The NHL Playoffs are here. The rules are the same but less strictly enforced at playoff time. We’ve got 8 great matchups, a President’s Trophy Winning Cup Favorite, injuries, beards, animosity, offense, goaltending, eight-legged sea creatures, and lots of games on National TV. Click here for the TV Schedule. The only thing that’s missing from these playoffs is the New Jersey Devils, but their absence means we get to see Steven Stamkos make his playoff debut. Will The Cup return to Canada for the first time since 1993? Who will be this year’s Jonathan Toews and lead his team to The CUP? Which team will fall victim to the first-round upset? Which goaltender will steal a series? Will the CUP return to California? Sixteen teams have a chance but only one will hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Click on the underlined title ( #1 Washington Capitals v #8 New York Rangers ) to read the full details of each matchup at NHL.com
#1 Washington Capitals v #8 New York Rangers – The Rangers redeemed themselves this year after narrowly missing out on last year’s playoffs. The Caps are right back where they were a year ago; with the #1 seed. In 2010 Washington lost in 7 games to #8 seed Montreal and goalie Jaroslav Halak. That opening round loss will be on the minds of Ovechkin and company as they take the ice against the Rangers. Washington coach Bruce Boudreau’s job is certainly in jeopardy should the Caps fail to advance past round one. The Caps are not the juggernaut of a #1 seed that Vancouver is over in the West but they’re a more complete team than the Rangers. The Rangers Brandon Dubinsky and rookie Derek Stepan will have to Step-up for New York to keep pace with Washington’s scoring. New York recently lost a key forward when Ryan Callahan went down with a broken ankle. Marian Gaborik suffered injuries and fell off his elite goal scoring pace in 2011 but he’s still a dangerous weapon when on the ice. Henrik Lundqvist will do his part in net for the Rangers.
Prediction: Washington 4 games to 2
#2 Philadelphia Flyers v #7 Buffalo Sabres – Weak goaltending kept the Flyers from winning the CUP last year. Sergei Bobrovsky will start in net for Philadelphia in Game 1 but they carry two other goalies (Leighton, Boucher) on their roster. Flyer D-Man Chris Pronger has missed the last month with a broken hand and is a mystery as far as whether he’ll be back for Game 1. The Flyers D is solid without Pronger but rises to elite status with Pronger in the lineup. The Flyers offense featuring Mike Richards, Danny Briere, Jeff Carter, & Claude Giroux is a proven playoff commodity. It will be upto Ryan Miller and the Sabres young patchwork defense to rise to the occasion against Philly’s seasoned forwards. As the Flyers have stumbled as of late, the Sabres have been winning at a torrid pace after falling to 12th position around mid-season. The Sabres small quick forwards (Tyler Ennis, Nathan Gerbe, and Tim Connolly) have been effective but will have to deal with the less vigorous rule enforcement or playoff officiating, which favors Philadelphia and their physical style. There are a few unknowns as far as goaltending and certain players returning from injury but when it comes down to it this is the same old-fashioned Sabres finesse vs. Physical Philly playoff series.
Prediction: Philadelphia 4 games to 3
#3 Boston Bruins v #6 Montreal Canadiens – There’s no shortage of storylines as these two teams enjoy a historical as well as recent rivalry. The Habs lost Max Pacioretty to a questionable Zdeno Chara check late this season. These teams also entertained audiences on February 2nd with a 14 goal fight-filled game. With two headed monster in net of Tuukka Rask & Tim Thomas, Boston allowed the 3rd fewest goals in the league. Montreal is no slouch in net with Carey Price and his 0.923 Save %. Canadiens Rookie PK Subban will enjoy his 2nd playoffs and will look to continue his offensive prowess from the regular season (14 G, 24 A). Milan Lucic is a player to watch for Boston as he scored a career high 30 goals while maintaining his reputation as a feared fighter. If you like fights I would tune into Game 1 of this series.
Prediction: Bruins 4 games to 2
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins v #5 Tampa Bay Lightning – This is a series of big offensive names; Stamkos, Crosby, Malkin, St. Louis, Lecavalier. The problem for Pittsburgh is that their stars are missing in action. Evgeni Malkin is out for the year and Crosby is struggling to return from a concussion suffered in January. The Penguins traded for 38 year old Alex Kovalev and they’ve also gotten contributions from Kris Letang, Chris Kunitz, Jordan Staal, Tyler Kennedy and James Neal. The Pens secondary scorers will have to continue to put pucks in the net if they want to advance. The Lightning are the epitome of putting all of your eggs in one basket. Their offensive stars are stellar, but their defense and goaltending has been largely ignored. Because of this the ‘Ning have allowed the 2nd most goals of any team in the playoffs. Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman traded for 41 year old Dwayne Roloson on January 1st and that has closed the floodgates. The Lightning also picked up Defenseman Eric Brewer from St. Louis at the deadline. This series has the potential to have blowouts going in either direction. At their home arenas each team has dominated recent games against the other. I predicted the Penguins at Stanley Cup Champions. The loss of Malkin and Crosby mean that Pittsburgh is unlikely to achieve greatness, but it doesn’t mean they will lose to an unbalanced Tampa team.
Prediction: Penguins 4 games to 1