In the east:
1: Washington vs 8: New York Rangers
What a contrast in styles. The Rangers are built from the royal cage out, the Capitals have wingers like no others. The Rangers won the season series but limped into the playoffs with just two points more than the ninth place Hurricanes. The Capitals put on a late surge fueled by their team captain Alex Ovechkin and his eight points in the last five games.
Why: They finally learned to play defense this year and the Rangers may have an emotional let down after having played for their lives for six weeks.
2: Philadelphia vs 7: Buffalo
The Buffalo Sabres stampeded from a double digit place in the standings to beating the Rangers by three points in the standings. The Flyers on the other hand stumbled in the last quarter of the season from leading the league to putting their division lead in doubt.
Why: Better goaltending at 1 and 2, Brad Boyes coming out of his funk.
3: Boston vs. 6: Montreal
Sports rivalries don’t get any bigger than this. You can talk about Red Sox – Yankees or Celtics – Lakers or good coverage – ESPN,. it doesn’t matter this beats all of them. Boston won the last postseason dance in convincing fashion. Montreal won the season series for the last two years. Boston plastered the team in their last tilt in the regular season.
My pick: Boston.
Why: Deeper team, better in all every way but team speed.
4: Pittsburgh vs 5: Tampa Bay
Last year if these two had squared off it would have been two teams slugging their way to nuance free, undisciplined 8-7 finals. This year, the teams are a more entertaining match with a contrast in style that stems from the Penguins who will be without Malkin, and Crosby still up in the air, the Penguins are still the more balanced team.
Why: No team with defense as bad as Tampa Bay can go far.
1: Vancouver vs 8: Chicago
The current Presidents Trophy winners and the defending (and heavily revamped) Stanley Cup champs will dance for the right to play some more. I suspect this series comes down to goaltending Loungo has had more rest than he did last season, and Crawford has had am impressive rookie season, which ever of the two is most able to control the flow of the game will lead their team on.
Why: More depth, more balance despite the injuries.
2: San Jose vs. 7: Los Angeles
Well, its about time. Not only did all three California teams make the second season, two will square off in the first round. The Kings have the better goaltending, have had the heart of the lineup ripped out with the loss of Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams an iffy prospect, the Sharks have never shown an ability to do it well in April and May. In a division that has seen more lead changes and the Batman movie franchise, I’m not sure winning the division after an awful start is much of an accomplishment. I’m also not sure an up and down season like the one the Kings had is a great thing to prepare for the playoffs.
Pick: San Jose
Why: Better depth at center.
3: Detroit vs 6 Phoenix
This is not a good matchup for the Red Wings, the Coyotes had points in all four regular season meetings, Motowns heroes only had points in two. Like the rest of their division Yotes went up and down the standings so many times the teams trainers probably handed out as many Dramamine as ice packs.
Why: Younger, hungrier, better defense, more to prove.
4: Anaheim vs 5: Nashville
While this is probably a ratings nightmare for the NHL home office, its a boon for the small market and sunbelt teams. Nashville ducks out of playing Detroit, Anaheim gets the backing of any casual Californian fans. While the two teams have markedly different styles that just makes for a much more entertaining round. This may end up being the best first round matchup in the Western Conference.
Why: Much better defense.
It’s time to #DropThePuck on the post season! The Stanley Cup Playoffs are coming.