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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Playoff Predictions, Round 1

In the East:
#1 Washington Capitals vs. #8 Montreal Canadiens
Washington will take the series in 5 games.  Montreal will win one game because they play us tough, but they don't have the size, speed, firepower, chemistry, defense, or goaltending to really stand a chance against the Presidents' Trophy winning Capitals.

#2 New Jersey Devils vs.  #7 Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers squeaked into the playoffs on the last day of the season because the Rangers couldn't beat them in a shootout.  They have serious problems in their top-heavy lineup, especially in goal, but they seem to come alive in the playoffs.  Martin Brodeur has had serious problems with the Flyers all season and after playing 77 games should be approaching burnout.  Flyers in 7. 

#3 Buffalo Sabres vs. #6 Boston Bruins
These teams seem like carbon copies of each other, neither can score so they rely on strong goaltending and a frustrating defensive system.  The good news for the Buffalo Sabres is their goalie, Ryan Miller, is better, though the Bruins goalie, Tuukka Rask, is younger and played fewer games this season.  A lot will depend on personnel, but home ice advantage and a healthier team will help the Sabres take this series in 7 games.

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Ottawa Senators
The Pittsburgh Penguins are running ragged after two straight years in the Stanley Cup Final and are approaching burnout.  They have three helicopter lines (no wings) and much less depth than last season.  Ottawa has the X-factor in defenseman Anton Volchenkov who is capable of shutting down one of Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, though Malkin isn't 100% heading into the playoffs.  Ottawa strung together a long winning streak this season, and their stars are coming together.  Losing Alexei Kovalev for the season will hurt the Senators' offense but could shore up their defense and give some more energy to the top lines.  The season series was 2-2, with each team going 1-1 at home, and none of the games were close (Ottawa lost 1-4, won 6-2, lost 2-8, and won 4-1 in the last meeting on 1/28).  The Senators are well coached and have solid goaltending, and if their offense can penetrate the Penguins goaltending, they'll do very well.  I think this series will hinge on who wins the first game.  The Penguins have home ice advantage, and the Senators were a mediocre road team this season.  If the Senators can win game 1, they can eliminate the Penguins home ice advantage and then they just have to hold serve.  Senators in 7 games.

My Western playoff predictions have never been very good, so don't gamble your money on these, but I'll take a stab anyway.

#1 San Jose Sharks vs. #8 Colorado Avalanche
The Sharks had a much better stretch of hockey heading into the playoffs than the Avalanche did, but they lost their game to the Avs on April 4 in overtime.  The Sharks are an experienced team and have a lot of depth.  The same can't be said for the Avs.  The Avs did well just to make the playoffs, and the Sharks are hungry to advance.  The home team won all 4 games in this season series, and I see no reason that will change here, though I expect the Avs to throw a few curve balls at the Sharks.  Sharks in 6. 

#2 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #7 Nashville Predators
The Chicago Blackhawks won the season series 4-2, but the teams haven't played since December.  Chicago is the superior team in just about every category, and they have home ice advantage and they went to the Western Conference Final last season.  The X-factor is goaltending, and Chicago has it with Antti Niemi.  He has to be their man through the playoffs for them to win.  Nashville has a solid team and very good stability, they have good defense and goaltending, but they are not a game-breaking team.  Chicago may not make it to the Stanley Cup Final, but it won't be Nashville that knocks them out.  Chicago in 6.

#3 Vancouver Canucks vs. #6 Los Angeles Kings
The Vancouver Canucks have the offense, defense, and goaltending to win the Western Conference.  The Los Angeles Kings are a young team with lots of talent, but they haven't been to the playoffs before.  It will take a colossal meltdown for the second-highest scoring team in the league to falter, and it will take a meltdown by the goalie, Roberto Luongo, for that to happen.  Don't count on it.  Vancouver in 5.

#4 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #5 Detroit Red Wings
Normally I would take a 50 win team with no questions asked, but this gets tricky.  Detroit is a crusty veteran team that finally got healthy.  They are built for the playoffs with size, speed, depth, skill, and everyone knowing their role.  They have veteran leadership and a great supporting cast.  Phoenix will not go away quietly, they have excellent goaltending and a very solid team, not to mention a very good coach.  Detroit underperformed this year and will have to make up ground in the playoffs, but their issue could be goaltending.  Jimmy Howard and Chris Osgood are good goalies, but Phoenix has the X-factor in goal with Ilya Bryzgalov.  If Bryzgalov shuts the door, this could get messy, but Detroit has their own equalizer in big power forwards like Tomas Holmstrom, Valtteri Filppula, Todd Bertuzzi, and Johan Franzen.  Detroit in 7.

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