Ottawa gave New York fits in the regular season, taking three of four games in the season series. Yet as anyone in the NHL will tell you, the playoffs are a different beast. The Rangers haven’t had much to play for in a long time. That could make them sluggish to start the series, but they are too good of a team not to rebound. Henrik Lundqvist will show why he’s a Vezina hopeful and the Rangers will — eventually — return to form.
RANGERS in 6
Even though Washington won both games in Boston this season, the Caps have one of the conference’s worst road records. TD Garden is an intimidating place to play — especially in the playoffs — and Boston is the NHL’s highest-scoring team. Those factors, to go along with a suspect blueline in the nation’s capital, spell an easy first round for the defending Cup champions.
BRUINS in 5
The Southeast Division is the weakest in hockey and the Atlantic is probably the strongest. Four of the five Atlantic Division teams made the postseason and those four were all north of 100 points. Clearly the Devils are the better team here, from up front all the way back to aging goalie Martin Brodeur. The Devils finished the regular season as one of the league’s hottest teams, going 7-2-1. That should continue into the playoffs.
DEVILS in 5
Everyone seems to be picking the Penguins as the Stanley Cup favorites and with good reason. They have great goaltending, two of the league’s elite players up front as well as a bona fide star on the blueline in Kris Letang. But the Flyers have depth. They have four 20-goal scorers and another two knocking on the door with 19. Ilya Bryzgalov proved in March that he can be one of the league’s best goalies, but he still has to prove that in the playoffs. For me, the key to this series is Nicklas Grossmann. If he can return healthy, he brings with him a different defensive philosophy that trickles down to the forwards. When the Flyers adhere to that, they block shots and clear the front of the net. When they’re playing that strong defensively, Bryzgalov has an easy time seeing pucks and makes the saves he’s supposed to make. Then it becomes about offense for the Flyers. That’s just fine with them — they ranked third in the NHL in that category.
FLYERS in 7
Upset city. Call the fire department in Vancouver, because I think the Kings are going to surprise the world. See, this is old hat for the Canucks. The expectations are always sky high and the first round is usually an afterthought in Vancouver. Looking past the Kings would be a mistake. Jonathan Quick made a late Vezina push and will be the one that carries the Kings. For some reason, I think former Flyers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter have a big series.
KINGS in 7
They say defense wins championships and Jack Adams-favorite Ken Hitchcock’s system certainly lends to that theory. The Sharks have three 30-goal scorers and will definitely give the Blues a run for their money in that department, but after the year the Blues had, how can you doubt them? They’ll definitely need some scoring from guys like Andy McDonald and Norris candidate Alex Pietrangelo, but St. Louis appears to have the better team and definitely have better goaltending.
BLUES in 6
Much like the Southeast Division, the winner of the Pacific Division has fewer points than its opponent in the first-round, but the higher seed. Yet Mike Smith makes me think the Coyotes have a chance to take the series from a Chicago Blackhawks team that is probably better all-around. Smith had a breakout year with 34 wins and eight shutouts. He could erase some of his teammates’ mistakes in the postseason. Another thing that can hurt the ‘Hawks is special teams. They finished the season ranked 27th on the penalty kill and 26th on the power play.
COYOTES in 7
Many people are saying the Flyers-Penguins series will be the most fun to watch, but I think I look forward to this series more than any of the others. It will be the third time in eight trips to the playoffs that the Predators will face the Red Wings and it looks like the third time could be the charm. The Preds have a strong blueline that can contribute offensively. They also got a pretty big acquisition when Alexander Radulov came overseas. With Pekka Rinne between the pipes, I don’t think they can be stopped — not even by Nick Lidstrom and the playoff-veteran Wings. I actually think the Predators will end up winning the whole thing.
PREDATORS in 6