While I’ve already gone into detail about the Pittsburgh Penguins’ first round matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning, I suppose I should weigh in on the other series around the league.

I won’t go into much detail, but it’s always fun getting these predictions out there and watching them go up in flames.

I refused to do an NCAA Tournament bracket this year. Honestly, I think I had more fun watching and listening to friends rant about how VCU and Butler destroyed any chance they had at winning.

Anyway, let’s take a quick look at the Eastern Conference and move our way out west.

No. 1 Washington Capitals Vs. No. 8 New York Rangers

In 2009, the Rangers blew a 3-1 series lead over the Capitals before falling 2-1 in Game 7 in Washington.

Many people, including myself, never thought the Rangers would challenge the Caps in that series, let alone come that close to beating them.

However, that was 2009 and this is 2011. The Rangers are without one of their heart and soul guys in Ryan Callahan. For the Rangers to win, Henrik Lundqvist will have to steal four games. Hey, Jaroslav Halak did it last year against the Caps so anything is possible right?

Prediction: Caps win 4-1

No. 2 Philadelphia Flyers Vs. No. 7 Buffalo Sabres

The upstart Sabres are back in the playoffs and are led by silver medal-winning goaltender Ryan Miller.

Philadelphia may boast the deepest group of forwards of any playoff team and will come at the Sabres in waves.

The perennial question mark surrounding the Flyers is in goal. Sergei Bobrovsky was solid all season, but will Peter Laviolette turn to Brian Boucher? What about Michael Leighton who led the team to the Cup Finals last season and was just recently called up?

I will say this, Buffalo has the speed to keep up, but I question if they have the physicality to match the Flyers.

Let’s go out on a limb here, just because it’s fun and it’s against the Flyers.

Prediction: Buffalo wins 4-3

No. 3 Boston Bruins Vs. No. 6 Montreal Canadiens

An Original Six matchup is always entertaining because of the storied rivalry between the clubs. However, when Boston and Montreal get together, everyone takes notice.

In 2009, the top-seeded Bruins swept the eighth-seeded Canadiens in a series that was never close. It was revenge from 2008, when the top-seeded Canadiens squeaked by the eighth-seeded Bruins in Game 7.

The constant question surrounding the Canadiens recently is how will Carey Price perform in the playoffs?

Price has been on a short leash in the playoffs recently. Last year, he faltered early against the Capitals and Halak carried the team to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Boston has no issues in net with Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask and their forwards were actually able to find the back of the net this season. Last year, the Bruins scored 206 goals, but jumped up to 246 goals this season.

Prediction: Boston wins 4-3

I will say this about the Eastern Conference. It is entirely wide open outside of the Caps/Rangers series. All top four seeds could advance, or we could be looking at another low seed coming representing the conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. These matchups are a lot closer than some people are making them out to be.

For those who didn’t see the series breakdown I did for the Penguins and Lightning, click here. Spoiler alert: I see the Penguins winning the series 4-2.

Western Conference

No. 1 Vancouver Canucks Vs. No. 8 Chicago Blackhawks

The Western Conference playoff race came down to the final game and the Blackhawks only made it in because of a loss by the Dallas Stars.

It’s been a turbulent year for the defending Stanley Cup Champions, but their reign ends here in the first round.

Sure they still have guys like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but gone are Dustin Byfuglien and Anttii Niemi who were integral to their run last year.

Vancouver won the President’s Trophy this season and should have no problem dispatching the team that has beaten them in the conference semifinals in each of the last two seasons.

This will be a hard-fought battle, especially with the added fuel of their playoff history, but Vancouver is just too strong this year.

Prediction: Vancouver wins 4-2

No. 2. San Jose Sharks Vs. No. 7 Los Angeles Kings

I feel bad for the Kings. This was a team I had pegged to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup this season, but late season injuries have all but destroyed that chance.

Of course, much of the same was said about the Penguins after losing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, so it is possible the Kings could win this series.

Also working in their favor is San Jose’s pattern of flaming out in the early rounds despite being heavily favored:

  • 2004 – Lost to No. 6 seed Calgary in third round as No. 2 seed
  • 2006 – Lost to No. 8 Edmonton in second round as the No. 5 seed
  • 2007 – Lost to No. 1 Detroit in second round as No. 5 seed
  • 2008 – Lost to No. 5 seed Dallas in second round as the No. 2 seed
  • 2009 – Lost to No. 8 seed Anaheim in first round as No. 1 seed
  • 2010 – Lost to No. 2 seed Chicago in third round as No. 1 seed

Without Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, I don’t know if the Kings can get it done. The load will fall on the shoulders of goaltender Jonathan Quick, while Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson will be called upon to hold the line on defense.

Prediction: Sharks win 4-2

No. 3 Detroit Red Wings Vs. No. 6 Phoenix Coyotes

This is another opening round rematch from 2010. Last year, Detroit blew the doors open on the Coyotes 6-1 in Game 7 in front of the Phoenix faithful to advance to the second round.

Despite all the swirling rumors that the Coyotes will move back to Winnipeg, the Coyotes have responded to qualify for the playoffs for the second straight year.

This will be another matchup where goaltending is paramount. Ilya Bryzgalov has been a major reason for the Coyotes’ resurgence.

For Detroit, the changing of the guard began to take place last year as Jimmy Howard took the starting job from Chris Osgood. Howard turned in a solid season this year, while Osgood spent most of the year recovering from injuries. The knock on Howard is that he’s streaky. When he’s on, no one will beat him, but when he’s off…well you get the idea.

In the end, it’s going to come down to depth and the Wings have that and the experience which will carry them into the second round.

Prediction: Detroit wins 4-2

No. 4 Anaheim Ducks Vs. No. 5 Nashville Predators

You’re better off flipping a coin on this one.

Both clubs finished with 99 points in the standings, but Anaheim finished with more wins in regulation and overtime so they get home ice.

Anaheim is flying high because of the play of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan and the ageless wonder Teemu Selanne.

Perry won the “Rocket” Richard Trophy this season by lighting the lamp 50 times. He also finished third overall in points with 98.

Selanne (80 points), Getzlaf (76) and Ryan (71) also enjoyed solid seasons for the Ducks.

It’s a far cry from the ultra-balanced attack the Predators employed this season.

Martin Erat and Sergei Kostitsyn led the way with 50 points each. While Nashville only scored 20 less goals than the Ducks (239 to 219), their success stemmed from keeping pucks out of their own net.

The Predators (194) allowed 41 fewer goals than Anaheim (235) and that same defense and goaltending is what will carry them to the second round. Only Detroit (241) and Tampa Bay (240) allowed more goals this season and still made the playoffs.

Prediction: Nashville wins 4-3

So, there you have it. Don’t blame me if you lose a considerable amount of money on the Stanley Cup Playoffs because you went by these predictions.

As I see it, the East is wide open, while the West is a little easier to determine despite the frantic playoff chase down the stretch.

But, like the saying goes, “That’s why they play the games.”

You can follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CaseySheaPens.


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