NHL First Round Playoff Preview

It’s that time of year once again. The real chase for the Cup gets underway tonight as sixteen teams set off in pursuit of Lord Stanley’s Cup. Today, I break down the eight opening round match-ups and attempt to match wits with media pundits and psychic animals alike as I pick winners.

Eastern Conference

#1 Boston Bruins vs. #8 Montreal Canadiens (TV: CBC, RDS)
It’s the exact same series that headlined the Eastern Conference last year except that it’s the exact opposite. Last year, the Habs occupied the #1 spot facing the underdog Bruins. Things aren’t looking too good for Montreal this time around as their top two blueliners (Markov and Schneider) are nursing injuries and will be at less than 100%. Meanwhile, the Bruins have offense to spare and will give the Habs all they can handle. With Carey Price looking shaky at times in the blue paint, it looks like Boston should be able to seal the deal this year.
Prediction: Boston in 5

#2 Washington Capitals vs. #7 New York Rangers (TV: TSN, Versus, NBC)
This series has all the makings of a seven game thriller. Washington has superb offense but their goalie isn’t likely to steal that subpar defence any wins. Meanwhile, the Rangers don’t have as good an offense but make up for it with competent defending and solid goaltending. The series will come down to whether or not the Ranger can keep Ovi and friends off the scoreboard. I think that the Avery factor will put New York over the top. If Avery can get under someone’s skin (not a terribly big if), then he can take down the Caps like he did the Devils last year.
Prediction: New York in 7

#3 New Jersey Devils vs. #6 Carolina Hurricanes (TV: TSN, RIS)
Carolina has done a complete 180 from its early season form. Whether or not Paul Maurice is the whole reason for the change, it has made Carolina a perceived threat in the playoffs. Of course, the last time the ‘Canes made the post-season as an underdog, they won the whole thing. Adding to their chances is that the Devils have been playing poorly of late. But this is New Jersey and they backstopped by Martin Brodeur. Not many sane people would bet against Marty in the playoffs.
Prediction: New Jersey in 5

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Philadelphia Flyers (TV: CBC, RDS, Versus, NBC)
Welcome to the money series of the first round. The Pennsylvania rivalry was alive and well in last year’s conference finals and this regular season and I would imagine the blood will be just as bad this time around. There’s a lot of buzz around the Pens again with their hot streak after Michel Therrien’s firing. While the future faces of the league are on Pittsburgh, the unsung heroes are on Philly. Richards and Carter have been able effectively contain Crosby and Malkin in the past and I see no reason why they can’t again. This battle will come down to the men between the pipes. Biron is okay for Philly while Fleury impressed last year but I wouldn’t call him a game changer. For this one, I’ll take the superior defence to win and go on.
Prediction: Philadelphia in 6

Western Conference

#1 San Jose Sharks vs. #8 Anaheim Ducks (TV: CBC, RDS, Versus)
It’s a California Death Match to kick things off in the West. Except death matches are usually supposed to closely fought, feud ending matches. I’m not entirely sure there’s anything more than a geographic rivalry here. The Sharks have a lot of playoff demons to exercise if they want to win the Cup that so many pundits have predicted. I don’t know if they can go all the way but barring a miracle, they win 4 here.
Prediction: San Jose in 4

#2 Detroit Red Wings vs. #7 Columbus Blue Jackets (TV: TSN, Versus)
On paper, this one should be a massacre. Detroit has the best offense and power play in the league and a defence that most teams are envious of. Sure their penalty kill is poor but that won’t matter against the league’s worst PP. The great equalizer is Jackets’ goalie Steve Mason. He has stolen games for his teams at every level but never gets the credit for it. If the Jackets’ are to stand a chance, he’ll have to be the second coming of Patrick Roy.
Prediction: Detroit in 5

#3 Vancouver Canucks vs. #6 St. Louis Blues (TV: CBC, Versus)
I wouldn’t consider either of these teams particularly strong but one must go on. Neither team has dazzling offense or a brick wall defence. Vancouver has better goaltending and more playoff experience. With not too much to choose between the two teams, I think goaltending wins the day.
Prediction: Vancouver in 6

#4 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #5 Calgary Flames (TV: TSN, Versus)
The Flames once again back their way into the playoffs. Between injury and cap troubles, they struggled in the home stretch. Chicago was steady throughout the year with a mix of youth and experience. Calgary should have the advantage in goal but Kiprusoff was pedestrian this year and Khabibulin is a proven playoff goalie. Neither team deserves to go to the next round, but since I have to pick one…
Prediction: Chicago in 7

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