Ryan, Patrick, Carolyn and Chris make their picks for the first round, along with looking into the crystal ball.
1) Capitals vs. 8) Rangers
Ryan: Capitals in 6
Will the Capitals really lose two years in a row as the top seed in the East? No. The Rangers are lucky to be in the playoffs, while Washington is due to make some noise. Henrik Lundqvist will make things interesting, but it won’t be enough.
Patrick: Rangers in 7
The Capitals may be the No. 1 seed this season but the Blueshirts will be looking for revenge after what happened in the 2009 playoffs and they have what it takes to pull off an upset.
Carolyn: Capitals in 6
Boudreau completely redesigned the full-ice play of his blockbuster team to win in the postseason. With Mike Green set to return, they have the offensive skills on board to find the holes in the Rangers, who have so much less to work with as heart-and-soul player Ryan Callahan watches from the skybox.
Chris: Capitals in 6
The Caps should be focused and a team on a mission this year after being embarrassed by Montreal last year. The fans in Washington desperately crave playoff success, and I think they will get it this year.
2) Flyers vs. 7) Sabres
Ryan: Sabres in 6
I really don’t like the way Philadelphia has performed in the second half, especially at home. Chris Pronger, though valuable, is rusty, while the Sabres have gained a lot of steam over the last month-plus. Ryan Miller steals enough games for them to pull the upset.
Patrick: Flyers in 6
The Flyers have certainly struggled down the stretch but they have the best team from top to bottom in the East and are more than capable of going back to the Cup finals.
Carolyn: Sabres in 6
With uncertainty about the return of Pronger and turmoil in goal, the Flyers are on shaky ground. Buffalo is riding a crest of optimism and with two goaltenders at the ready, and I don’t see the Sabres faltering in the next two weeks.
Chris: Flyers in 6
The Flyers have the depth and experience it takes to get to the finals again this year. While Buffalo rookies Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe have played admirably, their lack of playoff experience will show against a difficult opponent.
3) Bruins vs. 6) Canadiens
Ryan: Bruins in 6
One thing is for sure when these teams meet in the playoffs – throw out the records! The Habs and Bruins will meet for the 33rd time in the ‘second season’, and I see Boston’s depth being too much.
Patrick: Bruins in 7
It is going to be a back and forth series with lots of hard hitting, timely goal scoring and great goaltending from Tim Thomas and Carey Price. With that said, the Bruins will win this series.
Carolyn: Bruins in 5
Montreal simply doesn’t have the offensive guns to get this done. Combined with the Habs’ injuries to the blue line, and the top-to-bottom compete Boston will bring to this specific series every night, Boston will win it in five.
Chris: Canadiens in 7
So much animosity has built up between these teams this season and no better way to close it out than a tough 7-game series in two serious hockey towns. These teams hate each other. Montreal’s success will be determined by the goaltending of Carey Price.
4) Penguins vs. 5) Lightning
Ryan: Penguins in 7
I am really tempted to go with Tampa Bay… but my brain tells me to take Pittsburgh. It should be a fun back-and-forth series, and I think Marc-Andre Fleury is the difference in the end.
Patrick: Penguins in 6
The Lightning may have finished just one point behind the Penguins in the standings, but these Penguins, even without the likes of Sidney Crosby (who could return) and Evgeni Malkin, were built for the playoffs and have what it takes to advance to at least the second round.
Carolyn: Lightning in 6
To me, this is the toughest and most interesting matchup, but if the Lightning can seize momentum early in the series and win one in the Steel City, Pittsburgh will be hard put to respond. (Disclaimer: if it goes to 7, Penguins prevail)
Chris: Lightning in 6
The bottom line here is talent. Without Malkin and Crosby, the Penguins won’t have the firepower to keep up with Stamkos, St. Louis, Lecavalier and company. Will we see the 2006 version of Dwayne Roloson show up? Tampa Bay hopes so.
1) Canucks vs. 8) Blackhawks
Ryan: Canucks in 5
A lot of people think the ‘Hawks will pull off the upset. Not so fast! They don’t have the depth that they did last year, and those players were the ones to get under Vancouver’s skin. I like the high-flying Canucks to get through fairly quickly.
Patrick: Canucks in 5
The Canucks have been on a mission since the beginning of the season and are 16 wins away from accomplishing it. The Canucks will make short work of nemesis Chicago.
Carolyn: Canucks in 5
Even against their nemesis Chicago. Even with the loss of Malhotra. They’ve got their game all figured out, at least well enough to get to past a team who needed a favor to get into the playoffs. Do I need to say anything else? They’re moving on to the next round.
Chris: Canucks in 7
I wouldn’t look too much into the fact that Chicago is an 8 seed; they could have been 5th with a Win over the Red Wings this past Sunday. While clearly Chicago’s top players have what it takes to win the Stanley Cup, it’s their depth, which makes their chances of defending the Cup slim.
2) Sharks vs. 7) Kings
Ryan: Sharks in 5
This should be a fun series with lots of animosity. I like the offensive depth of San Jose, and don’t think the Kings will be able to keep up. Every game will be close, but Team Teal prevails.
Patrick: Sharks in 5
While the Los Angeles Kings had an extremely successful season, being without Anze Kopitar is going to hurt against the Sharks full arsenal of weapons.
Carolyn: Sharks in 5
Despite the injuries, L.A. will make every game a hard-fought battle, but I believe the Sharks will have a response. Jonathan Quick can’t bring the big-game experience that Antti Niemi offers.
Chris: Sharks in 6
With defending Stanley Cup winning goaltender Niemi and Los Angeles lacking offensive output from Kopitar and Justin Williams, the Sharks will have no problem advancing.
3) Red Wings vs. 6) Coyotes
Ryan: Coyotes in 7
Henrik Zetterberg’s health is key to this series. He burned the ‘Yotes last spring and is a hole that the Wings cannot fill. Phoenix is flying under the radar and Ilya Bryzgalov is playing well. I’ll go with the upset pick.
Patrick: Red Wings in 6
Even with Zetterberg doubtful for the start of the series, the Wings will be near full-strength and will be ready to face-off against a very energetic and talented hockey club in the Phoenix Coyotes. This will be a long and tough series, but the Wings will prevail.
Carolyn: Red Wings in 7
No matter their age, this is the Wings’ time of year. Assuming Zetterberg returns later on in the series, Wings will win this in Game 7 at the Joe, which makes me sad.
Chris: Red Wings in 5
A similar result to last year will ensue. There aren’t enough good things to say about the pedigree of the Red Wings and Mike Babcock has them ready to perform. Look for “amazing” led by Pavel Datsyuk, and Tomas Holmstrom to give Bryzgalov fits in front of the net.
4) Ducks vs. 5) Predators
Ryan: Predators in 6
This will certainly be a fun series to watch between teams with contrasting styles. Despite the Ducks’ firepower, Nashville’s stellar goaltending and defense wins out.
Patrick: Ducks in 6
While both teams exceeded expectations this season, the Ducks appear to be the more powerful hockey team with arguably the league’s best top line. The Predators may have the goaltending that is needed to win in the playoffs, but the Ducks have the firepower that can win big playoff games.
Carolyn: Predators in 7
Again, the 4-5 matchup is the toughest to pick. With Anaheim getting home-ice advantage, it’s hard to see them and their top line and Obi-wan Teemu Selanne disappearing now. However, Nashville won the season series and has Vezina contender Pekka Rinne and blueliners who are up to the challenge. It will go seven, and if defense wins championships, I’ll go with Nashville.
Chris: Predators in 6
Every year the Predators field one of the more dangerous teams to face in the playoffs. Their style of play makes even the most talented teams look vulnerable. Just ask last year’s Chicago Blackhawks. While Anaheim has played well leading into the playoffs, I think Nashville will be getting over the hump this year and into the later rounds.
Stanley Cup Finals Predictions
Ryan: Canucks over Bruins in 5
The Canucks and Bruins have both been knocked out in the second round in each of the last two springs. I think the theme of this postseason is going to be getting over the hump, and the Canucks will exorcise some demons by winning their first ever Stanley Cup in what is their 40th season. Vancouver-Boston would be a hard-fought series; I see the Canucks winning it on home-ice. Roberto Luongo will win the Conn Smythe.
Patrick: Canucks over Bruins in 6
Both of these teams have what it takes to get to the finals but when all is said and done, the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoff season will belong to Roberto Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks. Ryan Kesler will win the Conn Smythe.
Carolyn: Sharks over Bruins in 7
This is finally the year. Boston and San Jose will cough and choke their way through seven games before someone finally gets it done. #Pavelski and #Lucic will trend worldwide before Big Joe Thornton raises the Cup following a Game 7 win. Antti Niemi will win the Conn Smythe.
Chris: Canucks over Capitals in 6
While picking the two number one seeds to advance to the finals isn’t exciting, I believe these are the two best teams and most likely to make a deep run to the finals. Ryan Kesler has found another gear this year and the Sedins are poised to hoist the Cup. While the Washington Capitals will finally get their shot in a Stanley Cup final, they will come up short against a stacked Canucks team. Luongo will win the Conn Smythe.
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