NHL Playoff Predictions 2011: Eastern Conference First Round

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NHL Playoff Predictions 2011: Eastern Conference First Round
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The Prince of Wales Trophy goes to the winner in the NHL Eastern Conference

I started with the best, now I do the rest.

Sorry Eastern Conference fans, but it is not even close. I know most of you are not up late enough to see teams on the Pacific Coast play, but the level of play is better.

The West finished with 24 more points than the East, had the league's best team by a 10-point margin, and had 10 of the top 17 teams in the league. All of this despite having to travel thousands more miles and three more time zones over most of the season.

The West is the best, just like Jim Morrison told us so many years ago (that reference being lost on most of you under 40).

However, the travel advantage will make the East just as likely to win the Stanley Cup, so we might as well take a look at this conference. Here are my first-round predictions:

Washington Capitals over New York Rangers in five

The Caps are not the same team that has been eliminated in previous years—they play defence now. The adversity they went through struggling early in the season changed their game and prepared them for the playoffs.

More importantly, the Rangers are the least-deserving playoff team in the league. Ten teams in the West had a better record and no one won more games on a skills competition (the shootout) that will not be an option in the post-season. They lost their final game and had to count on Tampa Bay, who had nothing to play for, to beat the Carolina Hurricanes.

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New York's only chance is to have Henrik Lundqvist stand on his head and Washington's goalie tandem fail.

Philadelphia Flyers over Buffalo Sabres in six

Philly has struggled of late, but they are getting a rested Chris Pronger back and have the best group of skaters in the league. They do have some questions in net, but not nearly as many as last year, when they struggled going into the playoffs and still won the East with less skating talent.

Buffalo has not been struggling, has no questions in net, and has a history of beating the Flyers. But both teams were different then— the Sabres may have the least potent skaters in the East and face the best. I was tempted to take this one to seven games, but Ryan Miller has not been as impressive as in years past.

Boston Bruins over Montreal Canadiens in six

The Bruins know how to score and shut teams down. The Habs only know how to shut teams down, and that is only if Carey Price can play up to his regular season level in the playoffs, where he has struggled in the past.

The rivalry gives the Habs an extra win, and it is intensified by the injury to Max Pacioretty from the hit by Zdeno Chara. But ultimately, the B's have the better team in forwards, defence, and goalie.

Pittsburgh Penguins over Tampa Bay Lightning in six

The Pens have not only been there, done that, but are still stinging from an early departure last season.

They are playing great defence, have the advantage in net (can 40-year old Dwayne Roloson hold up?), and can outscore the Lightning if they can shut down one line. Even in a tougher division, Pittsburgh emerged with a better record because they are a better team.

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