Prediction: Washington Capitals win series in 5.
The Caps may have choked in recent years, but this team is a vastly improved edition of it's predecessors.
Why, you ask? Because the Capitals have taken defense, formerly their biggest weakness, and turned it into one of their strengths.
If you're picking Washington to lose because of the drop in their offensive production, you need to take a closer look at some of the team's other statistics.
For example, in 2009-10, the Caps surrendered 227 goals against. This season? 191, a differential of 36 tallies.
Likewise, their overall plus/minus was 25 a season ago. Alexander Ovechkin and Co. have improved on that mark, finishing 2010-11 with a plus-74 rating.
I also wouldn't read too much into the fact that their offense isn't scoring as many goals as we've come to expect from them. The bottom line is, this is still a talented team and in the playoffs, it's not always the highest-scoring bunch that comes out on top.
But if you're concerned that Washington won't be able to respond on the scoreboard, don't be.
Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Semin, Mike Green (will be returning in this series), John Carlson, Jason Arnott, and Mike Knuble can all score goals and create offense, as can other depth players.
As far as the New York Rangers are concerned, I'm not picking them to win, simply because they haven't given me a reason to believe they can.
They were only able to finish in the top-eight because they all received gift cards, courtesy of the Tampa Bay Lightning and, were relatively inconsistent for the majority of the season.
While the Blueshirts may have had a few clutch victories, they had just as many, if not more, disappointing losses during that final stretch.
Many will point to the fact that New York scored more goals than Washington this year. Mazel Tov, so did six other non-playoff teams (Islanders, Stars, Blues, Avalanche, Flames, Hurricanes).
I'll take Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin over the likes of Marian Gaborik, Brandon Dubinksy and Derek Stepan any day.
There is one area in which the Rangers are absolutely stronger than the Caps, and that's in between the pipes. Henrik Lundqvist had himself a Vezina-worthy campaign in 2010-2011, and he is the single reason why New York is even in the postseason right now.
If the Rangers are to win this series, he's going to have to turn in a Roy-esque performance.
They do have a solid blueline, led by Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, but, once again, I see your pair and raise you Green and Carlson.
I just don't think they have enough weapons to overcome the challenge they're facing, especially without Ryan Callahan in the lineup, who was their best all-around player this season, no doubt about it.