Honestly this year's playoffs are about as hard to predict as any I can remember, even though this is really the first time I'm making an earnest attempt at doing so. All the so-called favourites have their warts, whether it's the Red Wings stinking it up at the end of the season, or the Sharks relying on proven playoff non-performers like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, or the Bruins simply being the Bruins.
But I'm going to give it a shot, so here goes.
Boston Bruins (1) vs. Montreal Canadiens (8)
I do honestly believe the Habs have a chance to win this series, and all the talk of this being a quick one is a little misguided. Yes, the Bruins took five of six games from the Habs this year, but it was only last year that they lost all eight games. Frankly, the Bruins are not all that different from last year aside from the maturation of guys like Phil Kessel and David Kreci. They're still relatively thin on the blueline, even though having Zdeno Chara play 30 minutes a game kind of wipes that factor out. But despite all the reasons I have for the Habs pulling the upset, I'm still not ready to put my faith in Carey Price, and I think that might ultimately prove to be the downfall for the Habs. Andrei Markov's questionable status also hurts, because he is clearly the Canadiens most valuable player.
Pick: Bruins in 7
Washington Capitals (2) vs. New York Rangers (7)
I didn't think the Rangers were a playoff team when the season started, and I still don't, even though they technically did make it. That defence is very suspect, and against a team with the firepower of the Capitals I don't think this series will be very close. Yes, the Rangers have a decided advantage in goal with Henrik Lundqvist, but that's the only area where New York has an edge (their top-ranked penalty-killing, in my view, is largely based on Lundqvist anchoring it). There are't too many goaltenders around that can win a series by themselves.
Pick: Capitals in 5
New Jersey Devils (3) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (6)
I sincerely believed only a few weeks ago that the Devils would be coming out of the Eastern Conference, but it's hard to keep believing that when the Devils put together a six-game losing skid at a vital time of year. They did get it together to finish with four wins in their last five, but I think the Hurricanes are just too hot and represent a very difficult match-up for a Devils team that still appears to be in disarray.
Pick: Hurricanes in 6
Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (5)
I really get the impression this one won't even be close. The Penguins are just as hot as the Hurricanes and represent a match-up nightmare for any coach. Who do you try and stop? Sidney Crosby has been rejuvenated by the addition of Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin on his wings, while Evgeni Malkin is simply Evgeni Malkin. The Flyers do have some talent up front, but the back end is suspect and the goaltendin gremains an issue, despite Martin Biron's masterful playoff performance in dispatching the Habs last year.
Pick: Pittsburgh in 5
San Jose Sharks (1) vs. Anaheim (Mighty) Ducks (8)
The Sharks are a pretty impressive team in my books, even if Thornton and Marleau have a tendency to disappear as soon as the weather gets nice. They have a great mix of youth and veterans, while the addition to Dan Boyle to replace last year's deadline acquisition Brian Campbell has been a definite step up. Still, the Ducks are a pretty formidable eight-seed, especially with the possibility of Francois Beauchemin making a return during the series to add to the Scott Niedermayer-Chris Pronger tower of defensive power. I see the Ducks giving the Sharks a run, but ultimately falling short in what promises to be the best first-round match-up in the West, if not all the playoffs.
Pick: Sharks in 7
Detroit Red Wings (2) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (7)
I know the Jackets are a nice story, and I want Rick Nash to have a good run in his first trip to the playoffs. But as vulnerable as the Red Wings seem with their horrendous finish and the shaky play of Chris Osgood in goal, I just don't see an upset happening here. Too much experience on one side, too little on the other. It's that simple.
Pick: Red Wings in 6
Vancouver Canucks (3) vs. St. Louis Blues (6)
Hey Vancouver, congratulations. By having a great second-half push coupled with a pretty horrendous collapse by the Calgary Flames, you won the Northwest Division crown. Your reward? Facing the hottest team in the NHL. The Blues were 16-23-3 as late as January 11. Since then, they've gone an astounding 25-8-7, a points percentage of .713 over their final 40 games. I just don't see how that momentum can be stopped.
Pick: Blues in 6
Chicago Blackhawks (4) vs. Calgary Flames (5)
On the flip side of the St. Louis Blues is the Calgary Flames. Since what I thought was a brilliant deadline day, grabbing Olli Jokinen and Jordan Leopold, a Flames team that was 38-19-6 at the time went 8-11-0 to finish the year. Maybe everything we've heard about Jokinen really is true. The Blackhawks are not exactly scaring the pants off anyone either, but considering this is Jokinen's playoff debut, I don't see how the Flames can reverse the trend they've established since early March.
Pick: Blackhawks in 5