Another regular season of the NHL has come to an end, but that means the second season—the playoffs—is just beginning. It's the most exciting portion of the NHL year, and there are many exciting matchups.
In the Eastern Conference, the first-seed Washington Capitals take on the eighth-seed New York Rangers. The second-seed Philadelphia Flyers battle the seventh-seed Buffalo Sabres. The third-seed Boston Bruins face off against the sixth-seed Montreal Canadiens. And finally, the fourth-seed Pittsburgh Penguins face the fifth-seed Tampa Bay Lightning.
In the strong Western Conference, the best-of-the-west Vancouver Canucks have another playoff rematch with the Chicago Blackhawks. The second-seed San Jose Sharks will face the seventh-seed Los Angeles Kings in a grudge match. The third-seed Detroit Red Wings and sixth-seed Phoenix Coyotes play in a rematch of last year. And last but not least, the fourth-seed Anaheim Ducks battle the fifth-seed Nashville Predators.
After a few seasons, the Capitals and Rangers meet in the playoffs again. Last time, the Capitals won the series behind a strong goaltending performance from Semyon Varlamov. However, it looks like the Caps go-to goalie this time will be rookie Michael Neuvirth, who has been superb for Washington this season.
On the other end of the rink, Henrik Lundqvist has been amazing in his own right for the Rangers, leading the NHL in shutouts with 11. Good goaltending matchup.
Alexander Ovechkin didn't have the season he would have liked, only tallying 32 goals. However, look for him to turn it on in the playoffs.
Like the Caps, the Rangers star forward hasn't performed as he would've liked. Marian Gaborik may have only played 62 games, but he scored 22 goals. If the Rangers are going to have any shot, they need Gaborik to turn it on. Ovechkin and Gaborik are the two players to watch.
Prediction: Caps win, 4-2
The Caps offense is too mighty, and Henrik Lundqvist won't be able to win all the games by himself. Unless the Rangers forwards like Gaborik show up, the Rangers don't stand much of a chance.
The defending Eastern Conference champs take on the Buffalo Sabres.
The mighty Flyers had eight 20- goal scorers this season.
In a similar case to the Capitals and Rangers, the Sabres' great goaltender Ryan Miller won't be able to fend off the furious Flyers. Look for Danny Briere and Jeff Carter to lead the Flyers' attack.
The goaltender for the Flyers will be rookie Sergei Bobrovsky, who has been solid this year. He should be able to hold off the Sabres, and watch as his offense crushes Buffalo.
Prediction: Flyers win, 4-1
Ryan Miller may be able to steal a game or two for the Sabres, but won't be able to battle off the relentless Flyers on his own. Should be fairly easy for Philly.
The Montreal crowd can't wait to see Zdeno Chara again, after his crushing hit on Pacioretty.
The Habs crowd will be sure to not let Chara hear the end of it.
For the goaltending matchup, the Canadiens will send in Carey Price, who turned in a great season for the Canadiens. However, Tim Thomas is the goaltender for the Boston Bruins. Thomas is the best goaltender in the league this season. He led the league in save percentage and goals against average, with .938 and 2.00 respectively. That's outstanding. Not to mention, he was second in shutouts with nine, only two behind Lundqvist. The Habs will have a hard time getting pucks by Thomas.
The Bruins also have a top-notch offense led by Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton and Patrice Bergeron. The Canadiens counter with Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta.
Prediction: Bruins win, 4-1
Tim Thomas will have an outstanding series, and the Habs will likely have a hard time generating offense, and the Bruins will be able to get plenty of goals off Carey Price.
Probably one of the most even matchups of the playoffs. The Penguins are still not sure of Sidney Crosby's return, and Evgeni Malkin is definitely out with injuries.
On the other side, the Lightning have their big three intact, with Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. All three have been dynamic this year.
Dwayne Roloson will be the goaltender for the Lightning, and Marc-Andre Fleury will hit the pipes for the Pens. Pretty even goaltending matchup, as Fleury has been great for the Penguins. However, the Lightning offense will favor their success.
Prediction: Lightning win, 4-2
The Penguins will be able to win a few games, as they still found success even though they've missed both Malkin and Crosby for the year. However, they won't be able to get it done without them. The Lightning's high-powered offense will tip the series for Tampa.
Here's ANOTHER rematch between the Canucks, and the Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks.
However, this Canucks team is better than ever, and the Hawks were just able to find a way to squeak into the postseason, having relied upon a Dallas Stars loss.
The goaltending matchup will be the Canucks' Roberto Luongo versus another rookie, Corey Crawford, for the Hawks. Luongo had a great season for the Canucks, so I believe Vancouver has the goaltending edge.
Both teams have great offense. The Canucks will be led by the Sedin brothers (Daniel led the NHL in points). Ryan Kesler will also be a factor. The Hawks have solid goal-scoring sources from Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Pretty even offensive talents, so it will be goaltending that makes the difference.
Prediction: Canucks win, 4-3
Even though the Canucks have come up short in the last two matchups, they will be fueled by the desire to beat down the Hawks. Their team is capable of doing so, but it will take at least six, maybe seven games to accomplish.
The Sharks and Kings will meet in what I believe is the biggest grudge match of these playoffs.
The Sharks hope that the goaltending change from Evgeni Nabokov to Antti Niemi will produce results in the postseason. (Niemi won it all with the Blackhawks last season.) On the other end of the rink is stud goaltender Jonathan Quick. Niemi has been hot down the stretch, so it will be an even goaltending matchup.
The players to watch for the Sharks these playoffs...well, there are a few. Patrick Marleau, after getting off to a slow start, caught fire at the end of the season to finish with 37 goals and 36 assists. If he stays hot going into the postseason, it will be very good for the Sharks.
More players to watch are Dany Heatley and Logan Couture. Heatley has had a very bad season by his standards, only scoring 26 goals. He really needs to turn it on for the playoffs. Logan Couture, a possible Calder Trophy winner, has been amazing for the Sharks this year, throwing up 32 goals. Look for him to stay hot.
For the Kings, they'll be in trouble, since they'll be missing Anze Kopitar, their best player, who is sidelined by injury. Justin Williams is a maybe, and even if he does play, he'll be playing hurt. That only leaves Dustin Brown, who is a good goalscorer, and Dustin Penner, who has been ice cold since coming to Los Angeles from a trade with the Oilers.
Prediction: Sharks win, 4-2
The Sharks have too much offensive talent, and they've been on a tear coming into the postseason. If they stay hot, they shouldn't have much trouble with the tattered Kings.
The Phoenix Coyotes put together another great season behind Illya Bryzgalov. The Red Wings counter with sophomore Jimmy Howard. Howard was decent this year, although I'm sure he would've liked to have been even stronger. The goaltending edge goes to the Coyotes.
However, in offense, the Red Wings have many potential threats like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterburg and Johan Franzen. The Coyotes have a single 20-goal scorer, Shane Doan. They rely mostly on defense, but it may not be enough to stop the Red Wings skill and technique. If the Coyotes have ANY chance, they'll need Bryzgalov to stand on his head.
Prediction: Red Wings win, 4-2
The Red Wings are just too good for the Coyotes, and only solid defense and goaltending for the 'Yotes will make the series close.
The Anaheim Ducks have a very solid team this year. For goaltending, they have Dan Ellis and Ray Emery. Both are solid netminders. The Nashville Predators counter with the solid Pekka Rinne, who had a great season for the Preds. The goaltending edge goes to Nashville.
As for offense, the Ducks are led by Teemu Selanne, Bobby Ryan, and Ryan Getzlaf and the NHL's leading goal scorer in Corey Perry, who has tallied 50 goals. The Preds' offense is led by Sergei Kostitsyn and Patrick Hornqvist. The Ducks definitely have an offensive edge.
Prediction: Ducks win, 4-3
Should be a great matchup. Rinne will lead the Ducks, but it won't be enough to hold off the Ducks' top scorers. Home ice advantage will be huge for the Ducks.