It's playoff time again, which means everyone and their estranged mother is making a prediction about what's going to happen in the series. I will be on that boat as well, because it's how I roll. I'm all about joining a trend in progress and act like mine will trump all. My NCAA March Madness last place finish will tell you the results may vary. We'll start out in the Eastern Conference because the sun always rises there first. It's true.
(1) WASHINGTON CAPITALS vs. (8) MONTREAL CANADIENS
The season series had each team split their four meetings, both winning one in extra-time. Everyone knows that the Caps are going to have the pressure on themselves, especially after the regular season they've had. The hope is that Jose Theodore can continue his sparkling record to end the season, going 20-0-3 in his last 23 games. It'll be familiar territory for him, as he returns to where he starts his career out to prove something. The offense is no problem for the Caps, but people will have the focus on the defense and if they can actually be a shutdown team; which is how playoff teams roll. The bigger story is what can happen with Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom in the big pressure role. The depth is there for the Caps, it's just execution now.
The Habs got in by the slimmest of margins, which should be telling of this team. To the opposite of the Caps, Jaroslav Halak has been stellar all year for the Habs and keeping them in the race when the rest of his team faltered. Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta will be in the spotlight for the playoffs-- especially after getting into town and commanding big paycheques. Andrei Markov will be key, as he's a big-game player and should be able to help out the offensive shortcomings from the back-end.
PREDICTION: Capitals in five. I think the Habs will get one on home ice, but there's a lot of determination on this Caps team and they want it all or nothing right now. They will be looking to get rid of the first round in quick-and-dirty fashion.
(2) NEW JERSEY DEVILS vs. (7) PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
Martin Brodeur is going to be on the hot-seat, especially after his lapse in the closing games against the Hurricanes last playoffs. Losing six out of eight games to the Flyers this season doesn't help at all, either. While they'll have to have goaltending, Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise will have to be giving their goaltender some support. Kovalchuk is also playing for a new contract, so he has much motivation for this playoffs.
The Flyers, though knowing they took over the season series, have many issues-- like riding Brian Boucher as their starter for the playoffs. If this was 2000, then it'd be a good match-up, but the Water Boy will have to get plenty of help from the likes of Jeff Carter and Daniel Briere to give him some cushion. Luckily, they have Chris Pronger and his Macho Man-esque elbow ready to go and hopefully pull out a miracle.
PREDICTION: Devils in seven. Sure, it's a damn reach for it to go that long, but to be honest-- I don't know how well Boucher will play-- especially with the high he's on at getting another chance. Luckily, the experience of the likes of Pronger will help, but if Kovalchuk can kick it up a notch, the Devils have the edge.
(3) BUFFALO SABRES vs. (6) BOSTON BRUINS
This is another match-up where the higher seed had a losing record in the regular season. However, the Ryan Miller effect will be in play. The man who should have the Hart Trophy will be the main factor. If he's on, then the Sabres are in good shape-- if not, it's a crap shoot. Luckily, Thomas Vanek is back and notched four goals for his finale. Also, we'll see what Tyler Myers has to bring to the show and if he can play up this is counterpart, Zdeno Chara. It'll be a tale of the tape....on the real.
When the Bruins lost Marc Savard, many wondered how they were going to keep up. Patrice Bergeron has picked up the slack though, while David Krejci will be the possible X-factor for the Bruins. Tuukka Rask will probably be the starter, but on a short-leash; especially with Timmy Thomas' performance last year in the playoffs. This will be a series of futility as both teams don't have many prolific scorers on their rosters.
PREDICTION: Sabres in six. Miller will win this for the Sabres. While Rask/Thomas will be tough to beat, Miller has been nothing short of amazing. He should be able to get the Sabres past the first round, but with the amount he has played this year-- the support will need to be coming quickly.
(4) PITTSBURGH PENGUINS vs. (5) OTTAWA SENATORS
A re-re-match of the 2007 and 2008 first round, the Penguins will need to show their Stanley Cup championship ways. Sidney Crosby came to play in the regular season, as seen by his co-Richard Trophy campaign. The focal point is definitely going to be on him, but what about Evgeni Malkin?? Will be able to get his playoff flair from last year back, because if show-- that makes the Pens more dangerous. That said-- they are a vulnerable team. I don't know why, but they could be beaten if there's a one minor slip.
The Sens think they can capitalize on that slip-up. However, the issue that the Sens have is goaltending and if Brian Elliott can hold up to the playoff pressure and if Pascal Leclaire could stop the bleeding. Another issue is the Senators, along with the Canadiens, are on the negative side of the goal differential for playoff teams. The points aren't there, with Daniel Alfredsson as the only point-per-game player. Jason Spezza has had an off-year, but Mike Fisher did surprise a lot of people with his first-half, but slacked in the second-half. It'll be an uphill battle for the Sens in this playoffs, for sure.
PREDICTION: Senators in seven. An uphill battle, but not something they couldn't overcome, especially when people counted them out as a non-playoff squad this year. Elliott could pull a series out of his back-side, while M-A Fleury has had an off-year, but did a solid job in his run last year. This could be a the best series in the East to watch.
I'll be touch on the West tomorrow, but that has plenty of solid match-ups and has the possibility for a lot of upset specials in the making. Join me.....or not.