MORE BRACKETS:Michael Farber | Darren Eliot | Kostya Kennedy | Brian Cazeneuve | Allan Muir | Sarah Kwak
Montreal (8) vs. Washington (1): The Capitals have firepower from everywhere. The Canadiens nearly blew their playoff appearance because they couldn't get the puck into anyone's net in the closing weeks of the season. There is a flaw in the Caps' game: they spend a lot of time defending (poorly) and aren't stable in goal, but that won't be a problem. Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak may cause some problems early, but he has no playoff experience to speak of, and that will bite defensive-minded coach Jacques Martin. Caps goalie Jose Theodore returns to Montreal, the city of his greatest success, but that, too, could be a problem for the Caps as the pressure will be immense. Still it's all about the offense Washington Haves vs. the Montreal Hab Nots. Washington in six.
Philadelphia (7) vs. New Jersey (2): The Flyers went to the last shot of the last game of the season to get in via the skills competition the league likes to call a shootout. The Devils rode an improved offense and their usual solid defense to yet another division crown. The Flyers owned the Devils in the regular season, but we don't care. This is Martin Brodeur, the winningest goalie in the history of the game vs. Brian Boucher, a third-stringer and career journeyman. Boucher can occasionally rise to occasions, but Brodeur, bounced from the last two playoffs before his time and still stinging from getting yanked in the Winter Olympics, has something to prove and that will be enough vs. a dysfunctional Flyers team that has chemistry issues inside its locker room. Devils in six.
Boston (6) vs. Buffalo (3): The Sabres are back after two seasons outside the playoffs, but does that mean they are good? They have stellar goaltending in Ryan Miller and a solid team defense that features possible rookie of the year Tyler Myers and a fistful of veterans, but they were mediocre down the stretch, blew two chances to finish second overall, seldom win on the road, and have spotty scoring from small forwards, several of whom are injured or playing hurt. The Bruins have the worst offense of any team in the postseason, a slew of injuries including concussed No.1 playmaker Marc Savard, but rallied down the stretch behind stellar goaltending from rookie Tuukka Rask, a commitment to team defense and a "can do" attitude that somehow manufactures a winning goal when needed. There is a real possibility of an upset here, but we think Miller's experience trumps Rask in a series that could bore people to tears. Buffalo in seven.
Ottawa (5) vs. Pittsburgh (4): Again, it's all about the goaltending (along with a healthy Evgeni Malkin) in Pittsburgh. The Penguins have Marc-Andre Fleury, a Cup-winning goalie who knows how to win, especially on the road. The Sens, who had a decent season and have a solid coach in Cory Clouston, answer with Brian Elliott, who hasn't done it yet on the big stage. Too much firepower here for Elliott and a thin Ottawa defense. Penguins in five.
Colorado (8) vs. San Jose (1): Okay, the Sharks are playoff underachievers and have given new meaning to playing in the Shark "Tank" but this is the year they mature enough to get out of the first round. Dany Heatley adds even more firepower and there's a little more grit in San Jose's game. Colorado is a nice story line and, hey, it's not like the Sharks don't fear the upset every spring, but the Avs have shown signs of being out of gas and they simply don't have the experience on the ice or behind the bench to overcome everything San Jose can bring. Sharks in five.
Nashville (7) vs. Chicago (2): If you smell a true upset, look no farther than this series. The Hawks have huge expectations, but are banged up on defense and will start a goalie -- Antti Niemi -- with no NHL playoff experience. Nashville year in and out has one of the best team defenses in the game. Problem is that the Hawks have loads of offense and the Predators have next to nothing in that regard. Throw in the fact that Marian Hossa can't keep jumping to the runner-up every year and the Hawks are simply too strong, too fast and too deep to lose this one. Blackhawks in six.
Los Angeles (6) vs. Vancouver (3): The Kings are a team on the rise, but the Canucks are a team that has arrived. There's a difference and you can see it everywhere in the Vancouver lineup. Balanced scoring over two good lines, an exceptional checking unit, decent to occasionally exceptional goaltending, and a steady though somewhat thin blueline go against kids who are largely first-timers in the playoff pool. Even if Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo blows a game, the Sedin Twins and Ryan Kesler can make up for the shortcomings. Canucks in six.
Detroit (5) vs. Phoenix (4): Yes, the Wings were injured nearly all season and yes they are back with a vengeance (coming from outside the pack to fifth overall in a tight conference in the final weeks of the season. But there are chinks here. Jimmy Howard is a rookie, 26 years old, and he had a great season, but he's a playoff rookie nonetheless. The Detroit defense has gotten old and it was the weak point that Pittsburgh exploited in the finals last season. Now it's older and carrying the weight of a long playoff push. Phoenix had a shockingly good season (except at the gate and in the courtroom) but they were consistent on the ice every step of the way because of strong team defense and exceptional goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov, who just might be the Vezina Trophy winner and (outside shot only) the league MVP. We're looking at an upset here. Coyotes in six.
Pittsburgh (4) vs. Washington (1): A little early for the TV folks, but this is still must-watch hockey. The Capitals have been playing for this matchup all season and they are ready for it. Crosby-Ovechkin will be the highlight, but it will be Washington's overall team offense that carries the day against a Penguins defense that isn't as physical as it needs to be to win this time around. Capitals in six.
Buffalo (3) vs. New Jersey (2): Another grind-it-out special in the East. (Oh the excitement. Not.) Buffalo is great at killing penalties, but the Devils don't take many, have a potent power play. Sniper Zach Parise has figured out Ryan Miller and he tells his friends. Devils in seven low scoring games.
Phoenix (4) vs. San Jose (1): Just when the Phoenix area fans figure out there is a hockey team out in the 'burbs, the Coyotes run out of time. Sure, the Sharks are ripe for a fall, but they surprise even themselves and win the pressure games, especially on the road. Sharks in six.
Vancouver (3) vs. Chicago (2): Having survived an extreme case of first-round jitters, Roberto Luongo goes all Patrick Roy on everyone and carries the Canucks to a surprising win that just happens to see them get defensive specialist Willie Mitchell back while the Sedin Twins, Henrik and Daniel, run wild vs. a tired Chicago defense and a goalie who is screaming "No Mas" but in Finnish. Canucks in seven.
New Jersey (2) vs. Washington (1): Devils lose offense through attrition (they didn't have far to go) and Brodeur simply can't keep the Capitals off him or even out of his crease. Ovechkin, still smarting over the Olympic loss, sets the modern day record for goals scored in a playoff series and Mike Green channels Bobby Orr. Capitals in six.
Vancouver (3) vs. San Jose (1): San Jose celebrates getting this far, but gets rocked when Dany Heatley admits he wants to be traded again and goes public that the Sharks aren't giving him the proper "options." Joe Thornton breaks down under the pressure of having to carry his playoff reputation and Heatley's equipment bag, and goalie Evgeni Nabokov suddenly is speaking in tongues reminiscent of Denis Lemieux in a Slap Shot remake. Dan Boyle admits the new ownership in Tampa Bay has sent a letter that all is forgiven if he comes back to coach the Bolts. Meanwhile the Canucks, sensing that lightning can strike even after 40 years of mostly being in the dark, seize the day as Luongo channels Roy and Brodeur and starts wearing a Turk Broda sweater that he thinks gives him mystical powers regarding stopping close-in shots. Canucks in six.
Vancouver vs. Washington: The Capitals light up Luongo like he's Bryzgalov and Nabokov playing against Canada in the Olympics and win their first Stanley Cup ever. Capitals in six.
MORE BRACKETS:Michael Farber | Allan Muir | Darren Eliot | Kostya Kennedy | Brian Cazeneuve | Sarah Kwak
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