The real hockey starts now, forget what happened in the last 82 games that your favorite team played, what will happen now is what matters the most, as that long season was just a warm up, a way to get these players ready for what's to come. Nothing's more exciting in Montreal than playoff time, poolers are out in strength and everybody is making their picks, so here's another Habs fan making his picks for the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Although this article is being written by a Habs fan, one has to keep in mind that the predictions can't be made from a subjective mind-set. One has to be objective and put the facts in front before saying which team will win. Sometimes, the heart and the mind end up being in conflict when you have to use objectivity instead of subjectivity. But let's not kid ourselves. You can try using facts, going through numbers, stats, as much as you like, at the end of the day, your prediction will be as subjective as anything! The team you pick is the team you "feel" will win the series. After all, it is the playoffs, and anything can happen. Underdogs are known to surprise the favorites every year. The Montreal Canadiens' surprise run last year was one such instance of anamolies or, if you prefer, miracles.
So now that the disclaimer is out of the way, lets get on with it.
Habs vs Bruins
There is no questions asked, the Bruins are the favorites in this series. All the experts everywhere agree, the Bruins will win the series. Why? Because they are bigger, they have a psychological advantage, they have the home ice and they have a pair of really good goaltenders. Let's not forget Zdeno Chara. All the elements are there for Boston to make it far in the post-season. The addition of Kaberle, the big rugged Lucic, the veteran Marc Recchi, Marchand, Seguin, and so on and so forth. You can just keep naming them. These are all the reasons why the Bruins will not only triumph over the Habs but also make it far in the playoffs.
What the experts keep forgetting is that there's a team on the other side too. How can the Habs win? Believe it or not, it starts with Scott Gomez. Let's put Carey Price aside for a moment, we know that he will do the job required of him, but as Price put it so eloquently, he is not the only player on the team. The Habs can win if Scott Gomez can forget this disappointing season and find the vintage Gomez that can turn his wingers into scorers. What the Bruins don't have, and the Habs do, is experience. Gomez, Gionta, Sopel, Gill to name just a few who have made it far in the playoffs in their career and that experience is vital. We saw it last season. Yes the heroics of Halak were the main reason the Habs made it to the third round, but the way Gomez, Gionta, Cammalleri raised their game play in the post season was commendable. If Carey Price can continue playing the way he has been playing all season, even without the big names on defense, the Habs can persevere the Bruins as long as the veterans find their legs and the youngs pick it up.
Finally, this will be a home series and for Montreal to win, an effort, a huge effort, will be required in the first game of the series. Montreal needs to get the monkey off their back, the same monkey that saw them crumble to the Bruins in the last two games played in the Garden. A win in the first game will be ideal but one win in the Garden in the first two games can change the opinions of all the experts out there.
Prediction: Montreal in seven
Capitals vs. Rangers
The new and improved Washington Capitals will face off against Lundqvist and Gaborik's New York Rangers. The Capitals found themselves struggling to score earlier in the season and adapted a defensive style that allowed them to win close games. Their balanced scoring led by Alexander Ovechkin can be a threat to any team. The key for the Rangers here will be the King Lundqvist. The latter is capable of playing big games and what better time to play them than the playoffs. If Washington keeps up the defensive system, they should prevail.
Prediction: Washington in six
Flyers vs. Sabres
The Philadelphia Flyers were definitely the hottest team in the Eastern Conference in the middle of the season. The streak continued for a while after that as well till the unfortunate moment came when the Flyers lost Chris Pronger. That's when their downfall began. The Buffalo Sabres on the other hand have played very well to finish off the season and jump to the seventh seed in the conference. The Flyers may have a really deep scoring lineup but their confidence is shaky in Bob, their rookie goaltender. On the other hand, the scoring lineup will be going up against Miller who is known to bring his best foot forward in games that matter. The Sabres also have a few scoring threats and will need a 100% from all of their players if they are to get past the dangerous Flyers.
Prediction: Buffalo in seven
Penguins Vs. Lightning
Finally, Tampa Bay finds itself in the playoffs, and they are a contender. With a hot coach behind the bench and a brand new GM who helped Canada win a gold medal in the previous Olympics, it was expected that Tampa would make it to the playoffs. They have the veterans who have the experience in the post-season in St. Louis and Lecavalier, but they are weak in the net and will be relying on an aging netminder. Stamkos rushed to the 40 goal line in the season but has been struggling ever since and was not able to get the 50 goals despite many claiming that he would. Pittsburgh on the other hand is without Crosby and Malkin but have been playing well despite the two big stars. Fleury is a game winning netminder and the defense in front of Fleury is solid. Pittsburgh can play rough hockey as well as skilled hockey.
Prediction: Pittsburgh in Six
Canucks vs. Blackhawks
Now here's another interesting matchup. One look at the matchups this year and one can say, Bruins vs. Montreal and Canucks vs. Blackhawks will be the most heated series. The Hawks may have gotten in the playoffs with the help of the Wild and the inability of Dallas to win one final game, but they will give Vancouver as much competition as possible. Yes, Chicago is missing many key elements that helped the team win the Stanley Cup last year, but let's not overlook what they still have remaining on the team. Vancouver on the other hand is coming off a season where they finished first in the league for the first time. They have extremely good players up front and a great defensive core. They have managed to add some characters players in Lapierre and Higgins and although they lost Malhotra, they have four lines that work. Luongo and Schneider are up for the Jennings this year and make the best goaltending duo in the league. With all the elements in place, the Canucks are favorites to get to the cup final and if they win here, they will have a huge psychological advantage.
Prediction: Vancouver in seven
Sharks vs. Kings
If reputations are anything to go by, the San Jose Sharks simply don't have a good one. They keep coming up with one big season after another, yet they choke when it comes to the playoffs and they just got lucky being seeded against the Los Angeles Kings. It should be easy for the Sharks to come over this hurdle. Without Kopitar, the Kings simply don't have the offensive power they need and whatever offensive stars are there, they will be meeting Niemi, a netminder who is starting to warm up at the right time. Quick may be able to give the Kings a small chance, but nothing that will matter.
Prediction: Sharks in five
Red Wings vs. Coyotes
Without Henrik Zetterbeg, the veteran team of Red Wings may seem like they will be trouble, but they have a deep pool to pick from, with names such as Datsyuk, Franzen, Cleary and Holmostrom. What they will be facing will be the Phoenix Coyotes who have a goaltender capable of stealing games in Ilya Bryzgalov and a Norris trophy candidate Keith Yandle. Detroit also has some big names on the D-line in Lidstrom and Rafalski. Will Shane Doan and his crew be able to survive the experienced Red Wings, that rest to be seen, but one thing is certain, this will not be an easy matchup for either team.
Prediction: Red Wings in six
Ducks vs Predators
Now here's a team that was hugely underrated throughout the season and is still going under people's radar: The Anaheim Ducks. They have some of the best offensive players in the league starting with the MVP candidate Corey Perry who plays alongside two really talented players in Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan. They also have the veteran Teemu Selanne (an astounding 80 points season for the 40 year old Finn) and Saku Koivu. The Predators on the other hand have a hot netminder in Pekka Rinne who will face off against Ray Emery or Jonas Hiller depending on Hiller's health. Emery has made a great come-back from his injury and he can be a solid netminder for the Ducks in the post-season. The Predator's have a good defensive lineup in front of Rinne with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter but can they contain the top offensive line in the league?
Prediction: Ducks in seven