Detroit (1) vs. Nashville (8) Red Wings (48-21-11-2, 109 pts); Predators (38-29-11-4; 91 pts) Season Series: 3-3-0
Nashville deserves a lot of credit for making it this far, but they're going to wish they finished higher than 8th. Detroit is stacked with experience & talent, despite the uncertainty surrounding their goaltending. They're one of the best teams in the NHL at home and their special teams are first-rate. If Nashville is to have chance, they'll need Tomas Vokoun to steal the series. Otherwise, their first trip to the post-season will likely be a short one. Detroit in 5.
San Jose (2) vs. St. Louis (7) Sharks (43-21-12-6; 104 pts); Blues (39-30-11-2; 91 pts) Season Series: 2-2-0
St. Louis narrowly avoided missing the playoffs for the first time in a quarter-century, but this year's trip should be a quick one. The Blues have struggled with their consistency all season, while the Sharks have quietly been one of the best teams in the West night-in and night-out. San Jose in 6.
Vancouver (3) vs. Calgary (6) Canucks (43-24-10-5; 101 pts); Flames (42-30-7-3; 94 pts) Season Series: 3-2-1 Vancouver
Personal bias aside, this is exciting match-up no matter how you look at it. It's hard to overlook Vancouver's 235 goals for and Brian Burke's stellar acquisitions at the deadline. But in an era where defense wins championships, the Flames have an ace in the hole with goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff and a defense that gave up only 176 goals all season. Vancouver has the experience to make short work of the Flames if they open the series with a couple wins, but I think the Flames have the advantage in a long series. I think Kiprusoff will be the difference as the Calgary wins in 7.
Colorado (4) vs. Dallas (5) Avalanche (40-22-13-7; 100 pts); Stars (41-26-13-2; 97 pts) Season Series: 3-1-0 Colorado
I think momentum will play a big role in this series, and the Stars enter this series having lost just 4 times in regulation in their last 23 games. The Avalanche struggled down the stretch and lost what seemed to be a strangle-hold on the Northwest division title. Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic, and Rob Blake are among the best players in the game, but Colorado will miss Alex Tanguay and Paul Kariya. Marty Turco is one of the best goaltenders in the game, and that should be the difference as Dallas wins in 6.
Tampa Bay (1) vs. NY Islanders (8) Lightning (46-22-8-6, 106 pts); Islanders (38-29-11-4; 91 pts) Season Series: 3-1-0 New York
Tampa Bay didn't win the East just because they play in the weakest division, they've actually been a solid team all season long. Although the Islanders have had success against the Lightning this season (three wins in four games), they're weaker than Tampa in virtually every aspect of the game. Barring a total upset, this should be a laugher. Tampa Bay in 4.
Boston (2) vs. Montreal (7) Bruins (41-19-5-7; 104 pts); Canadiens (41-30-7-4; 93 pts) Season Series: 3-2-1 Boston
Montreal will need Jose Theodore to repeat his heroics from two seasons ago if they are to stand a chance against the surprising Bruins. However, unlike two seasons ago, Theodore isn't the best goaltender in the game. He isn't even the best goaltender in the series, as Bruins rookie Andrew Raycroft has played remarkably well all season (GAA of 2.05). The monkey will finally come off the Bruins back as Boston wins in 6.
Philadelphia (3) vs. New Jersey (6) Flyers (40-21-15-6; 101 pts); Devils (43-25-12-2; 100 pts) Season Series: 3-2-1 Philadelphia
The Flyers have assembled a well balanced team with plenty of experience and youth. They have one of the better goaltending tandems in the league and are eager to prove to Bobby Clarke that they can win in the post-season. It's too bad that they drew the Devils, however. Regardless of their seed, New Jersey is always a tough playoff competitor and no current goaltender is better in the post-season than Martin Brodeur. New Jersey in 7.
Toronto (4) vs. Ottawa (5) Maple Leafs (45-24-10-3; 103 pts); Senators (43-23-10-6; 102 pts) Season Series: 4-1-1 Toronto
It doesn't matter how they look on paper – the Ottawa Senators play like a frightened child against the Leafs. Senators coach Jacques Martin has his work cut out for him – the Leafs have one of the best post-season squads in their franchise's recent history. If Toronto can stay healthy, they'll be a Cup contender. Toronto in 6.