Montreal vs. Boston (8) If you were to label one team as the surprise of the regular season, it would be the Montreal Canadians. Their prowess on the man-advantage and their strong number first line helped the Habs win their first conference title in 19 years. It's also pretty easy cheering for Saku Koivu, a leader and survivor on and off the ice. The one question mark for the Habs will be Carey Price. The rookie netminder has been thrust into the spotlight, embarking on his first playoff experience. Will it be Patrick Roy part deux?
Any success for the Boston Bruins will come from keeping the puck out of the net. Zdeno Chara's experience will be heavily counted on and goaltender Tim Thomas will have to continue his strong play. It will be the first post-season for many of the Bruins players and I believe that inexperience will be a stumbling block for them.
Prediction: Montreal in 5
Pittsburgh vs. Ottawa (7)
Talk about role reversal. Last season, the Penguins were labeled the underdogs, but things are much different this season. I'd call them the favorites. Their strong offensive power may run circles around the Senators. With the addition of Marian Hossa at the trade deadline and a stellar season by Evgeni Malkin, the Pens will be hard to stop. I fully expect Sidney Crosby to up his game even more.
The Ottawa Senators are head scratchers. After going to the Finals last season and starting this season with an amazing record, it's hard to believe they just barely squeaked into the playoffs. I don't think the Sens have the goaltending to get very far. Gerber isn't a true number one goalie, while the Ray Emery situation has caused too much drama. When the Sens acquired Cory Stillman and Mike Commodore, fans thought it was the extra push the Sens needed to go deep into the playoffs. Both players will need to step up and guide the rest of the team with their playoff experience.
Prediction: Pittsburgh in 6
Washington vs. Philadelphia (6)
The Capitals enter the playoffs on adrenaline. Alex Ovechkin will be taking part in the first post-season showing of his young career and I'm sure the superstar will be taking his game to yet another level. The deadline pick-up of Sergei Fedorov will have a great impact on the ice and in the dressing room. The Caps also boast a great 1A/1B goalie tandem in Olaf Kolzig and Cristobal Huet. I'm sure Washington will be the most exciting team to watch this post season.
Philadelphia is an interesting team. They've were streaky throughout regular season play, as they seemed to have a hard time adjusting to the loss of Simon Gagne. At the same time, the versatility and depth they have in their roster could push them deep into the playoffs. A lot of pressure will be put on goalie Martin Biron, who took a backseat to Ryan Miller during his time in Buffalo. The Flyers boast a lot of experience and leadership, beginning with captain Jason Smith.
Prediction: Philadelphia in 7
NJ Devils vs. NY Rangers (5)
The Devils are coming off a season where a new player led their scoring. Zach Parise had a strong season, leading his team in scoring (32-33-65). After the Devils' first line, the scoring drops off and the spotlight is put on netminder Martin Brodeur. You know how the old saying goes: “The best offense begins with good defence.” Will Brodeur's heroics be enough?
Jaromir Jagr may have struggled this season, but he has playoff experience and two Stanley Cup rings. I definitely think Jagr has something left in the tank, especially considering this could be his last season the NHL. The chemistry on the Rag's two scoring lines will be the difference maker the playoffs. Henrik Lundqvist had another strong season and this match up can definitely go down as being a battle of the goalies.
Prediction: Rangers in 6
Detroit vs. Nashville (8)
The Red Wings are nursing a handful of key injuries, but I believe they have the depth that injuries will not be a big factor. Johan Franzen has picked up much of the scoring slack and it looks like Tomas Holmstrom is ready for the playoffs. The Wings have one of the strongest defensive cores in the league and will be backstopped by Dominik Hasek. If the Dominator is unable to play, Chris Osgood is waiting in the wings (no pun!) to take the reigns.
Nashville's inexperience in goal will be the difference maker in the series. Dan Ellis stole the starting position away from Chris Mason this season, but this will be Ellis' first post season and by the time he settles down, the series may be all but over. For the Preds to find any success, J.P. Dumont and Jason Arnott will have to have strong offensive outputs.
Prediction: Detroit in 5
San Jose vs. Calgary (7)
Calgary had a great deal of success against the San Jose Sharks during the regular season, but that was before a trade that involved a certain Mr. Brian Campbell. The all-star rearguard not only bolstered the Sharks defensive end, but also made a huge difference on San Jose's 10th ranked powerplay and 3rd ranked penalty kill. In only 20 games with the Sharks, he ended up with 19 points. Since Campbell arrival, the Sharks have gone 16-2-2. Not too shabby.
And what rhymes with shabby? Nabby. Evgeni Nabokov had an extremely busy season. He might be tired, but he can also be prepared for everything and anything in the playoffs.
The Flames will need to key in on Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo, especially on the powerplay. You can bet the farm that the Sharks will be throwing everything they have at the Flames. There are a lot of expectations of San Jose and you can be sure that Ron Wilson will be on his way out if his troops don't exchange those expectations for success.
I think the series will be a battle of the stars: Jarome Iginla vs. Thornton, Dion Phanuef vs. Campbell, and Miikka Kiprusoff vs. Evgeni Nabokov. But, at the end of it all, secondary scoring will be a deciding factor in this series. For Calgary, Alex Tanguay, Kristian Huselius, Daymond Langkow, and Owen Nolan will be counted upon to help out their captain; the Sharks looking to Milan Michalek and Jeremy Roenick to help out on the scoresheet.
Because the Flames are the more physical of the two teams, it will work in their favor, but only if they play smart. That means no needless penalties. If the Flames start getting themselves into penalty trouble, you can be certain that the Sharks will capitalize.
I'm sure the series will mostly be one-goal games and the difference maker will come down to the goaltending. We'll see what goalie will steal the spotlight. Because Kiprusoff has more playoff experience and seems to be in top form playing against his former team, I'll give him the edge.
Prediction: Calgary in 7
Minnesota vs. Colorado (6)
Branko Radivojevic picked a great time to up his game. The extra scoring depth will take some of the pressure of the big names, like Marian Gaborik and Brian Rolston, to score goals. Brent Burns had an outstanding season and there's no reason for his strong play to stop in the playoffs. Some may be critical of the Wild's methods, but there's a reason they won the Northwest Division title.
Colorado is an interesting team. Although they have the depth, injuries and career lows for some of their players hampered them during the regular season. It's obvious the organization was ecstatic to have Forsberg back, but he seems to go down with an injury much too often, will he be able to keep up in the playoffs? If so, look out. A lot will also fall on Jose Theodore's shoulders.
Prediction: Wild in 6
Anaheim vs. Dallas (5)
Overall, I think this is going to be an even series. Having success in this year's playoffs will rest of the shoulders of those who have done so before for the Ducks. I fully expect Ryan Getzlaf to have another strong post-season. The wild card, if you can call it that, will be Doug Weight. He has added more scoring depth and leadership to a club that was already fairly deep in both of those categories. I don't think winning back-to-back championships is out of the question for the Ducks.
The Dallas Stars made a major splash at this year's deadline by acquiring Brad Richards. As we know too well, he's a Stanley Cup winner and a former Conn Smyth winner. Richards knows what it takes to go deep into the playoffs. At the same time, the loss of Zubov is huge. He's the cornerstone of Dallas's defence and powerplay. If he can return, I expect this series to go longer.