The stage is set for two months of unpredictable excitement.
Goals will be scored, fights will be fought and tears will be shed, whether of joy or of sorrow.
Sixteen teams will battle day in and day out for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to raise the most storied prize in sports history. It's the best time of the year again: the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
A rematch of the 2009 quarterfinal matchup that saw the Caps overcome a three-to-one series deficit to knock off the Rangers in seven games. This year, however, the matchup looks a little more lopsided and although King Henrik may be able to win the Blueshirts a game or two, Washington's offense and experience with the addition of Jason Arnott will be too much. Prediction: Capitals in five games.
In what may be the best series of the first round, the defending Eastern Conference Champions meet up with the red-hot Buffalo Sabres. Philly has hit quite a skid during the past few weeks, and all they can do is hope it does not persist into the playoffs. Buffalo, on the other hand, has been playing its best hockey of the year. If they keep heading in this direction, the Sabres should be able to pull of the upset. Prediction: Sabres in seven games.
It just seems fitting that these two Original Six bitter rivals will meet for the third time in four years in the playoffs. Montreal won the season series four games to two, but Boston put an exclamation point on the season series during their last meeting, which resulted in a 7-0 slaughter of the Canadiens. Boston hopes to rebound from the embarrassing end to their season against the Flyers last year, and although Tim Thomas is having a historic season, the Bruins do not have enough to keep up with Montreal's playoff experience and penalty kill. Prediction: Canadiens in six games.
The Bolts are in the playoffs in Stevie Y's first season as a GM, and they will meet a depleted but tough Penguins team. Playoff sensation Evgeni Malkin will be out for the remainder of the playoffs for Pittsburgh, and nobody really knows if or when Sidney Crosby will return. Despite lacking their two superstars, the Penguins have continued to be one of the most dominant teams in the NHL, and they will not let the talented but young Lightning stop them. Prediction: Penguins in six games.
It may be the 1 vs. 8 series but it could easily be one of the best in the first round. These two clubs meet for the third spring in a row, and Vancouver is still looking for its first series victory against the defending champs. Chicago will make this interesting, but the Canucks' offense should be just enough to get them over the hump and into round two. Prediction: Canucks in seven games.
This should be an exciting series as these two California rivals meet in the playoffs for the first time. The problem, however, is that the Kings are without star players Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams. The Sharks are playing their best hockey of the year at this point, and they definitely have enough to knock out a depleted Kings team. Prediction: Sharks in five games.
These two emerging rivals square off in the first round for the second consecutive year. Phoenix is looking for revenge against the struggling Red Wings, but the reality is that this Detroit team is better than last year's, who knocked off a Coyotes team that was better than they are this year. Prediction: Red Wings in six games.
These two red-hot teams will meet face-to-face for the first time ever in the playoffs. Anaheim's Corey Perry emerged as the top goal scorer in hockey, while Nashville's Pekka Rinne may be one of the top goalies in the league. Anaheim's experience will be just enough to squeeze out the series victory over the Predators. Prediction: Ducks in seven games.
(1) Washington Capitals vs. (7) Buffalo Sabres
If Washington proves to themselves that they can win in the playoffs, they will have a seemingly unstoppable offense but confidence as well. It should be enough to easily get past a Sabres team that does not match up as well skill-wise. Prediction: Capitals in five games.
(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (6) Montreal Canadiens
These two meet again, and the Penguins will be looking to avenge their heartbreaking seven-game loss to the Habs in last year's playoffs. While they do not have to worry about facing Jaroslav Halak anymore, the Penguins face a new problem this year: If Montreal can beat them WITH Crosby and Malkin, what will happen without them? Prediction: Canadiens in six games.
(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (4) Anaheim Ducks
When it comes to the playoffs, experience and past success usually plays a big factor. These are two things the Ducks have on their side that the Canucks do not. Despite winning the President's Trophy, Vancouver has struggled recently in the playoffs while Anaheim had flourished no matter how high or low they are ranked. Anaheim is also one of hockey's hottest teams with one of hockey's hottest lines; and Getzlaf, Ryan and Perry should not have too big of a problem puncturing the Canuck defense and putting the puck past Luongo. Prediction: Ducks in six games.
(2) San Jose Sharks vs. (3) Detroit Red Wings
The Wings meet another familiar foe in the San Jose Sharks, who knocked Detroit out in five games in last year's second round. Here's a fun fact, though: despite winning four of five games against Detroit last year, the Sharks were still outscored by the Red Wings by two goals. Also, like the Phoenix series, the 2011 Red Wings were better than the 2010 version. The Red Wings will gain revenge on the Sharks in what should be a classic series. Prediction: Red Wings in seven games.
(1) Washington Capitals vs. (6) Montreal Canadiens
Washington will be looking for revenge after last year's stunning first-round meltdown and upset at the hands of the Canadiens. The difference this year is that Montreal does not have Jaroslav Halak, the main difference-maker in last year's series. Also, Washington comes into this series with confidence and inspiration, and their potent offense will be enough to send Montreal packing. Prediction: Capitals in six games.
(3) Detroit Red Wings vs. (4) Anaheim Ducks
These two rivals meet again in the playoffs for the third time since 2007, and this may be the most exciting meeting yet. The Wings come in after knocking off two stellar West Coast teams and face another in the Ducks. The difference in this series, however, will be the goaltending. While praised by many, Jimmy Howard does not seem like the type of goalie that can carry a team to the Cup just yet, as he seems to be somewhat streaky sometimes. On the other hand, the Red Wings sometimes have trouble getting the puck past Jonas Hiller, and he will send the Ducks to the Final for the second time in five seasons. Prediction: Ducks in six games.
Washington Capitals vs. Anaheim Ducks
Riding a tidal wave of momentum after revenge against the Canadiens, the Capitals face off one-on-one with the Anaheim Ducks for Lord Stanley's Cup. Two of the league's hottest offenses led by Alex Ovechkin and Corey Perry combine for a high-scoring Final, and while the Ducks seem to have experience on their side, the Capitals have enough star power to be the team hoisting the Cup when it's all said and done. Prediction: Capitals in seven games.