NHL Playoffs: First Round Predictions

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    For a full team-by-team breakdown of all playoffs clubs, sure bets and sleeper picks for your playoff pools, visit the McKeen’s Playoff Preview where the factors below have been outlined and pointed out in a team-by-team write up.

    First Round Predictions

    Eastern Conference

    1 v. 8: Bruins vs. Canadiens

    The only Original Six matchup in the postseason, a role reversal from last season .. Boston boasts six 20-goal scorers, but the Habs have three with the possibility of nine if injuries hadn’t crept into their lineup.

    Goaltending edge goes to the Bruins with a solid Tim Thomas/Manny Fernandez pairing .. in the other crease, the revolving netminder carousel has the hot goalie getting the nod. Should Carey Price fail to get the job done, expect Jaroslav Halak to make appearances.

    Special teams should rule the play, with Boston holding the edge with a top-5 power play, while Montreal, mired near the bottom all season have rallied with the addition of Mathieu Schneider at the trade deadline.

    Don’t believe Montreal has the horses to compete over a seven-game series, and think Boston recalls last season’s rally, and wants to snuff out their division rivals early.

    Boston in 5

    2 v. 7: Capitals vs. Rangers

    Haven’t met since the early ’90’s in the postseason. It’s the NHL’s second best power play working against the NHL’s best penalty killing unit, sure to make special teams an interesting twist .. Washington’s offense drops off dramatically after Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin, with Mike Green patrolling the blueline as a rover at even strength and on the point on the PP .. The Rangers have had trouble scoring goals, but have solidified their lineup with the addition of Sean Avery and Nik Antropov at the deadline.

    Washington leads the NHL in giveaways, with a lunch pail crew of defenders unable to contribute much offensively, and can be slightly porous .. still, the lack of scoring prowess in the Rangers lineup is disturbing enough to feel they will struggle to get the all-important ‘next goal’ .. they can defend with the best in the league, but can they score enough to clinch a first round victory?

    Washington in 5

    3 v. 6: Devils vs. Hurricanes

    An opened up defensive system was appreciated and embraced throughout the Devils lineup, including helping them stay at the top of the standings while Martin Brodeur recovered from an elbow injury missing a great chunk of the season .. there is a more balanced scoring presence up front, albeit with an ordinary, vanilla defense corp that does an adequate job headmanning the puck and clearing the front of the net.

    Carolina is the hottest team in the East entering the playoffs, and can score in bunches, in particular with the man advantage, and were shut out only once this season, back in February .. Cam Ward finally got a break after starting over 20 consecutive games, but he’s had a solid form and could be the wild card in this series.

    In the end, a rested Brodeur and an offense that can score clutch, important goals, along with playoff stalwarts Jamie Langenbrunner (25-5-20-25 in post-lockout playoffs) Patrik Elias (24-11-21-32 in post season playoffs) look to avenge a 4-1 loss in games in the2006 series where the Canes ended up with their first Stanley Cup win.

    New Jersey in 6

    4 v. 5: Penguins vs. Flyers

    The Penguins look for another deep run to attempt to get back to the Finals, but will find it difficult with their first round opponent and division rival, Philadelphia Flyers .. Philly boasts an amazing extent of offensive talent up front, scoring the fourth most goals in the NHL, with the sixth best power play .. still, the Flyers also gave up the most shots-per-game this season and played some shoddy defense throughout the campaign, often leaving Martin Biron out to dry ..

    Pittsburgh houses Sidney Crosby and Art Ross Trophy winner, Evgeni Malkin, but have strengthened their roster with Chris Kunitz (19-7-11-18, 3PPG) and Bill Guerin ((16-5-7-12), while recalling Miroslav Satan from the minors.

    The Penguins came back when trailing after two periods 11 times this season, the most in the NHL, a testament to their never say die resolve, made even better by facing their rivals ..

    Pittsburgh ran roughshod over the Flyers last spring, winning 4-1 in the Conference Finals, something surely to make its way onto the boards in the Flyers dressing room, only this time around, they will have a fully healthy contingent to compete every step of the way.

    Philadelphia in 6

    Western Conference

    1 v. 8: Sharks vs. Ducks

    Playoff warrior Patrick Marleau returned from absence due to injury right before the post season, scoring his career high 38th goal .. he was injured the day after his wife gave birth and it’s a similar predicament to the distractions Dallas goaltender Marty Turco faced at the beginning of the season. How much sleep is Marleau realistically going to get at home during these playoffs? How will the family react to that and how does it affect his magnificent playoff acumen (52-24-16-40 in playoffs since 2003-04)? A lot of firepower up front and on the blueline, Dan Boyle acts a more responsible rover (similar to Mike Green in Washington.)

    Anaheim required a late season rush to make it into the postseason and drew the Sharks for the first time in either franchise’s history, a boon for the California market, and possibly one of the most hard hitting series in Round 1 of the playoffs. The Ducks lost some scoring from dealing Chris Kunitz and rely heavily on their fifth-ranked power play, despite having a two-line offense .. the defense drops off offensively after Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger, but has depth to hold forwards to the sides and take the rushing men from the inside .. goaltending is still a wild card with Jonas Hiller expected to make his Stanley Cup debut in the first game.

    Despite the Ducks penchant for tight, low scoring, tight checking games, it may have found it too much to draw the shot-happy Sharks .. they may be able to grind out a couple of wins, but not likely to win the series outright.

    Sharks in 5

    2 v. 7: Red Wings vs. Blue Jackets

    Many polar opposites in this series; Detroit has the NHL’s best power play, while Columbus sits in 30th place with the man advantage .. Detroit also has the worst penalty killing of all playoff bound teams .. Columbus solidified the playoffs with stellar defensive work, implemented in a system by coach Ken Hitchcock, and could even get Derrick Brassard back should they beat the Wings in the first round.

    Rookie Steve Mason is likely to see a lot of rubber in this one, and despite the exceptional play of Rick Nash, it’s unlikely there is enough scoring depth to man handle the Wings.

    The only consolation is that Columbus gave away the puck the least amount of times this season, with under 400 giveaways, the only team in the NHL to do so, and Detroit has struggled in goal where neither goaltender provided the steady goaltending needed for a deep run, backed by being in last place in the NHL team-wise for blocked shots.

    Too much to handle for division rivals, but the feat was solidifying two playoff gates, with a distant possible third.

    Red Wings in 5

    3 v. 6: Canucks vs. Blues

    The offense drops off dramatically after the Sedin twins, but there is a lot of timely scoring in the Canucks lineup .. Alexandre Burrows scored 28 goals, and 51 points, without one point coming on the power play .. The Canucks can ride stud goaltender for those tight games, while timely, clutch scoring is sure to benefit the club over the course of the first round .. Mats Sundin hasn’t scored in his number sake’s games (13) but does contribute on the power play, and special teams make a big difference in the postseason .. defensively as a unit they collapse well and protect their goaltender, but could be a little more gritty despite the likes of Shane O’Brien and Willie Mitchell in the lineup.

    Roberto Luongo makes it difficult for any team to outright win, even if Vancouver’s offense sputters.

    The Blues did the impossible task of making the playoffs despite the missing Erik Johnson and Eric Brewer on the back end, Paul Kariya up front, and Andy McDonald for a long period of time .. the issue is special teams in the playoffs, and the Blues are 8th (20.6%) on the power play. Many will recognize Carlo Colaiacovo who has filled in nicely in a top pairing, and the QB on the point with the man advantage … don’t be fooled by the exceptional phenomenon of making the postseason. There is still a lot of youth, inexperience and learning to occur before the Blues become contenders.

    Canucks in 6

    4 v. 5: Blackhawks vs. Flames

    It’s all about Jarome in Calgary, where the offense, and inspirational backbone of the club resides in the captain’s ability to put this team on his back and run with it .. trade deadline Olli Jokinen – aside from spurts of offense – hasn’t come as advertised, the big body to compete up the middle with the bigger centers in the West .. the defense is mired in some late season injury trouble and Miikka Kiprusoff hasn’t been as stellar, often letting in a goal at an inopportune time (and the Flames are second last in blocked shots but fourth overall in penalty killing). If the Flames are to advance, they will have to have top production from the likes of Iginla and Michael Cammalleri (first Flames player other than Iginla to lead Calgary in goals in a season since 1999-00 when Valeri Bure did it), consistency from Jokinen and flash from the lesser lights, including veterans Daymond Langkow and Craig Conroy and get their power play in order.

    Chicago takes a rag-tag group of younger kids hinging around the veteran presence of Martin Havlat, Samuel Pahlsson and former Stanley Cup winner, Nikolai Khabibulin. Havlat stayed healthy this season (always a concern) and there is a lot of scoring depth on the wings. Kris Versteeg ended up with 22 goals this season, (nine since the All Star Break) and Patrick Kane has been playing with a wonky ankle for the better part of half a season .. Jonathan Toews hit the 30-goal mark and the Hawks boast a roster of 4 20-goal scorers and 10 double digit scorers.

    That does not include Brian Campbell who hasn’t found the net in 43 games, yet is still considered one of the best puck moving defensemen in the NHL. The goaltending tandem of Khabibulin and Huet offers the hottest ‘tender to make his debut within the pipes.

    Calgary may have added some depth at the deadline, but I don’t believe it’s enough.

    Blackhawks in 7

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