2009 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Predictions: Round One

Derek HarmsworthSenior Writer IApril 14, 2009

PITTSBURGH - JUNE 04: Nicklas Lidstrom #5 of the Detroit Red Wings celebrates with the Stanley Cup after defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins in game six of the 2008 NHL Stanley Cup Finals at Mellon Arena on June 4, 2008 in Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania. The Red Wings defeated the Penguins 3-2 to win the Stanley Cup Finals 4 games to 2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Making predictions is stupid, you know.  

That isn't a slight to the fantastic men and women on this website nor the various others throwing out articles featuring some fearless forecasting as the NHL's second season starts and the march toward Lord Stanley's Cup begins.

Despite the fact I called making predictions "stupid," it isn't going to deter me from throwing out my own. 

But let's face it: If predictions meant anything, the St. Louis Blues wouldn't even be in the NHL's postseason. It wasn't too long ago people were predicting the Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes to be excluded.

Predictions can make you look like a fool in a hurry. They can also make you look like a genius. Accidental or not, we'll put ourselves on the line for that one chance to bask in glory.

And while it may not have the celebrity endorsement of a Bryan Thiel playoff prediction article, on with the show.

Eastern Conference

(1) Boston Bruins vs. (8) Montreal Canadiens

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Despite their storied past as rivals in the NHL's Original Six era, a good sampling of the type of hate and passion these two teams have for each other and the game doesn't require a history book.

Having met as recently as last year in the playoffs, the B's and Habs have plenty of history to make an interesting backstory as they drop the puck on their first round series this Thursday at the TD Banknorth Garden. 

While recent history has favored the Canadiens in the spring dance, I feel this year may finally show a different result for the Boston faithful.  

Unlike last year, when Montreal was the class of the East and Boston was just sneaking into the postseason, the roles have been reversed, and the teams, as a whole, are a microcosm of that reflection.

Boston comes into this year as a team that experienced a lot of growth over the past 12 months, bringing some of the NHL's best depth. The Bruins had 10 players record over 40 points—a group that also includes six 20-goal scorers and one 30-goal man in Phil Kessel.

The Canadiens, meanwhile, spent much of the back half of the hundredth anniversary season battling controversies off the ice while lacking consistency on it. The Habs didn't have the season they wanted and now have to battle the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

They have the mental edge in this series, but that's about it.

Prediction: Bruins in six

(2)Washington vs. (7) New York Rangers

Alexander Ovechkin and company make their second foray into the NHL playoffs, and the world is once again ready to get a detailed look at the team many believe is the most exciting in the league.

With a skilled forward group, led by Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Sergei Fedorov, the Caps have no shortage of skill on the front end (or on D) as 30-goal man Mike Green will be unleashed for Washington in the postseason. With underrated grinders like Brooks Laich, the Capitals have a nice mix of skaters to make a lethal combination.

The same, however, can be said for the New York Rangers.

Nik Antropov, a trade deadline acquisition from Toronto, led the Rangers in scoring this year with only 59 points. He is followed closely by Nik Zherdev, Scott Gomez, and Chris Drury. Young guys Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callaghan also provide a spark while adding secondary scoring for the team.

The Rangers boast a blue line that is improved from last year. Still, it is far from perfect.

Youngsters Marc Staal and Dan Girardi have both grown as players and, combined with Derek Morris and Michal Rozsival, make a decent top four who can provide secondary offense from the back.

The biggest battle in this series will be goaltending, where the Rangers clearly have the edge—perhaps their only edge of the series.  

All-world goalie Henrik Lundqvist looked like he was getting into playoff form as the season wound down, while the Caps have a question mark in the form of former Hart Trophy winner Jose Theodore.

Despite the fact the Caps have unreliable goaltending, a team that plays with this much speed and skill should insulate that, for a little while anyways.

In the end, no matter how good Lundqvist is, the Caps forwards will likely be too fast and too skilled for the Rangers defense, which in the end will turn this series in their favor.

Prediction: Capitals in six

(3) New Jersey Devils vs. (6) Carolina Hurricanes

For the past few years, many thought the Devils overworked goaltender Martin Brodeur.

The Devils would roll through the regular season only to falter in the playoffs. Some thought if Brodeur was more rested, the team would be more successful in its quest for another Cup banner.

Time will tell.

After missing most of the season, Brodeur has had some memorable nights, such as setting the record for all-time wins by a goaltender. He has also had some stinkers, including giving up large numbers of goals to division foes the Islanders and the Penguins.

Led by breakout star Zach Parise, the Devils offense appears to be alive and well. A team that once won with trap systems and low scoring is now electrifying fans with highlight reel goals, and lots of them. The Devils have fairly balanced scoring down the roster, with Patrik Elias, Jamie Langenbrunner, Travis Zajac, and Brian Gionta following behind Parise.

Yet while the defense isn't what it used to be, it is still a nice mix of puck-moving defensemen and crushing blue-liners that can make opposition forwards pay.

Paul Maurice and the Carolina Hurricanes, meanwhile, are working on a dream. After joining the 'Canes midseason, Maurice inherited a team out of playoff contention and seemingly an also-ran. 

Since then he has pushed his troops all the way to the sixth position, with dominating stretches along the way.

The Hurricanes boast offense as well. Though they may not be as deep as the Devils, they are likely to get offense from Eric Staal, Ray Whitney, Rod Brind'Amour, Tuomo Ruutu, and the reinvented Erik Cole. Underrated players such as Chad Larose, Scott Walker, and Patrick Eaves provide some grit and secondary scoring.

Cam Ward also appears ready to regain his old form. Struggles through most of last year had many questioning the young goaltender, but a bounce-back season has him ready to wreak havoc on the NHL playoffs.

I won't lie here. I think Jersey has better scoring forwards, better defensive forwards, and goaltending. I do like the 'Canes defensemen to perform better than New Jersey's.

In spite of Jersey taking most of the categories, I can feel a bit of an upset here.

Prediction: Hurricanes in seven

(4) Pittsburgh vs. (5) Philadelphia

Left for dead earlier this season, the Penguins are still hanging around and have elevated themselves back into being a favorite. Philadelphia, meanwhile, will be looking for some quality goaltending.

The Penguins, led by new coach Dan Bylsma, are storming into the playoffs, featuring one of the best one-two punches in the league in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But even more is the attention these two draw, which leaves plenty of space for guys like Chris Kunitz, Jordan Staal, Bill Guerin, Petr Sykora, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Tyler Kennedy.

Finally healthy again, the Penguins blue line is a beautiful mix of scoring and defensive prowess—a group of six who can change the flow of the game and move the puck up the ice to aid forwards. Led by Sergei Gonchar and Kris Letang, the Penguins will also get hard-nosed efforts from Ha Gill and Brooks Orpik.

Despite a few hiccups in the season, Marc-Andre Fleury turned his season into a positive one and is eager to prove last year's Cup run wasn't a fluke.

The Flyers, meanwhile, come into this series with a healthy group of forwards who, dare I say, can hang with the Pens in a seven-game series.

Jeff Carter had a breakout year. Mike Richards is a consistent, constant two-way threat. Guys like Simon Gagne, Scott Hartnell, Joffrey Lupul, and Claude Giroux provide potent scoring for the Orange Crush.

The Flyers have a relatively young defense, but it's still largely a group that was one series away from going to the Cup final last year. Also, don't forget the injury to Kimmo Timonen in the last playoffs, which was the nail in the coffin to the Flyers' Stanley Cup hopes.

After announcing him as their playoff starter, Marty Biron rewarded the team's faith in him largely by flopping the next few games. The Flyers have adequate goaltending when Biron is sharp, but I don't think many are too comfortable with their net situation right now.

Prediction: Penguins in seven

Western Conference

(1) San Jose Sharks vs. (8) Anaheim Ducks

Another year and another spring where San Jose holds its collective breath.  

Is this it?  

Is this finally the year the Sharks shed the playoff underachiever role? As the Hockey News put it last spring, the Sharks have become the NHL's version of the San Diego Chargers...and that isn't a compliment.

Still, you have to give credit where credit is due, and this is the best Sharks team we have seen in some time, if not ever.

Having all the makings of a playoff powerhouse, they started the year on fire, and despite faltering a little midseason, San Jose claimed the Presidents Trophy.  

The Sharks had nine skaters with 40 or more points, including Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Devin Setoguchi, Joe Pavelski, Milan Michalek, Dan Boyle, Ryan Clowe, Christian Erhoff, Rob Blake, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

The Sharks are as dangerous of a team as they come.

There are three solid lines with scoring, including a great grind line that will feature Claude Lemieux, one of the best playoff performers in NHL history.  

They also feature a top four defensive group as talented as any in the league, with a bottom two that have grit and sandpaper to shut down opposition. Pair that with a world-class goaltender, and the team has all the makings of a Cup team—if only they can put it together.

The Ducks, meanwhile, know what it's like to be a Stanley Cup team. They aren't that far from it, and neither are most of the players who are still on the team today.

They may have had troubles in the regular season (and may have installed a new goalie in Jonas Hiller), but this is still a team that boasts Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Scott Neidermayer, and Chris Pronger.  

Add Bobby Ryan, Andrew Ebbett, and young defensemen Ryan Whitney and James Wisniewski, and the Ducks have the chance to be one of the more dangerous teams in this year's post-season.

Still, I think this series is decided in goal, where, despite the stellar regular season play of Hiller, the Sharks have the decided edge in Evgeni Nabokov.

I am taking the Sharks this time, but I still am unsure, like most of you, as to whether or not they can get it done this spring.

Prediction: Sharks in seven

(2) Detroit vs. (7) Columbus

Another preseason Cup favorite, it wouldn't be inaccurate to say Detroit has had their struggles this season.  

They went head-to-head with the Sharks for a long while but went a little wayward as the season came to a close, which led to the Wings finishing as the second seed. Despite that, they are still a scary good team and a team that won the Cup less than 12 months ago.

Led by scoring forwards Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Marian Hossa, and Johan Franzen, the Wings have a fantastic mix of youth and veterans.  

They have four lines who know how to score but can also shut down the opposing team's top players. Having Zetterberg and Datsyuk as jack-of-all-trades guys does wonders for the Wings, who can put their best players on the ice in all situations.

The defense is what it is in Detroit—and what it is, is solid as usual.  

Aside from two guys named Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski, the Wings have Brad Stuart, Niklas Kronwall, Brett Lebda, Jonathan Ericsson, and Chris Chelios, not to mention the help they get from a forward group that takes pride in helping their defensemen keep things clean in their end.

The big question again is in goal. Then again, it was last year too, and that worked out okay.  

As for Columbus, they will have to be more than just happy to be there if they are going to give the Wings a serious run for their money.

The last NHL team to have never made the playoffs, the Jackets laid that claim to rest this season as they qualified for the very first time, finishing a franchise-best seventh.

Led by Rick Nash, Jason Williams, R.J. Umberger, Kristian Huselius, and a reborn Antoine Vermette, the Jackets don't have a ton of scoring, but they did seem to score timely goals with a large group of forwards scoring as a committee.  

The back end isn't anything pretty for the Jackets, but on most nights, they got the job done.  

Led by Christian Backman and Mike Commodore, the Jackets will need their young defensemen to step up if they plan to contain the Wings.

While I like Columbus as a team and could see them upsetting Detroit, I just don't think it happens this season.

Prediction: Red Wings in six

(3) Vancouver vs. (6) St. Louis Blues

These are the two teams I was pondering adopting for a postseason run square-off in the first round. Makes things pretty simple, doesn't it?

The Vancouver Canucks, who many thought would have problems scoring this year, got along just fine even when an injury to Roberto Luongo threatened to sink their playoff hopes. Instead, they rose to the occasion, passing the Flames during the last week of the regular season and clinching the Northwest Division title.

Led by the Sedins (identical twins with identical points...madness) as well as Ryan Kesler, Mats Sundin, Pavol Demitra, and Alex Burrows, the Canucks are not going to scare anyone with their offense but have more than enough when you consider they have Luongo between the pipes.

As for the blue line, Kevin Bieksa, Alexander Edler, Mattias Ohlund, and Sami Salo make a potent top four, while Willie Mitchell and Ossi Vaananen have enough grit and tenacity to give any team fits.

The Blues, meanwhile, as mentioned above, are the reasons we really shouldn't make predictions.  

Picked by most to be in the John Tavares sweepstakes, the Blues instead are a young team that is playing loose yet for each other. Great management, including John Davidson, Doug Armstrong, and coach Doug Murray, has the talented Blues ahead of progress and ready to perhaps make some noise in the playoffs.

Brad Boyes, David Backes, David Perron, Keith Tkachuk, Patrick Berglund, and Andy McDonald have led the charge offensively for the Blues, while Alex Steen, Carlo Colaiacovo, and T.J. Oshie have been pleasant surprises, scoring secondary goals.

The Blues defense certainly won't scare anybody. Led by Carlo Colaiacovo and Barret Jackman, the Blues are a low-scoring group who won't get you many points.

Chris Mason has been a revelation in net for St. Louis. Since taking over for Manny Legace, Mason has appeared in 57 games with the Blues and was strong down the stretch to get them into the postseason.

With personal favorites like Brad Boyes, Alexander Steen, and Paul Kariya, I can't help but pick St. Louis, if only because my heart tells me too. As I said above, the winner of this series will be my adopted team for this Stanley Cup playoffs.

Prediction: Blues in seven

(4) Chicago vs. (5) Calgary

It's been a season of pleasant returns for many fans who have been on the outside looking in.

Chicago is no exception.

It's safe to say the buzz is finally back in Chicago, and it looks like it is here to stay. Led by Martin Havlat, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Kris Versteeg, the Hawks have a potent group of young scorers who are dangerous at all times.  

While the Blackhawks have good, balanced scoring, it will be interesting to see how they do in the playoffs for the first time.

The Hawks' blue line is a group of puck-moving defensemen led by Brian Campbell. It also features high-scoring young guns Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Cam Barker, and Dustin Byfuglien.

In goal, it isn't exactly clear who will get the start, though my money would be on Nik Khabibulin.

For Calgary, it seems to be a bit of a sinking feeling—sliding at the wrong time similarly to what they did last season.  

The Flames were the deadline day "winners," but the additions of Olli Jokinen and Jordan Leopold haven't looked great in the past few weeks. The moves even put the team so close to the cap that they were forced to play under the roster minimum a few games, which may have added to their slide.

Despite this, it is still a good team on paper. Question is, can it be good on the 200-by-85 sheet of ice?

Led by Jarome Iginla, Mike Cammalleri, Daymond Langkow, and Todd Bertuzzi, the Flames have decent all-around scoring.

Their defense is well rounded, though an off season by Dion Phaneuf along with injuries to key regulars could spell trouble for Calgary. Goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff will have to be great in front of a patchwork defense.

Prediction: Blackhawks in five