2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs: J.R. Liput's Predictions
As I cram to make my predictions for the 2010 NHL Playoffs, I'm reminded of one thing: They're unpredictable.
With the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the past no longer matters. Regular season slates are wiped clean as the 16 teams prepare for the whole new season that is the NHL playoffs. Any team that enters has the potential to get hot and make a run.
With that in mind, here are my predictions for the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
No. 1 Washington Capitals vs. No. 8 Montreal Canadiens
Oh the poor, poor Canadiens.
The Capitals have been itching to get back into the playoffs ever since their embarrassing performance in game seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinals last year against Pittsburgh.
Unfortunately for Montreal, they are in position to take the brunt of this pent-up angst. The Canadiens don't have near the fire-power to keep up with the Washington onslaught.
Prediction: Washington in four.
No. 2 New Jersey Devils vs. No. 7 Philadelphia Flyers
While the Flyers are undoubtedly the underdog in this series, they come in with confidence knowing they have dominated the regular season series with a 5-1 record.
That being said, Philadelphia has been banged up down the stretch and no one knows what to expect out of Brian Boucher.
When the Devils acquired Ilya Kovalchuk, they sent a message to the rest of the Eastern Conference that they are gearing for a run to the Stanley Cup.
And they just might be ready for one.
Prediction: The Flyers don't make it out of the first round for a second straight year. New Jersey in seven.
No. 3 Buffalo Sabres vs. No. 6 Boston Bruins
This series is destined to be a battle between goaltenders.
Tuuka Rask and Ryan Miller have been two of the best goalies throughout the regular season, ranking one and two respectively in goals against average and save percentage.
Boston comes in having won their final three games, but with no Marc Savard in the lineup, the Bruins don't have the offensive capabilities to beat Ryan Miller and the Sabres four out of seven games.
Prediction: Buffalo in six.
No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 5 Ottawa Senators
The Penguins enter the 2010 playoff season looking to defend their title from last year. For the third time in four years, their first test will be against the Ottawa Senators.
Both teams come in facing injury problems.
Ottawa will be without winger Alexei Kovalev for the rest of the year after he fell victim to a torn knee ligament. They'll also be without the services of blue-liner Filip Kuba, who recently underwent back surgery.
The Penguins may have to start the series without wingers Chris Kuntiz and Matt Cooke, who are both questionable for Wednesday's opening matchup.
The difference again is goaltending.
Ottawa's Brian Elliott has no playoff experience, while Marc-Andre Fleury has proven the ability to raise his game in crucial situations.
If Pittsburgh's offense starts clicking early, this could be a quick series.
Prediction: Pittsburgh in five.
Western Conference Quarterfinals
No. 1 San Jose Sharks vs. No. 8 Colorado Avalanche
It goes without saying that all the pressure is on San Jose in this series.
After going out and making the big offseason move to acquire Dany Heatley, a round one exit after finishing first in the West again would send the franchise into a frenzy.
The brunt of the pressure falls on the shoulders of two guys: Joe Thornton and Evgeni Nabokov. Both Thornton and Nabokov have proven to be excellent players in the regular season, but both have shown the tendency to disappoint in the playoffs.
Colorado comes in with no pressure and nothing to lose. If they can go up early in the series and put even more pressure on the Sharks, they could potentially pull an upset.
But I don't think they will.
Prediction: San Jose in five.
No. 2 Chicago Blackhawks vs. No. 7 Nashville Predators
The Predators seem to be the team no one is talking about. Nashville silently enters the 2010 playoffs after an impressive 100-point regular season.
Unfortunately for them, their first round opponent is the Chicago Blackhawks.
Chicago has been one of the most consistent teams all season, being atop the Western Conference with the Sharks for the majority of the year. After losing at the hands of Detroit in the Western Conference Finals last year, the Blackhawks look poised to make a Stanley Cup Run.
As one player put it in ESPN's player survey, "They remind me of Pittsburgh from last year."
Prediction: Chicago in four.
No. 3 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 6 Los Angeles Kings
This series will be the hardest fought of any in the first round as both teams are very evenly matched.
The Kings, who make their first playoff appearance since 2002, are loaded with young talent.
Anze Kopitar, who is just 22-years-old, is one of the most underrated players we have in the game today, while Drew Doughty has quickly developed into an All-Star-caliber defenseman at the age of 20.
The Canucks, on the other hand, sport the NHL's best line. Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, and Alex Burrows have worked like a well-oiled machine when they've had the chance to play together this season.
Both teams are evenly matched on special teams and both teams have questions at goalie (as Luongo has yet to prove himself capable of winning in the playoffs).
This series will be so close that home-ice will be the determining factor.
Prediction: Vancouver in seven.
No. 4 Phoenix Coyotes vs. No. 5 Detroit Red Wings
Does anyone else feel bad for the Phoenix Coyotes?
After such a surprising regular season in which the Coyotes asserted themselves as one of the best teams in the West, they get rewarded by playing the Red Wings in the first round.
Detroit got healthy after the Olympic break. As a result, they've been one of the hottest teams in the league coming down the stretch.
No one wants to see Detroit right now. Phoenix just happens to be the unlucky team that drew them in the first round.
Prediction: Detroit in six.
Eastern Conference Semifinals
No. 1 Washington Capitals vs. No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins
The matchup that everyone wants to see comes a round too early yet again this year.
There's not much to say that hasn't already been said about the Capitals-Penguins rivalry. Their series last year was one for the ages and this year's will only get better.
Just like last year, the Crosby-Ovechkin show will be on full display.
The difference maker this year will be the absence of Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill, who had the responsibility of matching up against Ovechkin in last year's series.
If Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik are up to the challenge of containing Ovechkin's line, then Pittsburgh could take the series.
However, the Capitals are looking to avenge their disappointing loss to the Pens from last year and will play with the utmost intensity. I don't think Pittsburgh has the defensive capabilities to stop the Caps this year.
Prediction: Washington in seven.
No. 2 New Jersey Devils vs. No. 3 Buffalo Sabres
Another battle of two great goalies: Martin Brodeur versus Ryan Miller.
New Jersey has always been a sound defensive team, but the acquisition of Kovalchuk to go along with Zach Parise has turned them into a team that can score as well.
However, at the age of 37, Brodeur has played more games than any other goalie in the league this season (77) and could get fatigued down the stretch.
The Sabres' Miller has been the NHL's best goalie all season long. The Sabres are not as talented as the Devils, but a goalie as good as Miller has the ability to steal a series even when his team's talent level is inferior to their opponent's.
And I think Miller will.
Prediction: Buffalo in six.
Western Conference Semifinals
No. 1 San Jose Sharks vs. No. 5 Detroit Red Wings
The Sharks finally got the monkey off their back and made it past the first round. It's at this point when they can start to relax and play to their full potential.
The Red Wings, on the other hand, come in knowing how to win in the playoffs. Other than goalie Jimmy Howard, they are the most experienced team in the tournament.
That being said, it's no accident that the Sharks won the Western Conference this year. They are stacked with talent at all positions. Once they get past that pesky first round, the sky is the limit for them.
Picking the Red Wings to go far seems to be a popular trend this year, and for good reason. But I think the road to a third straight finals appearance ends here.
Prediction: San Jose in seven.
No. 2 Chicago Blackhawks vs. No. 3 Vancouver Canucks
These two teams met in the same round of last year's playoffs. Chicago came in as the lower seed and was full of playoff first-timers, yet still won the series in six games.
This year, the Blackhawks enter the series with home-ice advantage, playoff experience, and with a roster that now features Marian Hossa.
That's not to say that all judgments should be made off of what happened last year.
The Canucks have certainly improved as well.
The Sedin twins are playing as well as any two players in the league entering the playoffs and the addition of Mikael Samuelsson often gets overlooked, but he is a 30-goal scorer this year.
That being said, Chicago is the better team, and this year's series will have the same result as last year's.
Prediction: Chicago in six.
Eastern Conference Finals
No. 1 Washington Capitals vs. No. 3 Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres will ride on the back of Ryan Miller to get to this point, but it will be tough for that trend to continue against the high-powered Washington Capitals.
While not enough can be said about a guy like Tyler Myers, the Sabres defense will struggle to hold strong against the Caps.
Buffalo will succeed in the playoffs against defensive-minded teams such as Boston or New Jersey, but could have trouble when they run into a team with an explosive offense such as Washington.
The Sabres have far exceeded anyone's expectations this year. Making it to the Eastern Conference Finals would be a feat in itself for them, but that's as far as they can go.
Prediction: Washington in five.
Western Conference Finals
No. 1 San Jose Sharks vs. No. 2 Chicago Blackhawks
The Western Conference Finals features the two teams who have been atop the West all year: the San Jose Sharks and the Chicago Blackhawks.
This one is almost impossible to pick.
Both teams have great depth with talent dispersed throughout their whole roster. Both teams have questions in terms of goaltending: Can the rookie Niemi rise to the occasion? Can Nabokov play in the playoffs to the level that he plays in the regular season?
Chicago's loss in the Western Conference Finals last year serves only to benefit them now. They're young, but they've got the playoff experience necessary to win the Cup.
Prediction: Chicago in seven.
Stanley Cup Finals
No. 1 Washington Capitals vs. No. 2 Chicago Blackhawks
The Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals will duke it out for Lord Stanley's Cup.
This is a dream matchup for the NHL, highlighting two young and exciting teams, both of which have marketable players who could grab the attention of those usually not interested in hockey.
The Capitals are the most offensively explosive team in the NHL, but are seemingly one-dimensional. The Blackhawks, on the other hand, are the most well-rounded team in the league, ranking sixth in goals against per game and third in goals for per game during the regular season.
Antti Niemi will have to come up big, but I think the Blackhawks are the one team that can beat the Capitals. They're solid enough defensively to slow down Ovechkin and company and are offensively potent enough to score with Washington.
Washington's one-dimensionality finally comes back to hurt them against the most talented overall team in the NHL.
The Blackhawks win their first Stanley Cup since the 1960-1961 season in a high-paced, entertaining final series.
Prediction: Chicago in six. THE MARIAN HOSSA CURSE IS BROKEN!