Montreal (8) vs. Boston (1): Didn't we do this last spring? This time the Bruins are fast, tenacious and have firepower while the Habs are the team that not only struggled to get in, but seems confused as to exactly what it is doing here. Bruins in six.
New York (7) vs. Washington (2): The Caps have the firepower, an improved defense and goaltending that, while not quite up to the defensive standard set by the Rangers, should be good enough to get past a team that just doesn't score. Capitals in six.
Carolina (6) vs. New Jersey (3): Close in almost every way, but Carolina is the hot team in the East right now with a blend of stellar offense and stingy goaltending that should be just enough to overcome the poise and experience of the Devils. Also, goalie Cam Ward is going to outplay Martin Brodeur. Hurricanes in seven.
Philadelphia (5) vs. Pittsburgh (4): This is the most evenly-matched series in the East, and the Flyers have more things going for them than the pundits want to acknowledge. What they don't have, however, is confidence in their backend. The series will be physical, but the Pens can handle that and have an offense, a power play and a defense that is finally playing to their abilities. Penguins in seven.
Anaheim (8) vs. San Jose (1): The Sharks are the more skilled team and though they have their character and physical shortcomings, they won't be a one-and-out club even against a physical squad like the Ducks. The Sharks are confident in goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, and the Ducks have questions regarding J-S Giguere and possible starter Jonas Hiller. Sharks in six.
Columbus (7) vs. Detroit (2): This could possibly be interesting, what with the Blue Jackets having a young phenom in goal (Steve Mason) and a Stanley Cup-winning coach (Ken Hitchcock), but the Red Wings have more firepower, play good-to-great defense, and whatever shortcomings they might have in goal with the struggling Chris Osgood will not be exposed in this series. Wings are just too good, too smart and too experienced to crumble to newcomers. Red Wings in five.
St. Louis (6) vs. Vancouver (3): Oh, we are so sorely tempted to pick the Blues. They played the best hockey of any team in the West down the stretch, and their stretch dates back to January. They have good-to-great goaltending in Chris Mason and they win close games. That said, the Canucks manufacture enough goals to win and have all-world goaltending in Roberto Luongo. Canucks in seven.
Calgary (5) vs. Chicago (4): There are no upsets when No. 4 plays No. 5, but the perception is that Calgary is bigger, tougher, deeper and more experienced. There's truth to that, but the Flames have been faltering for over a month, their defense is hurt up and down the lineup, and their goaltender resembles a burnt cinder. Chicago answers with maybe a little too much youth, but that youth is fast and skilled. It breezed past the Flames in the regular season and goalie Nikolai Khabibulin is a former Cup-winner (vs. Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff no less) playing his best hockey since that triumph. Chicago in six.
Carolina (6) vs. Boston (1): The Bruins can match the 'Canes in goals, are a tad better in the physical game, and a whole lot better on the defensive side. Boston in six.
Pittsburgh (4) vs. Washington (2): Lots of bad blood here regarding the superstar department. So what? Washington's confidence comes from having great players sprinkled throughout the lineup. The Penguins meet their surprise end here largely because they have has no answer for Washington's slightly deeper defense. Caps in seven.
Chicago (4) vs. San Jose (1): Having been physically tested by the Ducks, the Sharks emerge confident as well as talented. The Blackhawks try to skate with them and pay the price, especially in surrendering goals created by the defense-to-offense transition. Sharks in six.
Vancouver (3) vs. Detroit (2): Luongo, who was stunning in the first round, gets worn down by the relentless Red Wings attack. Osgood finds his confidence, and the Canucks, betrayed by a lack of offense from Mats Sundin and the Sedin twins, are finished. Detroit smiles that satisfied smile and starts thinking the Cup is theirs again. Red Wings in six.
Washington (2) vs. Boston (1): Oh, the upset is so delicious that the Capitals can taste it. Jose Theodore finds his old Montreal game and puts forth a career effort as the young Caps grow more confident and more physical every game. They shock the hockey world and invite President Obama to try out Bill Clinton's old seat. Capitals in six.
Detroit (2) vs. San Jose (1): Somehow we all knew it would get to this. (Okay, I'm just saying this because I picked San Jose in the preseason). This is where it all comes apart for Osgood as Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau put on an offensive show that makes people forget their many past failures. Detroit starts thinking every player is as old as Chris Chelios and plays that way, especially after every third shot a Shark takes bites Osgood. Sharks in six.
San Jose vs. Washington: Canada boycotts and calls for Commissioner Bettman's head on a slightly devalued platter. The Sharks, realizing it's now or never, put it all together in a masterful physical and skillful set that puts the run to Theodore. Obama offers bailout billions if the Caps can win just one for anyone but the Wizards, but it's all to no avail. The best team in hockey finally proves its worth in a surprisingly one-sided series with Nabokov taking the Conn Smythe. Sharks in six.