29-6 , 100 points , third in Central Division)
Oct. 15 @ NSH - CHI 3-1
Oct. 24 @ CHI - CHI 2-0
Oct. 29 @ NSH - NSH 2-0
Dec. 4 @ CHI - NSH 4-1
Dec. 26 @ NSH - CHI 4-1
Dec. 27 @ CHI - CHI 5-4
Game One: Fri. 8:30 pm EST
This series will be interesting for a number of reasons. While Detroit was dealing with their injuries in the first few months of the season, Nashville was really the only team that challenged the Blackhawks in the Central Division. Looking back at the season series, it appears that the Hawks 4-2 record over the Preds gives them a decided advantage.
Here's where the intrigue begins. Chicago and Nashville haven't played since the 2009 calendar year, when Cristobal Huet was still sniffing the ice. Huet played perhaps his best hockey against the Preds this year, going 3-2-0 with a sparkling .940 save percentage and 1.41 goals against average.
Huet won't see the ice unless rookie Antti Niemi gets hurt, or the Preds are blowing the Hawks off the ice.
Nashville struggled to the end of the season, going 6-3-1 in their last ten and falling from fourth in the West to seventh in fairly quick fashion. Like the Blackhawks, they decided on a top netminder later in the season than when they faced Chicago last (Pekka Rinne is the man for the Preds now), so this matchup of familiar foes could deviate from their season performances.
That being said, Chicago has too much power all over their roster to lose this series. The Hawks won six straight before losing their finale to Detroit on Sunday, and should roll the Preds.
Prediction: Blackhawks in five
3. Buffalo Sabres
(45-27-10, 100 points, Northeast Division champions)
6. Boston Bruins
(39-30-13, 91 points, third in Northeast Division)
Nov. 7 @ BOS - BOS 4-2
Nov. 20 @ BUF - BOS 2-1 OT
Jan. 29 @ BUF - BUF 2-1
Feb. 9 @ BUF - BOS 3-2 SO
March 29 @ BOS - BUF 3-2
Apr. 8 @ BOS - BOS 3-1
Game One: Thurs. 7:00 pm EST
Despite being just 2-0-2 against the Bruins this season, Ryan Miller has been exceptional against Boston. He's allowed just 1.71 goals per game with a .947 save percentage on the season, and has really only lost when his offense has let him down.
On the other side of the ice, the Bruins will either place their playoff fate in the hands of rookie Tukka Rask or reigning Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas. The complete opposite of Buffalo's situation will likely hold true for Boston: if their offense can (somehow) get to Miller, will their goalies be able to make a lead stand up?
If the Olympics are any indication, late April might be Miller TIme.
Prediction: Sabres in five
3. Vancouver Canucks
(29-28-5, 103 points, Northwest Division champions)
6. Los Angeles Kings
(46-27-9 , 101 points, third in Pacific Division)
Oct. 29 @ LA - VAN 2-1 SO
Nov. 26 @ VAN - VAN 4-1
Dec. 14 @ VAN - VAN 3-1
Apr. 1 @ LA - LA 8-3
Game One: Thurs. 10:00 pm EST
From the looks of the regular season results, if the Kings score a second goal all bets are off!
The Canucks will celebrate Henrik Sedin leading the league with 112 points and ride Olympic hero Roberto Luongo into a series against someone other than Detroit...something they're probably more thankful for than Sedin's great numbers or Luongo's success in February.
Los Angeles has had an identity crisis in net, where Jonathan Quick struggled down the stretch. If this series turns into a shootout, the Kings might be in trouble. If Luongo gets hot and the Kings can't score more than once per night, their trip to the second season will be a short one.
Prediction: Canucks in five
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
(47-28-7, 101 points, second in Atlantic Division)
5. Ottawa Senators
(44-32-6, 94 points, second in Northeast Division)
Oct. 12 @ OTT - PIT 4-1
Nov. 19 @ OTT - OTT 6-2
Dec. 23 @ PIT - PIT 8-2
Jan. 28 @ PIT - OTT 4-1
Game One: Wed, 7:00 pm EST
OK, so Sidney Crosby was the third player, behind Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos, to score 50 goals this season.
Which of the three has a ring?
Ottawa comes in with the best final ten games of the regular season (7-2-1) in the Eastern Conference, but their 16th-ranked offense won't be enough against the defending champions.
Prediction: Penguins in four
4. Phoenix Coyotes
(50-25-7, 107 points, second in Pacific Division)
5. Detroit Red Wings
(44-24-14 , 102 points, second in Central Division)
Oct. 24 @ PHO - PHO 3-2 OT
Dec. 14 @ DET - DET 3-2
Jan. 2 @ PHO - DET 4-1
Jan. 26 @ DET - PHO 5-4 OT
Game One: Wed. 10:00 pm EST
Since the Olympics, Phoenix netminder Ilya Bryzgalov has been incredible. He's 10-3-2 with a .923 save percentage and a 2.25 goals against average; Only five goalies that started at least 10 games after the break have a better goals against than Bryzgalov.
One of those five is Calder Trophy candidate (favorite?) Jimmy Howard in Detroit, who is 16-2-2 with a 2.22 goals against average and a .916 save percentage since the Olympics.
Since they got healthy in January, Detroit has been a wrecking ball ascending the Western Conference standings. The way their veterans are scoring in front of an incredible Howard, Phoenix absolutely lost the postseason lotto when the Wings beat Chicago on Sunday.
If this series becomes a defensive one, though, Bryzgalov is playing well enough that he could steal a series.
Prediction: Detroit in six