2010 NHL Playoff Predictions

It’s NHL playoff time.  The regular season is done and now the new season begins.  The previous 82 games mean nothing anymore, but they do provide us with a basis from which we can make our predictions on who will provide us with the unthinkable upset, who will live up to their high expectations and make a strong run to the finals, and who will be the last team standing with the Stanley Cup hoisted above their heads.  Here is a look at my predictions.  How accurate will they be?  That remains to be seen, but you can blame a guy for trying.

Eastern Conference First Round Matchups:

(1) Washington Capitals vs. (8) Montreal Canadiens

The Habs are one of the leagues worst teams 5-on-5 and the Caps are one of the best.  That is only the beginning of the bad news for Montreal coming into this series with the NHL’s top regular season team.  Sure, the Caps may have had little to play for down the stretch, but that didn’t slow them down at all.  And if you thought that the Habs had the advantage over the Caps between the pipes, think again.  Jose Theodore is 20-0-3 in his last 23 starts heading into the post season.  Capitals in 5.

(2) New Jersey Devils vs. (7) Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers owned the regular season head-to-head record between the two teams (6-2), but the playoffs are a completely different story.  New Jersey added some scoring depth prior to the deadline when they acquired Ilya Kovalchuk, and are hoping that the move pays off.  As for the Flyers, they may have confidence playing a team they fared well against during the season, but they struggled mightily down the stretch, and that may have taken a lot of gas out of their tank.  Devils in 5.

(3) Buffalo Sabres vs. (6) Boston Bruins

In a matchup between division rivals, both teams have suffered their fair share of injuries throughout the season.  While the Bruins may be without the services of their main set-up man Marc Savard, the Sabres have had to deal with the uncertain health of Tim Connolly and Jochen Hecht down the stretch.  Buffalo has the clear advantage in goal with Ryan Miller, but Boston netminder Tuukka Rask has been equally impressive, posting similar numbers, albeit in fewer games.  Expect this series to be a tough grind for both teams, and goals will be tough to come by.  Bruins in 7.

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Ottawa Senators

Most people have already written off the Ottawa Senators in this matchup, but don’t kid yourself.  The Sens have been the better team in the second half of the season, and the Pens have struggled against good teams (they do not have a winning record against any team that finished ahead of them in the standings).  The good news is that the Sens finished behind them, but the bad news is that the Sens have been better than their record indicates over the course of the second half of the season.  Ottawa has been quite the streaky team.  If they can get hot in the playoffs, they can go far, but if not, it could be over quick.  Pens in 7.

Western Conference First Round Matchups:

(1) San Jose Sharks vs. (8) Colorado Avalanche

The Sharks have become well known for choking in the playoffs.  Can this be the year where they break away from that reputation?  I’m not sure if I will go that far, but I do think they will be able to improve upon last season’s performance and get out of the first round.  The Avs got off to a strong start, but fell in the standings, finishing in the final playoff spot in the West.  They are young and may give the Sharks all they can handle, but don’t expect it to be enough.  Maybe next year boys.  Sharks in 5.

(2) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (7) Nashville Predators

This battle between division rivals should be an interesting one.  The Blackhawks have one of the leagues most potent offenses, while the Preds have been solid defensively down the stretch.  They will need to continue playing that way if they expect to keep the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa at bay.  Shea Weber may be up for the task, but the Preds just don’t have enough weapons to keep up with Chicago. Hawks in 6.

(3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (6) Los Angeles Kings

Many people have been praising the Canucks.  They have the league’s leading point-getter in Henrik Sedin, and his brother Daniel isn’t to shabby either.  They have also found some secondary scoring and between the pipes they have what many would consider to be one of the NHL’s best goalies.  However, I am not one of those many.  Luongo has been disappointing in the playoffs (see last year’s performance against the Hawks), and is what I believe to be the league’s most over-rated goalie.  With that being said, I will also label the Canucks as the league’s most over-rated team.  They finished first in a very weak division and should struggle against a tough Kings team that can grind it out down low with all four lines.  That spells trouble for an already deteriorated Vancouver defensive unit.  Kings in 7.

(4) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (5) Detroit Red Wings

It was a fairytale season for the Coyotes who surprised everyone by accumulating 107 points and wrapping up home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs.  And for their reward, they get to play the hottest team in the league heading into the playoffs.  The Wings are healthy and have solidified their goaltending worries with rookie Jimmy Howard.  As a result, they have gone 16-2-3 since returning from the Olympic break, and easily made the post-season after being on the outside looking in.  They will be in tough against Coyotes netminder Ilya Bryzgalov, but that will not be enough to stop the 2008 champions and 2009 runners-up.  Wings in 6.

Eastern Conference Semis and Finals:

The Caps will meet the Bruins and with Boston’s scoring issues really beginning to show, Washington will ease through to the conference finals.  There they will take on the New Jersey Devils, who ride a hot Martin Brodeur, and their young star Zach Parise, past the Penguins.  In a battle between the top two teams in the East during the regular season, it will be a hungry Ovechkin and the Capitals that push through to the finals.

Western Conference Semis and Finals:

In a rematch of last years conference finals, the Wings will once again show the Hawks that sometimes it takes a few years before getting to the promise land.  As for the other battle between two West Coast teams, the Sharks will get the monkey off their back and advance to that elusive conference finals round.  There they will take on the Wings and will suffer the same fate as in 2007, when Detroit eliminated them one round earlier.

Stanley Cup Finals:

After suffering the disappointment of losing to Sidney Crosby and the Penguins in the second round, Washington will be fired up to equal the Penguins accomplishments from a year ago.  However, the Wings will also be looking to finish what they couldn’t last year.  It will be a quick paced series with lots of excitement, and when the dust settles, expect the Wings to win the Cup in 7.

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