The Stanley Cup playoffs begin tonight and it's time to have the official NHL playoff preview. No teaser today as the games begin in an hour and I want to finish this before the opening games. Let's start in the West:
#1 San Jose vs #8 Anaheim- The worst possible matchup for the Sharks as this team who needs to get rid of the choker label in the playoffs has to play the 07 Cup champ Ducks. The Ducks still have a lot of the same guys who won and could use that experience in this series. For the Sharks, they have to have a big series from Joe Thornton, who needs to shed his label of being the A-Rod of hockey and failing to show up. One of these years, the Sharks have to win and I'm not big on Jonas Hiller. Sharks in 6.
#2 Detroit vs #7 Columbus- Welcome to the Stanley Cup Playoffs Blue Jackets, your reward, the defending champ Red Wings. However, the Jackets have the advantage at goal with rookie Steve Mason against the struggling Chris Osgood (or Ty Conklin). The Wings are better in every other way so it comes down to Mason standing on his head. That being said, I think he will and the Wings tend to lose early every few years so I have the Jackets in 6.
#3 Vancouver vs #6 St. Louis- The most surprising team in the playoffs are the Blues who are a year ahead of schedule by making this year's playoffs. John Davidson has done a great job turning around this franchise from doormat to playoffs. They get to play the Canucks who had a great second half to win their division and a lot of pressure to go far in the playoffs with the Sedin twins and Mats Sundin. I would love to take JD's team here and they will make this a long series, but I think the Blues won't have an answer for Roberto Luongo and the Canucks win in 7.
#4 Chicago vs #5 Calgary- The Hawks are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and will play a struggling Flames team. They have been hurt and lost their chance to have home-ice in the first round and now start on the road. The Flames are one of my favorite teams, Jarome Iginla is the best example of a Mark Messier in the NHL that we currently have, and that is ALWAYS a good thing. That said, the Hawks win in 5. They are playing well and the Flames aren't, plus Nikolai Khabibulin knows how to beat the Flames, going back to the 04 Cup Finals.
Now to the East:
#1 Boston vs #8 Montreal- The hatred between the Habs and B's runs deep and these two Original Six foes gave us a preview of things to come last Thursday. The Canadiens have enjoyed a 24-7 series advantage and in 2002 and 2004 have beaten the Bruins as an 8th seed and 7th seed. However, the Bruins are better in every way against the Habs and it will be the B's in 5.
#2 Washington vs #7 NY Rangers- We have come to my team, the Rangers, who played their best week of the year last week after beating the Habs and sweeping Philly to make the playoffs. They now get to play Ovie and the Caps who have Stanley Cup buzz. Like our other 2-7 matchup, the only edge the Rangers have is in net with Henrik Lundqvist. He needs to be absolutely great and hope Jose Theodore is poor in net since the Rags can't score with consistency. Anyone who thinks the Caps will win in 4 or 5 are nuts, but unfortunately I don't pick with my heart in this blog. Caps in 7 and let's move on.
#3 New Jersey vs #6 Carolina- The best goalie battle is here as MAAAAAAAAARRTY Brodeur and the Devils take on Cam Ward and the Canes. Sometimes, like with the Rangers, I have to go against my heart and pick against my team; other times, my heart and brain are in sync and I'm picking the Canes in 5. They have outplayed the Devils all year and only lost the last game to them when they sat out Ward. They have been one of the hottest teams in the East since March 1 and could be a sleeper Cup contender.
#4 Pittsburgh vs #5 Philadelphia- The rematch of last year's East finals will start in the same city as it did last year after the Flyers blew a 3-2 lead Sunday to the Rangers. Now they have to go to the Igloo to face Crosby, Malkin and the Pens. The Flyers had been my sleeper in the East all year since they can score with anyone, but they are maddening inconsistent and the Pens having Game 7 home is the difference, plus they are the other hot team in the East. Pens in 7.
Stanley Cup prediction:
The Sharks will find a way to finally get to the Stanley Cup finals and they will take on the Penguins, as much as it pains me to say. The Sharks win the Cup in 7 as Crosby must wait yet again for his championship. Now watch the Red Wings and Devils go to the finals.