It's the best time of year!
Tomorrow is the day we’ve all been waiting for… and what better way to set up the beginning of the regular season than to reveal some fearless predictions! Here’s how I see the playoff picture playing out in each conference, including the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
1. Washington Capitals… 116 points
2. Pittsburgh Penguins… 107
3. Boston Bruins… 100
4. New Jersey Devils… 104
5. Philadelphia Flyers… 98
6. Tampa Bay Lightning… 96
7. Buffalo Sabres… 95
8. Carolina Hurricanes… 92
9. Ottawa Senators… 91
10. Atlanta Thrashers… 90
11. Montreal Canadiens… 89
12. Toronto Maple Leafs… 86
13. New York Rangers… 83
14. New York Islanders… 76
15. Florida Panthers… 71
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
1) Capitals over 8) Hurricanes in 6 games
In the last three years, Washington has only played in series that have gone seven games. This is a series I could see going the distance, but the Caps simply have too much up front for Carolina’s defense. It would be a fun and competitive series, that’s for sure.
2) Penguins over 7) Sabres in 4 games
Pittsburgh is superior to Buffalo in most categories, and Fleury’s track record in the playoffs can match Miller’s play. This is where the loss of Lydman and Tallinder would really hurt the Sabres. The Pens get by quickly in four tight games.
3) Bruins over 6) Lightning in 6 games
Tampa Bay is my surprise team this season as they are stacked up front with a bevy of firepower. However, Boston’s back end would be able to slow them down, especially with a hot Tuukka Rask. Bruins prevail in an exciting series.
4) Devils over 5) Flyers in 7 games
Philly ousted Jersey in five quick games in the first round last spring, but I don’t think that’d be the case here. The Devils have the depth up front to match the Flyers and I believe Brodeur is determined to bounce back in the postseason.
Eastern Conference Semifinals
1) Capitals over 4) Devils in 7 games
This could be the hump that the Capitals are trying to get over; a series win over Brodeur and company would be a huge boost for them. Washington would expose the Devils’ depth on the back end and pull out a back-and-forth seven-game battle.
2) Penguins over 3) Bruins in 6 games
In a matchup of contrasting styles, I think I’d favor Pittsburgh. With that being said, this would be a tough series for Dan Bylsma’s gang as Chara and Rask have the capability to slow down their attack. Pittsburgh outlasts a deep Boston club in six.
Eastern Conference Finals
2) Penguins over 1) Capitals in 7 games
Pens-Caps would be a dream conference matchup for the NHL, but one that would drive a lot of hockey fans crazy. These two will eventually meet on a stage like this, the biggest they can face-off on. Washington will be better but not enough to take down their heated rival. Penguins take the East in an epic seven-game bout.
1. Vancouver Canucks… 112 points
2. Detroit Red Wings… 108
3. Los Angeles Kings… 103
4. Chicago Blackhawks… 104
5. San Jose Sharks… 102
6. Nashville Predators… 101
7. Phoenix Coyotes… 97
8. St. Louis Blues… 94
9. Anaheim Ducks… 90
10. Calgary Flames… 89
11. Colorado Avalanche… 87
12. Minnesota Wild… 81
13. Edmonton Oilers… 78
14. Columbus Blue Jackets… 75
15. Dallas Stars… 72
Western Conference Quarterfinals
1) Canucks over 8) Blues in 6 games
Ever since these two met in the playoffs two years ago, their games have elevated to a new level. Vancouver is more complete at each position, but the Blues’ work ethic could nullify that. Alain Vigneault’s bunch prevails in a rugged series.
2) Red Wings over 7) Coyotes in 5 games
The Wings and ‘Yotes went seven a year ago, but neither were their usual selves; both should come back to earth this season (in opposite directions). On top of their game, Detroit is hard to take down in the playoffs.
6) Predators over 3) Kings in 6 games
Not to take anything away from Los Angeles… but there’s an extra determination from the Predators this season. I think this is finally the year that Nashville gets out of the first round. Plus, the Preds have had the Kings’ number in recent seasons.
4) Blackhawks over 5) Sharks in 7 games
In a rematch of last spring’s conference final, a battle would take place between two high-powered offensive clubs. It’d be really interesting to see Niemi go up against the ‘Hawks… but in the end, Chicago’s defense is the difference in seven games.
Western Conference Semifinals
1) Canucks over 6) Predators in 6 games
Vancouver-Nashville would certainly be an intriguing back-and-forth series. Special teams would likely be a big factor in this matchup, and that edge would go to the Sedins. The Canucks end the Preds’ run in round two.
2) Red Wings over 4) Blackhawks in 7 games
The Original Six rivals faced off in the 2009 conference final as Detroit pulled out a tight five-game series. It would be a longer series this time around with Howard making a couple more key saves than Turco. This series would be great theatre!
Western Conference Finals
1) Canucks over 2) Red Wings in 5 games
I think these are easily the two strongest teams in the conference as we sit here in October. Can Luongo put the Canucks over the top? Will Detroit’s age become a factor? Even though I have Vancouver advancing in five (third round series usually go quickly), it would be a very competitive series. Luongo outplays Howard for the Clarence Campbell Trophy.
Who will win the Stanley Cup Final between Pittsburgh and Vancouver?? Check back later today…
Photo credit: Getty Images
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