The National Hockey League regular season is over and after 82 games the playoffs are set. Now the quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup begins.
Eight teams from the Eastern Conference and eight teams from the Western Conference have a chance to lift the cup come June. Before any team can think of the Stanley Cup Finals, they will have to survive the wild first round.
Discounting the lockout season of 2004-05 there have been plenty of upsets in the first round of the NHL playoffs since 2000. Every year there is at least two upsets in the first round every year, seed wise.
The conference with the most first round upsets since 2000 is the Western Conference with 13 first round upsets; while the Eastern Conference had 11 first round upsets. Also a number one or two seed has lost every year but 2007.
Since 2000, there have been five number one seeds to lose in the first round and there have been seven two seeds that have lost in the opening round. So expect at least two first round upsets and the possibility of a number one and two seed going down early.
Here is a look at the matchups for the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs for both the Eastern and Western Conference. As well as a prediction of who will be the winner of each series in the first round of the playoffs.
One reminder, teams are reseeded after the first round.
2010 Eastern Conference Stanley Cup Playoffs
(1) Washington Capitals vs. (8) Montreal Canadians
The Capitals were the best NHL team in the regular season with 121 total points and the President’s Trophy for the best regular season record. Washington ran away with the Southeast Division finishing 38 points ahead of second place Atlanta.
Montreal finished in fourth place in the Northeast Division with 88 total points and one point head of the New York Rangers for the final playoff spot. The Canadians are making their third straight playoff appearance and second consecutive as the eight seed.
On the surface this matchup looks very one-sided. The Capitals boast arguably the best player in the league in Alex Ovechkin and the best goal differential in the NHL at +83.
The Canadians are one of two Eastern Conference teams with a negative goal differential at -6 and no star as widely known as Ovechkin. Still there is some good news for Montreal.
During the regular season the Capitals and Canadians played four games and split the regular season 2-2. The two teams split their home games in the season series.
This playoff series could come down to two men and how well they play. Those two men are the net minders for both teams.
Washington’s Jose Theodore must be solid in goal to carry the Capitals deep into the playoffs. The Capitals do not need to get in high scoring games each and every night to win four games in each series.
Montreal’s Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price, depending on who gets the start in goal, have to make a ton of stops against the constant barrage of shots by Ovechkin. The Canadians also have to make the most of their power play chances and power play kills.
Winner: Washington 4-2
New Jersey is the second seed behind Washington and finished with 103 total points. The Devils won the Atlantic Division by a mere two points.
A deep run the playoffs could happen for New Jersey since they allowed the fewest goals in the NHL this season. That deep run for the Devils could be derailed early by this matchup.
Philadelphia, needed an overtime shootout win over the Rangers to just make the playoffs. The Flyers finished in third place in the Atlantic Division with 88 total points.
These two teams know each other well having played each other six times in the regular season. The bad news for New Jersey is that the Flyers defeated them in five of those six regular season games.
The Devils lone win came at home way back in December. Before that Philadelphia had beaten New Jersey twice and then defeated three more times after their lone loss to the Devils.
A number two seed has not lost in the first round of the playoffs since 2006. That could change this season after the Flyers dominated the Devils in the regular season.
Winner: Philadelphia 4-1
(3) Buffalo Sabers vs. (6) Boston Bruins
Buffalo finished in first place in the Northeast Division with 100 total points and a six-point lead over second place Ottawa. The Sabers feature American Olympic hero Ryan Miller in goal.
NHL playoff hockey is dependent on great goaltending to go far in the playoffs. With Miller between the pipes Buffalo should have a good shot at advancing in the playoffs.
Standing in the Sabers way in the first round is the Boston Bruins a team that finished third in the Northeast Division with 91 total points. Miller is not the only stand out goalie in this series with the Bruins featuring Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas.
Boston will play Rask in the playoffs but if he struggles they can always go to Thomas in a pinch. The Bruins and the Sabers know each other well having played six regular season games as well.
Bad news for Buffalo is that they lost the regular season series to Boston. The Bruins won this series 4-2 and starting Sabers goalie Miller was 0-2 against the Bruins.
Strange fact is that for the last three postseasons the number three seed in the Eastern Conference has made a first round exit. Since 2003 a number three seed has been bounced in one or both conferences in the opening series.
Winner: Boston 4-2
(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Ottawa Senators
The defending champions are back in a very familiar spot again this postseason. After winning the Stanley cup as the fourth seed last season the Penguins have landed back in the same spot this year.
After winning the championship last season, Pittsburgh has not dominated this season. The Penguins still have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading the attack this postseason.
Crosby has had to carry the bulk of the load this season, with Malkin being hampered by injury and illness. Most of this team is back from last year and a healthy Malkin make this year's squad one of the few to beat for the cup.
A second-place finish in the Atlantic division and 101 points landed Pittsburgh in the fourth seed. Their opponent is no stranger, having met the Ottawa Senators in three of the past four playoffs.
The Senators finished the season in second place in the Northeast Division and finished with 94 total points. Ottawa comes into these playoffs after being bitten by the injury bug.
The Senators are without top defenseman Filip Kuba and forward Alexei Kovalev who all went down with injuries. The Senators are the other team with a negative goal differential to make the playoffs at -13 this season.
The Good news for Ottawa is that these two teams split the regular season series 2-2 in four games. Both teams finished .500 at home winning and losing a game.
Along with the injuries here is some more bad news for Ottawa. Since 2000 there have been only four upsets in the four seed versus five seed matchup. Even worse news is that over the same time period only one of those four upsets has come from the Eastern Conference.
Winner: Pittsburgh 4-2
2010 Western Conference Stanley Cup Playoffs
The Sharks get a second chance at being the number one seed after being upset in the first round last season by the Anaheim Ducks. San Jose was the best Western Conference team with 113 total points and winning the Pacific Division.
Only Washington had more points than the Sharks in the whole NHL. Although San Jose choked last year in the first round, that is not their recent playoff history.
San Jose has only failed to get out of the first round twice since 2000; those two failures were in 2001 and 2009. The Sharks failed to make the playoffs in 2003 but have not missed the post season since that year.
It should come as no surprise that the Avalanche made the playoffs this season. Since the lockout in 2004-05, Colorado has made the playoffs every even year.
Colorado has made the playoffs in 2006, 2008 and, now 2010. The Avalanche has missed the playoffs in 2007 and 2009.
Much like their first round opponent, Colorado has failed to only make it out of the first round once when making the playoffs in since 2000. The Avalanche failed to escape the opening round of the playoffs in 2003.
The regular season series between these two teams ended at 2-2 with both teams winning both games on home ice. This series could come down to which team can break through on the road.
Winner: San Jose 4-3
Chicago has one of the youngest and exciting teams in the NHL. Besides the Red Wings could offer a great final against either Washington or Pittsburgh should either make it to the championship series.
Led by the Patrick’s Kane and Sharpe, as well as Brian Campbell, if healthy from injury, this Blackhawks team has a chance to go far. Last season, Chicago made it to the Western Conference finals.
A return trip to the conference finals or to the Stanley Cup finals is not out of the question for the Blackhawks. A great first-round draw awaits them in the form of the Nashville Predators.
Since coming into the league in 1998, the Predators did not reach the playoffs until 2004. Nashville has made the playoffs four times including their inaugural breakthrough.
Of the four playoff appearances by the Predators, they have yet to make it out of the first round. Having lost twice as a number four seed and a number eight seed, maybe it will change their luck being seeded seventh for the first time.
But it is not likely that the first playoff series win will come this year for Nashville. Especially since the Blackhawks won the regular season series 4-2 in six matchups.
Winner: Chicago 4-2
Vancouver could have the best chance of the three Canadian teams in the playoffs to bring the cup back to Canada. The last time the Stanley Cup left America was 17 years ago when the Montreal Canadians won in 1993.
The Canucks are led by the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, and with luck, goalie Roberto Luongo will bounce back from a poor Olympic showing. Vancouver led the Western Conference in goals scored with 272 goals.
Both of the Sedin twins had the same number of goals this season with 29 goals apiece. Those goals helped Vancouver win the Northwest Division.
For the Los Angeles Kings this is their first playoff appearance since 2002. Los Angeles was bounced in the first round that season by the Colorado Avalanche 4-1.
The lack of playoff experience will defiantly hurt the Kings. Since the Los Angeles last made the playoffs in 2002, the Canucks have made the playoffs five times.
The news does not get much better for Los Angeles after losing the regular season series 3-1. The lone bright spot could be that the Kings lone victory came in April.
Winner: Vancouver 4-1
(4) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (5) Detroit Red Wings
Phoenix has to be the little franchise that could.
Facing bankruptcy, a coaching change and, predictions of either relocation or folding the Coyotes made the playoffs anyway.
Just like the Kings, Phoenix has not made the playoffs since 2002 as well. The Coyotes will be the sentimental favorites in these playoffs.
Also just like Los Angeles the lack of playoff experience will be an issue with Phoenix. Still a deep run in the playoffs will be magical for this franchise.
The Coyotes opponent does not know what it is like to miss the playoffs. Detroit has made the playoffs every year since the last post season appearance by Phoenix and two Stanley Cup Championships.
Detroit could be the most dangerous fifth seed in the NHL playoffs in a long time. The Red Wings could be seeing the end of a long and great run.
The Red Wings finished second in the Central Division to the Blackhawks but still totaled more than 100 points this season. Detroit will need a great series from Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg to avoid a first round loss for time since 2006.
These two teams split their regular season matchup at two games apiece. Both teams also won a game at home and on the road in this series.
This matchup is the feel good story versus the empire.
Winner: Phoenix 4-3
Enjoy the first round and we will see you in the second round after they reseed the playoffs.
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