round one

Round One of the NHL playoffs begin tomorrow night, and it’s time to break down each series and make some predictions. Looking back at my season preview, I only selected 11 of the current 16 playoff teams. Oops. But I did pick San Jose v. Pittsburgh in the finals, and that still seems just about right to me.

Here’s how I see the next couple of weeks playing out:

(1) Montreal vs. (8) Boston: I am quite pumped to see my Bruins return to the playoffs for the first time since the lockout. Considering that most preseason polls picked them to finish near the bottom of the conference, and that they played 72 games without one of their best players, just making the playoffs has made this season a success. Montreal also exceeded expectations this year, and based on their dominance of the Bruins this season and having owned them previously in the playoffs, most people are picking the Habs. They’re young, quick and can score, and Price may be the next Dryden / Roy. While my head tells me that Montreal will probably win, my heart tells me that the return of Patrice Bergeron will provide a boost that will propel the Bruins to return the favour of a 8th seed upset reminiscient of ’04. I’m going to use my bias card and say Bruins in 7 [probably more like Montreal in 5]

(2) Pittsburgh vs. (7) Ottawa: What a difference a year makes. These two teams matched up in round one last year, and Ottawa easily beat the Pens on their way to the Finals. This year, the young Penguins are the favourite while Ottawa, after a torrid start to the season, barely held on to a playoff spot. While I don’t think the Sens are as bad as they seemed in the second half of the season, they obviously have huge goaltending issues and without Alfie and Fisher, they now lack some serious heart and leadership out on the ice. As talented as Spezza and Heatley are, I don’t see them placing the team on their shoulders and winning this series. The Pens are young and hungry, and they have possibly 2 of the 3 best players in the entire NHL in Crosby and Malkin. Barring a complete collapse by MAF, I predict Pittsburgh in 6.

(3) Washington vs. (6) Philadelphia: M-V-P! M-V-P! Ovechkin and the Caps in the playoffs is a very good thing for the NHL. He is without question the most exciting player in hockey, and he needs to be showcased when it counts. This series is a hard one to call for me. I am not a fan of the Flyers, especially after all their early season suspension shenanigans. They play tough and will do their best to push the Caps around and keep AO under wraps, but in the end, I think the Caps skill will be the difference. Plus, I don’t trust Biron as a reliable playoff goalie. Washington in 7

(4) New Jersey vs. (5) New York: Great rivalry series featuring two if the best goalies in the NHL. While Brodeur is without question the best active goalie [and maybe best of all time], I think that Lundqvist will step up and claim his spot as the next big game goalie. It took some time for the Rangers to succesfully blend all their offensive weapons, and this is the time for guys like Drury, Jagr, Shanahan and Gomez to shine. Rangers in 6

(1) Detroit vs. (8) Nashville: After all the talk of moving, and losing so many key players after last season, it is actually quite remarkable that the Predators are in the playoffs. Barry Trotz is without question the most underrated coach out there. Having said that, there’s no chance of an upset here. That would be a bigger upset than the Warriors beating the Mavs. It would be cool, but Detroit in 4.

(2) San Jose vs. (7) Calgary: Since acquiring Brian Campbell at the deadline, the Sharks have been on fire. They have been a cup contender for the past couple of years, but have not been able to put it together. Joe is still my favourite [non-Bruin] player in the NHL, and as much as it would hurt to see him win a cup in anything other than a B’s uni, I think this is the Sharks year. I do see this being a competitive series, and I plan on watching as many games as I can. Kipper could steal a game or two to make it interesting, but in the end it will be San Jose in 6. And don’t forget that Nabokov has been one of the most solid and consistent goalies all year.

(3) Minnesota vs. (6) Colorado: The Wild are boring, and the Avs are trying to pretend it’s still the turn of the century. This could be the least entertaining series of the first round, and it’s too bad that one of these teams will be in the second round while Dallas or Anaheim will be out. The Avs are too old and are built for the past. I see big things for Gaborik in this series too. The Wild play responsible hockey, and could surprise in these playoffs. I’ll go with Minnesota in 6. Plus, I’ve followed the Wild a bit this year while listening to North Dakota sports radio and would like to see them do well.

(4) Anaheim vs. (5) Dallas: As I mentioned earlier, it’s a shame that one of these teams has to go so early in the playoffs. We all know that the Ducks are the defending champs, and that they have been revitalized by the returns of Niedermayer and Selanne. They seem poised to make another deep run, but something tells me that the Stars could pull this one out. Dallas has always been on the cusp of big things, but have never been able to pull it together come playoff time. Could Brad Richards find that midas touch that led Tampa to the Cup not so long ago? Potential X factor. As much as I would like to call an upset special here, I don’t think I can go against the Ducks. They are too good, and their top 4 D-men are basically as good as it gets. Jiggy also has a more reliable track record than Turco in the Spring dance. Ducks in 6.

There you have it. My unscientific, slightly biased picks for the first round. I’m pretty pumped to be able to watch Boston and Ottawa every night, and hope that the Bruins can shock the hockey world and become this year’s ’06 Oilers.

Enjoy the show.

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