It’s that special time of the year where hockey fans (read: men) everywhere retreat to basements and/or their local drinking establishments nightly for the months of April, May and part of June.
It’s the Stanley Cup playoffs, where bearded warriors wage war upon one another on blades of steel on sheets of ice in hopes of becoming the last team left standing to lift the large, silver holy grail.
It all gets under way tonight and as usual, the first round of this year’s playoffs (always the best) has some most interesting matchups.
We’ll offer up our fearless predictions below and we invite you to do the same in the comments section below.
(1) New York Rangers vs. (8) Ottawa Senators
The upstart Sens gave the blueshirts fits all season, posting a 3-1 record in head-to-head games. Do we see this trend carrying over to the postseason? Uh, not so much. The Senators do score goals a little more easily than the Rangers do, but their level of play fell off towards the end of the season and we wonder if this young team may be hitting their wall. Also, the Rangers do all of those playoff-y things like block shots really well, love a physical game and have this guy named Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes.
Rangers in 6
(2) Boston Bruins vs. (7) Washington Capitals
The Boston media (as we expected) is going to great lengths to remind the universe exactly who it was who hoisted the Stanley Cup a year ago, almost as if they sense the team’s one-year run is about to come to an end. Washington found a way to creep into the playoffs as Alexander Ovechkin picked up his game in the nick of time. The Capitals also enjoyed some success this season vs. the defending champs. Can it continue? Not likely. The Bruins are built for the playoffs with an abundance of skill, speed, toughness and experience and in case you didn’t know, the Capitals will be using their third string goalie to start this series. And no, we don’t know his name, either.
Bruins in 5
(3) Florida Panthers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils
After winning the Norris-like Southeast Division, the Florida Panthers will take on the Devils with home ice advantage, proving once and for all that the current playoff seeding system is in dire need of repair. Otherwise, this series features two of the most snore-worthy teams in the league. The Devils should take this one — the only way you’ll hear anything about this matchup is if the Panthers begin to make some noise.
Devils in 6
(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers
This matchup should be a slobberknocker of a series with one Stanley Cup hopeful biting the dust early. The Flyers dominated the season series, but the jury’s still out on whether Ilya Bryzgalov can perform in the playoffs. Both teams can score, both teams play physical and the hate won’t need to be manufactured. Also, the Flyers are incredibly tough at home in the playoffs — we think they’ll likely steal one in Pittsburgh and win out on home ice.
Flyers in 6
(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings
For the second year in a row, the Canucks claimed the President’s Trophy but this team has some serious question marks: How long will the concussed Daniel Sedin be out? Can Roberto Luongo provide the quality goaltending this team will need for another long playoff run? If he doesn’t, will Cory Schneider get some extended burn? And, after playing until game 7 of the final last year, do they have the stamina to do it all again? The Kings will definitely push the Canucks led by the goaltending of Jonathan Quick, but in the end, they simply struggle to score goals and don’t have a great deal of depth on D.
Canucks in 7
(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (7) San Jose Sharks
After a surprising and stellar season, are the Blues for real? We think so. Led by the experienced coaching of Ken Hitchcock, the team plays a stifling brand of defense with solid goaltending and an appropriate amount of sandpaper. After years of sitting at or near the top of the conference, the Sharks squeaked in this year. After years of being the poster boys for playoff underachievement, can the Sharks provide some upset magic? Although this series has us intrigued, don’t bet on it.
Blues in 7
(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (6) Chicago Blackhawks
Quebec Nordiques Phoenix Coyotes just keep chugging along in the regular season, making their third straight playoff appearance now in the midst of relocation talk which has been going on forever, it seems. In fact, not only are they back in the playoffs, but they have the third seed in the conference thanks to winning the Pacific Division. They avoided the Red Wings but gained another playoff-tested, recent cup champion in the Blackhawks. [Insert sad trumpet music here]
Blackhawks in 6
(4) Nashville Predators vs. (5) Detroit Red Wings
After winning their first ever series a year ago, the Preds had an impressive season led by a rock-solid defensive corps and the goaltending of Pekka Rinne. And then they added Hal Gill, Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexander Radulov at or near the deadline. And Detroit, well, they had their usual Detroit-like season, but we think they’ll be hard pressed to take down the Predators.
Predators in 5
So, that’s how we see the first round playing out. What say you?
Oh, but before you give us your two cents, please pass the remote.