MORE BRACKETS:Michael Farber | Allan Muir | Darren Eliot | Jim Kelley | Kostya Kennedy | Brian Cazeneuve
Montreal (8) vs. Washington (1): Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak, among the league's top five in save percentage and GAA since the Olympic break, could potentially disrupt the Caps' score-at-will system. A hot goalie has been known to frustrate the Capitals' scorers -- as Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist demonstrated in last year's first round -- but ultimately, Montreal will be overmatched by the NHL's highest-scoring team. Alex Ovechkin has yet to play a postseason series that lasts fewer than seven games...until now. Washington in five.
Philadelphia (7) vs. New Jersey (2): First-round exits in each of the last two years could not have gone over well in New Jersey's front office, which is why GM Lou Lamoriello went after trade deadline prize Ilya Kovalchuk. The former Thrashers captain took a little time to warm in Newark, but over the last 11 games of the season, he scored five goals and 15 points. The Devils need to feel his presence on the power play -- Kovalchuk's scored just two goals on the man advantage despite averaging 5:03 of power play ice time per game as a Devil. If New Jersey can get him clicking on special teams, they will roll right over a Flyers team that lurched into the playoffs, going 6-9-2 in the last month of the season, and is now relying on a journeyman goaltender. New Jersey in six.
Boston (6) vs. Buffalo (3): If the Bruins can score -- a serious if only a year after they were the highest-scoring team in the East -- they'll take the Sabres the distance. But here's the catch: When the Sabres take a lead into the third, you can kiss that game goodbye. Buffalo has a 30-0-0 record when leading after two periods. The series features the NHL's two best goalies, Buffalo's Ryan Miller and the Boston's Tuukka Rask, but what may be the more intriguing battle to watch is between the teams' huge defensemen -- Buffalo's Tyler Myers (6'8") and Boston's Zdeno Chara (6'9"). Boston in seven.
Ottawa (5) vs. Pittsburgh (4): The Senators have been streaky all season, so expect that to continue. If they can get some quick momentum against the defending Cup champions, there is definitely massive upset potential. But the chances of that happening are slim. The Penguins, now one of the most playoff-seasoned teams in the NHL, know how to win. If they can count on having a healthy Evgeni Malkin -- his four-point season-ending night suggests he's getting close -- the Pens should set aside the Sens with relative ease. Pittsburgh in five.
Colorado (8) vs. San Jose (1): After finishing the season 7-1-1, Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov seems to have finally dried off after the hosing he took at the Olympics, when his Russian team fell to Canada, 7-3, in the second round. (After resuming the NHL season in March, the netminder went 3-6-0, including dropping five straight on the road.) The Sharks sure hope it's out of his system, considering the last thing they need is another disappointing early-round boot. Fortunately, they've drawn Colorado, which limped out the regular season with a 3-5-2 record in its last 10 games, and will try to make due without Phoenix-import Peter Mueller (concussion) and with an ailing Matt Duchene, who'll play through a torso injury. San Jose in four.
Nashville (7) vs. Chicago (2): Worried about sending playoff newbie Antti Niemi into the net, Blackhawks fans? Well, take solace in knowing Nashville's Pekka Rinne has played just as many postseason games as his countryman counterpart -- zero. And though Chicago has taken a hit on its blueline (literally), losing Brian Campbell for the time being, the Blackhawks are built on dynamic offense, one that is not often stymied. They've been shut out just twice this season, though one was by Nashville, which always seems to have a formidable defense. Though each game will be close, the series as a whole won't be. Chicago in five.
Los Angeles (6) vs. Vancouver (3): It would be so tempting to pick the Kings and just believe that sunny youthful optimism wins playoff games, but that isn't realistic. It would also discount a very formidable Canucks team, which has lived on consistency. They haven't dropped more than three games in a row at any point this season, and with six 25-goal scorers, they have one of the league's deepest rosters. The Kings will have their day; just not this year. Vancouver in 6.
Detroit (5) vs. Phoenix (4): The sentimental will pull for Phoenix, the NHL's version of the Bad News Bears, to win its first playoff series since 1987, and there is a chance the upstart Coyotes can pull it off. They've been flying in the face of reason all season behind coach Dave Tippett, whose tight defensive system has transformed the Coyotes into winners -- albeit by the skin of their fangs on most nights. But the Red Wings are more experienced, talented and hitting their stride just in time. They've been on a roll since welcoming key pieces, like Johan Franzen, back from injury. Franzen has scored an NHL-high 25 goals in the last two postseasons. Rookie goalie Jimmy Howard will be the wild card, but if he continues his stellar run, expect... Detroit in six.
Boston (6) vs. Washington (1): The Capitals' goaltending, which will be under a microscope at every stage of their playoff run, gets a bit of a break, going up against the lowest-scoring team in the league. Rask could steal a game, but the go-go Caps will sail. Washington in five.
Pittsburgh (4) vs. New Jersey (2): So, here's the thing. Save for last year's Carolina-Boston upset spectacular, teams that sweep an in-conference regular season series tend to come out on top when they meet in the playoffs. Why? Maybe it gets into their heads. So the mental edge goes to the Devils, who defeated the Penguins six times this season. New Jersey in six.
Detroit (5) vs. San Jose (1): The Sharks will feed on a Red Wings team with a defense that's just a little bit older and forwards who aren't quite as snappy as they once were. The Sharks need to make a statement if they want to erase years of, "This year, we're legit. Really. This is the year... SIKE!" Defeating Detroit would surely help them do that. San Jose in six.
Vancouver (3) vs. Chicago (2):Patrick Kane to Roberto Luongo: Remember me? The shifty winger, who has lit up the Vancouver netminder for nine goals and 16 points since entering the league in 2007 and scored a hat trick in the goalie's Game 6 meltdown last spring, will keep pouring it on as the Blackhawks advance to the conference final for the second straight year. Chicago in six.
New Jersey (2) vs. Washington (1): Keeping the Caps off the scoresheet; happened only once this season. But if there is one thing that New Jersey does better than any other team in the NHL, it's keeping their opponents from scoring. For Washington, it seems that four is the magic number. In 21 playoff games over the last two years, the Caps are 7-0 when scoring at least four goals (they're 3-11 when scoring three or fewer). The Devils led the NHL with a 2.27 GAA this season. This series will go back and forth, but goaltending will be the difference, and only one of these teams has a surefire Hall of Famer in net. New Jersey in seven.
Chicago (2) vs. San Jose (1): The Sharks' bid to silence the naysayers won't get past Chicago, where the Blackhawks have the second best home record in the West (29-8-4), especially if Campbell is back on the ice. The fortified blueline will do wonders for muzzling the Sharks' Jumbo Line -- if, of course, it isn't muzzling itself by squeezing its sticks into sawdust -- and help Chicago get out of their zone quicker and therefore spend more time in the Sharks' end, which is where they work best. Chicago in six.
New Jersey (2) vs. Chicago (2): The Devils bid for a fourth Stanley Cup in 15 years will be stymied by the end of the NHL's longest active Cup drought, as the Blackhawks overmatch the Devils physically. Chicago in six.
MORE BRACKETS: Michael Farber | Allan Muir | Darren Eliot | Jim Kelley | Kostya Kennedy | Brian Cazeneuve
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