After a long and grueling season filled with many disappointments and many surprises, 16 teams finally achieved their goals of making it to the playoffs. Every team had their ups and downs marred with injuries, winning and losing streaks, hoping to make it to the post season. The hockey fans feel their blood pumping; feel the adrenaline rush flowing through them with each goal being scored. This is the time when everyone forgets the path they took to be where they are. All of the teams start from zero knowing they are only 16 wins away from reaching that ultimate prize, Lord Stanley. Like everyone else around the league, we have all had difference of opinions about which team will make it to the next round. Here is a look at what I think where this playoff season is headed to.
Montreal at Boston
On paper, this matchup seems like a total mismatch. The big bad Bruins have played in their image this year, a big team, built for playoffs, they have played rough and tough hockey all season long. On the other hand, the Canadiens team, built on speed, has continued playing a defensive and patient game. They have had to rely heavily on their goaltender Carey Price all season long. While the Bruins lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in the last playoffs after leading the series 3-0, the Canadiens surprised many beating the President-trophy winners, the Washington Capitals and the defending cup champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games. The Bruins team will be looking to play a physical game with players like Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton. They will certainly try the intimidation factor and with a solid Tim Thomas in nets, they certainly are the favorites to win. Carey Price, as he has done all season long, will be a force in the nets and if Scott Gomez and Michael Cammalleri can pick up their game where they left it last year, Montreal will be a tough team to beat again. With the exception of Chara, Boston's blue line has many holes and Montreal forwards will be looking to exploit those using their speed. In the end, Montreal’s speed and the tag of underdog will make them work harder and they will overcome this challenge as they did last year.
Prediction: Montreal in six.
New York at Washington
The Washington Capitals were heavy favorite to win the cup last year but fell to the Canadiens in first round last year. The New York Rangers have many similarities with the Montreal team from last year with the solid goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist and a team that is a shot blocking machine. The Capitals changed their run and gun type of play from last year and have been a better defensive team. With the addition of Jason Arnott, they have added some important veteran presence and will be tough team to face this year. Their goaltending will be the big question mark but in the end, Washington team will have the better of the Rangers who will be missing Ryan Callahan.
Prediction: Washington in seven.
Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh
With new management in place, the Tampa Bay Lightning made many changes to the team and had mix results this year. The team will be hoping that Steven Stamkos can get his magic touch back. First year coach, Guy Boucher got the team back into the playoffs but it will be interesting to see how his team responds at this time of the year. The Pittsburgh Penguins have done great job, missing the service of their star players Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for most of the season. The team has learned to play better as a team without those two players and have been getting good goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury. Coach Dan Bylsma has done a great job with the team getting the maximum from his players.
Prediction: Pittsburgh in six.
Buffalo at Philadelphia
Philadelphia had a great start to the season and was on top of the Eastern conference for most of the season. After losing Chris Pronger to long term injuries, the team fell apart and struggled to finish the season and stumbled to second place in the conference tied with Pittsburgh for same number of points. Sergei Bobrovsky was a pleasant surprise and a great free agent signing to start the season but he has had a tough end to the season. The Flyers recalled last year’s playoff hero Michael Leighton from AHL and if the other goaltenders can’t get the job done, the latter might be in the nets at some point in the series. The Buffalo Sabres ended the season with four wins and got stronger and stronger as the season went on. The goaltending is a major factor in the playoffs and Ryan Miller and the Sabres, led by Thomas Vanek will cause many surprises in the playoffs.
Prediction: Buffalo in seven.
Chicago at Vancouver
This is the third year in a row that both of these teams will be facing each other in the playoffs. The Blackhawks came out winners in the previous two meetings but the tables might turn this year around. After winning the cup last year, Chicago barely made it into the playoffs from the back door. While they still are the defending cup Champions, the team had to go through many changes and the loss of Dustin Byfuglien will be biggest of them all. The big B was a major force in front of Vancouver's net distracting Roberto Luongo all series long. The Vancouver Canucks finished the season winning the President trophy but they will also be aware that the last two teams to finish on top of the league made a quick exit. This will be hard fought series but this Vancouver team has been brilliant all season long and has depth at every position.
Prediction: Vancouver in seven
Los Angeles at San Jose
The San Jose Sharks finally had some success in last year playoffs with Joe Thornton enjoying the best playoffs of his career. Will the Sharks build up on last year’s success and experience and finally live up to their potential this year? This was Thornton’s worst production year in San Jose but with the emergence of Logan Couture and a solid season by Ryane Clowe, this year’s edition has more depth than the previous years. The biggest factor will be in the nets where the Sharks will be led by Antti Niemi after having disappointing goaltending by Evgeni Nabokov for last few years. The Los Angeles Kings will have Jonathan Quick in nets, coming off his beat year between the pipes. After losing their star players Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams to long term injuries, they will have to work harder as a team to achieve any success. The team will be expecting more from Dustin Brown, Ryan Smith and Drew Doughty.
Prediction: San Jose in six.
Phoenix at Detroit
In spite of all the uncertainties about the team’s future in the desert, the Phoenix Coyotes have continued playing good hockey. In a rematch of the last year series, the Phoenix Coyotes will once again have to face the rock solid Detroit Red Wings. The Coyotes pushed the Red Wings to the game 7 during last year playoffs and the fans once again will be witness to the similar brand of hockey. The aging Red Wings continue to surprise many with their consistent play year after year. The Phoenix Coyotes with only one 20-goal scorer have been preaching the team concept all year long and Dave Tippett has once again done excellent work behind the bench. The Detroit Red Wings will start the series without their leading scorer Henrik Zetterberg. Jimmy Howard has been good between the pipes but the Coyotes certainly hold an edge with Ilya Bryzgalov holding the fort.
Prediction: Phoenix in seven
Nashville at Anaheim
Is there any team in the league that can control the monster line of Corey Perry-Ryan Getzlaf-Bobby Ryan? The three finished the season with 245 points combined in spite of Getzlaf missing 15 games with a broken jaw. Perry was the only player in the NHL this season to score 50 goals winning the Maurice Richard trophy. The never aging Finnish flash Teemu Selanne scored 31 goals playing with his countryman and best friend Saku Koivu. The Nashville Predators have played well under coach Barry Trotz making it to the playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven years. However, the team has failed to reach beyond round one and this year might not be any different. Sergei Kostitsyn was the only player to score 20 goals on a team that has struggled offensively. Pekka Rinne, who has been brilliant all season long, will be the only hope if the Predators hope to go beyond Anaheim. With injuries to Jonas Hiller and Ray Emery, Dan Ellis will be asked to face his ex-team. While Ellis has been strong between the pipes, will he be able to handle the pressure of facing his ex-team will be a huge determinant in this series.
Prediction: Anaheim in six