NHL Playoff Predictions 2011: Who Will Capture Lord Stanley's Cup?

Jack HilbrichContributor IIApril 12, 2011

NHL Playoff Predictions 2011: Who Will Capture Lord Stanley's Cup?

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    CHICAGO - JUNE 11: (L-R) Dave Bolland #36, Jonathan Toews #19, and Patrick Kane #88 celebrate with the crowd during the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup victory parade and rally on June 11, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    At the end of the regular season we saw two teams, the Dallas Stars and the Carolina Hurricanes, miss out on their chance of making the playoffs by losing their final game of the season. Ultimately succumbing to the pressure that trying to make the playoffs undoubtedly brings.

    So the Chicago Blackhawks and the New York Rangers, whom allowed their fate to fall into the hands of their competitors, were luckily granted the gift of competing for the coveted Stanley Cup.

    The sixteen playoff positions represent a chance to win Lord Stanley's Cup. The pressure to win is sometimes unbearable. Favorites don't meet expectations, and underdogs exceed them. Playoff hockey is exciting, physical, and fast paced; and we get to see the players lay it all on the line for a chance at immortality.

    I would like to preface that this piece is purely my opinion, and is entirely up for debate.

    So here are my predictions for the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Enjoy!

(1) Washington Capitals vs. (8) New York Rangers

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    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 12:  Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals trades punches during the second period against Brandon Dubinsky #17 of the New York Rangers on December 12, 2010 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Ge
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    After squeaking into the playoffs, there is no doubt the Rangers are counting their blessings and planning on embracing the opportunity they almost missed out on.

    Unfortunately for New York, the struggles that plagued the Washington Capitals at the beginning of the season are old news, and the team has implemented and adopted Bruce Boudreau's new system. Look for the Washington Capitals to be a team with something to prove, especially star player Alex Ovechkin.

    Prediction: Washington in six

(2) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (7) Buffalo Sabres

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    PHILADELPHIA - MARCH 05:  Tim Connolly #19 of the Buffalo Sabres and Chris Pronger #20 of The Philadelphia Flyers during their game on March 5, 2011 at The Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Last year's finalists finished off their last ten games of the season with a record of 3-4-3, and ultimately losing out on top spot in the East.

    Buffalo on the other hand has been on a roll, and was in the midst of a heated playoff race down the stretch, and went 8-1-1. They have also been playing with a playoff mentality for the last month.

    While regular season play isn't always indicative of playoff performance, this smells like an upset.

    Prediction: Buffalo in six

(3) Boston Bruins vs. (6) Montréal Canadiens

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    BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 09:  Tim Thomas #30 of the Boston Bruins and Carey Price #31 of the Montreal Canadiens fight in the second period on February 9, 2011 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
    Elsa/Getty Images

    This matchup has been brewing all season long. This Original Six rivalry has seen it's fair share of battles. The brawls and the Max Pacioretty incident have both been well documented this season. Look for the rivalry between these two teams to be in full force.

    This playoff series will ultimately come down to goaltending. Both team's starting goaltenders have been two of the best all season long, but Carey Price's playoff record of 0-8 is definitely cause for concern in Montréal.

    This one looks like it could go the distance.

    Prediction: Boston in seven 

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Tampa Bay Lightning

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 05:  Jordan Staal #11 of the Pittsburgh Penguins makes a pass against the Tampa Bay Lightning on January 5, 2011 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Pittsburgh will be playing without the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Matt Cooke, but it isn't like that haven't been playing without the majority of their top players all season long. This is a testament to the players and leadership of coach Dan Bylsma.

    With Tampa making their first playoff appearance since bottoming out in 2008, it is a good sign of things to come for this club. In order to compete with Pittsburgh, sniper Steven Stamkos and playmaker Martin St. Louis will both be heavily depended upon to produce on a consistent basis.

    Prediction: Pittsburgh in five 

(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Chicago Blackhawks

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - FEBRUARY 4: Goalie Marty Turco #30 of the Chicago Blackhawks makes a pad save while Ryan Kesler #17 of the Vancouver Canucks tries to screen and redirect the puck during the second period in NHL action on February 04, 2011 at Rogers Ar
    Rich Lam/Getty Images

    While some may be weary of the Vancouver Canucks playing the rival Blackhawks in the first round because of their recent history in the playoffs, I think the Canucks players are looking forward to finally beating out the Chicago Blackhawks as part of a deep postseason run.

    The Vancouver Canucks aren't just the Presidents Trophy winners, they are a team with something to prove, especially to the Chicago Blackhawks.

    This will be a hard fought battle that goes down to the line.

    Prediction: Vancouver in seven

(2) San Jose Sharks vs. (7) Los Angeles Kings

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 24:  Jarret Stoll #28 of the Los Angeles Kings swipes the puck away from the stick of Dany Heatley #15 of the San Jose Sharks during the NHL game at Staples Center on March 24, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. The Kings defeated th
    Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

    San Jose is another team with high expectations. Beating out the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference Semi-Final last year was an accomplishment, but eventually losing out to the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the next round was not the plan. If this team doesn't make the Stanley Cup final, many will again classify this season as falling below expectations.

    Los Angeles loss of Anze Kopitar is a huge blow to this teams playoff chances, but don't expect this team to bow down easily. Look for Dustin Brown to lead by example and play some good physical playoff hockey.

    Prediction: San Jose in five 

(3) Detroit Red Wings vs. (6) Phoenix Coyotes

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    GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 05:  Tomas Holmstrom #96 of the Detroit Red Wings sets up in front of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov #30 of the Phoenix Coyotes during the NHL game at Jobing.com Arena on March 5, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Red Win
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    This year's playoffs is different than most years for the Detroit Red Wings, as they usually have to bear the weight of finishing atop the standings in the West. Look for Detroit's veteran presence to thrive under the relaxed pressure and produce during these playoffs.

    Phoenix will again rely on the quality goaltending of Ilya Bryzgalov in order to battle through a tough, playoff seasoned, veteran riddled Detroit Red Wings team. 

    Prediction: Detroit in six

(4) Anaheim Ducks vs. (5) Nashville Predators

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    NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 24:  Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators makes a save on Corey Perry #10 of the Anaheim Ducks on March 24, 2011 at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    Anaheim finished off the season playing inspired hockey, with leaders Corey Perry and captain Ryan Getzlaf taking charge. The question surrounding this team is goaltending. While Ray Emery and Dan Ellis have filled in admirably, Jonas Hiller battled with vertigo and while he has returned to the line up, he was less than impressive in net. Can this goaltending trio backstop the Ducks into the next round?

    Nashville is the perennial underdog, who quietly go about their business and win hockey games. Barry Trotz has led this small market to the playoffs eight of the twelve seasons he has been behind the bench. This team can't be underestimated.

    Prediction: Nashville in six

Eastern Conference Semi-Final: (1) Washington vs. (7) Buffalo

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    SUNRISE, FL - APRIL 9: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals shoots the puck prior to the NHL game against the Florida Panthers on April 9, 2011 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
    Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    After coming off a big upset against Philadelphia, look for Buffalo to be feeling good about themselves. While Washington has more fire power, we will see if the young goaltending tandem of Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov will be able to out battle Buffalo's Ryan Miller in net.

    Here is where we will be able to see if the new system Bruce Boudreau implemented this season prepared the Capitals for a deep postseason run.

    Prediction: Washington in six

Eastern Conference Semi-Final: (3) Boston vs. (4) Pittsburgh

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 01:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks to pass against the Washington Capitals during the 2011 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic at Heinz Field on January 1, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Washington won 3-1. (Pho
    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    This series will be a hard fought battle, and a huge question mark is whether or not Sidney Crosby will make his way into the line up. It will also indicate how well Pittsburgh fairs against the big Boston Bruins.

    There is a lot of size and skill on the Bruins, who are built for a deep playoff run; and at this point, especially if Crosby gets shut down for the season, it looks like the Penguins may be running on fumes at this point. Will Pittsburgh's plague of injuries ultimately force them out of the playoff picture? 

    Prediction: Boston in seven

Western Conference Semi-Final: (1) Vancouver vs. (5) Nashville

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    NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 29:  Alexandre Burrows #14 of the Vancouver Canucks outskates Shea Weber #6 of the Nashville Predators to score a goal on the breakaway on March 29, 2011 at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/
    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    The result of this series is highly dependent on Nashville's ability to maintain their tight checking system and keep Vancouver's Sedin twins offensive capability in check, while also producing at the same rate as the Canucks high powered offense.

    There is no doubt that if Vancouver gets by Chicago in the first round, they will have momentum, and they will need to harness it against Nashville.

    But if Vancouver makes the mistake of underestimating their opponent, and look at the Predators simply as a stepping stone to the final, they are in for a rude awakening.

    Prediction: Vancouver in five

Western Conference Semi-Final: (2) San Jose vs. (3) Detroit

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    SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 3: Johan Franzen #93 of the Detroit Red Wings takes a swing at Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 of the San Jose Sharks and both get a four-minute roughing penalty in the first period of an NHL hockey game at the HP Pavilion on March 3, 2011 in
    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    A rematch of last year's Western Conference Semi-Final is sure to showcase some high powered offense, tenacity along the boards and in the corners, and some hard fought wins. There is no doubt Detroit remembers the early exit they suffered last year at the hands of the San Jose Sharks, so expect them to come out flying.

    Again, I think this series comes down to the goaltenders, and their ability to steal a game. Jimmy Howard's playoff inexperience is a concern, as well as Detroit's lack of depth at the goaltender position.

    San Jose on the other hand has 2010 Stanley Cup Champion Antti Niemi between the pipes, who has been incredible of late and is pretty familiar to this song and dance.

    Prediction: San Jose in seven

Eastern Conference Final: Washington Captials vs. Boston Bruins

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    BOSTON, MA - MARCH 29:  Zdeno Chara #33 of the Boston Bruins takes the puck in the third period against the Chicago Blackhawks on March 29, 2011 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Boston Bruins defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 3-0.  (Photo by E
    Elsa/Getty Images

    Zdeno Chara's big bodied presence on the blue line is an important part of Boston's success, and it will be no different in this series where I'm sure we will witness Chara going head to head against Russian phenom Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.

    It will be interesting to see if Alex Ovechkin reincorporates his goal scoring mentality in the playoffs, burning opposing defenders with his speed, and burdening opposing goaltenders with having to stop his unbelievably quick and accurate shot.

    Tim Thomas will be a headliner in this series, as he is looking for his first Stanley Cup. He will have some sensational nights, demonstrating his determination to be a champion.

    Prediction: Boston in six

Western Conference Final: Vancouver Canucks vs. San Jose Sharks

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - JANUARY 20: Ryan Kesler #17 of the Vancouver Canucks is stopped by goalie Antti Niemi #31 of the San Jose Sharks during the shootout in NHL action on January 20, 2011 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, BC, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty
    Rich Lam/Getty Images

    This series features the top teams from the Western Conference. Both teams have high expectations of making the Stanley Cup Final. Both teams have quality systems that highlight their best players. Both teams have high quality goaltending.

    But the Vancouver Canucks back end appears to be a much more solid, quality defensive group, than that of the San Jose Sharks. The likes of Doug Murray and Ian White may not be able to handle the high powered offense the Canucks bring night in and night out.

    Prediction: Vancouver in five

Stanley Cup Final: Vancouver Canucks vs. Boston Bruins

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - FEBRUARY 22: Henrik Sedin #33 celebrates with Daniel Sedin #22 and Ryan Kesler #17 of the Vancouver Canucks after scoring a power play goal against the Montreal Canadiens during the second period in NHL action on February 22, 2011 at R
    Rich Lam/Getty Images

    This championship series has a little battle of North America flavor to it.

    If Vancouver wins, it will be the first time the Cup has returned to Canada since Patrick Roy and the Montreal Canadiens brought it home in '93. If Boston wins, the cup goes home with an Original Six team for the third time in four years.

    This series would showcase amazing skill, impressive two-way play, grit, and outstanding goaltending. Another interesting fact is that the best players on both clubs (Sedins, Kesler, Luongo, Chara, Lucic, and Thomas) all don't have Stanley Cup rings; and they will do anything to get them.

    It just can't get any better than that.

    Prediction: Vancouver in six, and the 2011 Stanley Cup Champions!