Should I lead off by saying, don't expect too much? I think with the prolonged hiatus and the lack of quality posts should cover that. I couldn't miss this, its Christmas time for hockey fans. So let's jump right in shall we?
#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Los Angeles Kings
How sloppy was that Pacific Conference race to mediocrity? And Drew Doughty adding that little blackboard material of wanting to knock the Sharks out, only to lose both games in the home-and-home finale. Well Terry Murray's gone and Darryl Sutter's in, and not much has changed. Jeff Carter whined his way out of Columbus and somehow he was lucky enough to get traded to the same team his best friend forever was shipped off to. They should have sent that little bitch to the Islanders just to send a message. But the Kings still have Jonny Quick and Anze Kopitar, and they'll have to ride those two horses into the ground to have any shot of beating the Canucks.
Vancouver slept their way through the second half of the season and still end up with the Presidents' Trophy, for better or worse. I can't tell if they're lying in waiting, or if they're just disinterested at this point, but they don't appear to be a team ready for the post show. Even still they're a talent-ladent team that beefed up defensively, if not bulkier. They're going to give Roberto Luongo the chance to do it himself, but if it were me, I'd be starting Cory Schneider, ego be damned. They'll need Daniel Sedin back to be dominant, but should be able to walk over the Kings fairly easily.
Canucks in 6.
#2 St. Louis Blues vs. #7 San Jose Sharks
Never thought I'd be putting those numbers with those teams back in October. I really don't know how the Blues missed taking the points lead, but I see them as the most dominant team coming out of the West at this point. Hitchcock has got a solid roster operating like a well-oiled machine. The two headed tandem of Jaro Halak and Brian Elliott provides security, and they can roll out three solid lines with a vengence. Their defense moves the puck well and will be the difference in this series.
The Sharks on the other hand are just slowly breaking down. Then again, every other year they've rolled into the postseason strong, and looked like Cup contenders, they've never made it. But its not like they still don't have high expectations, even limping in as the seventh seed. That seems to be the killer for this team, that and a lack of a killer instinct. I really don't expect them to make it out of this round, especially with how the Blues have owned them this season, and the fact that this team is just getting older and older.
Blues in 5.
#3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #6 Chicago Blackhawks
Phoenix grabs the division title and look the best they've ever been with Tippett at the helm. Mike Smith has been a revelation after stinking it up in Dallas and Tampa for years. You want to feel good about the Coyotes making some progress in the postseason, but their first round exits in years past makes that sunshiny feeling run away real quick. Honestly the Coyotes are a middle of the road team that got a good seed thanks to a lousy Pacific division.
The Blackhawks are two years removed from a Stanley Cup, but a team that has seen a lot of personnel ship out since then, with the exception of the core of Toews, Kane, Hossa, Keith, Seabrook, and I'll even throw Hjalmarsson in there. Corey Crawford isn't Antti Niemi, but even Niemi wasn't and still isn't considered a Stanley Cup winning goaltender. The Hawks know what it takes to win, but with Toews probably not being 100% after his concussion (from car accident not some other bullshit), it leaves a little room for skepticism. But still, I think the Hawks will have enough to win even if it takes the whole series.
Blackhawks in 7.
#4 Nashville Predators vs. #5 Detroit Red Wings
This is it, we're all in. Wait, who are we talking about? I would say its the same for both teams. Detroit is on its last legs with this roster, but are still the deepest team organizationally that this League has ever seen. I expect this to be the swan song for Lidstrom and Holmstrom, and without that presence on the blue line and in front of the net for years to come, I expect to see a slide. But the ol' boys will give it one last run, and the wizardry of Zetterberg, Datsyuk, and Franzen while still amazing, is starting to wane. Okay, maybe not Datsyuk, but he's an alien. Jimmy Howard is a strong goaltender, but I've seen the playoffs break him down, mentally more than anything.
The Preds have certainly pushed everything into the pot, if not to now get out of the second round alive after conquering the demon of the first round, then just to keep Shea Weber and Ryan Suter in Nashville for a few more years. The coup of re-obtaining Alex Radulov certainly helped the cause, if not conveniently timed, but carefully handled by GM David Poile. They grabbed a few others to beef up the lineup in front of the immovable Pekka Rinne. This is the best shot they've ever had of going deep, and I believe they can get past the postseason stalwarts of Detroit.
Predators in 6.
#1 New York Rangers vs. #8 Ottawa Senators
Ottawa has been the surprise of the year, with Paul MacLean behind the bench he's had a steady hand on the youth and experience of this Senators club. Erik Karlsson has been the revelation for this team, and its true he loves playing the game, and has tremendous skill, but he is far from being a complete hockey player. Alfredsson is exactly that, but this again is probably his last hurrah, despite the ability to probably go a few more years. Spezza will need to continue his strong play, and Michalak will have to go back to his play in the 1st half of the season, which are both unlikely to happen.
This is most certainly the Rangers best chance at doing some damage since 1994, but something in me just believes that they are not built as a playoff team, I don't know why. They've got a lineup of lunchpail guys, a hero in Brad Richards, a sniper in Marian Gaborik, and a helluva backstop in Henrik Lundqvist, but I don't like their chances beyond this first round. John Tortorella, love or hate him, turns teams into contenders. His shot blocking methods are what brought the Stanley Cup to Tampa Bay, and this Rangers team has turned it into an art.
Rangers in 5.
#2 Boston Bruins vs. #7 Washington Capitals
This should really be a lot better matchup than it is, but I don't think anyone has any faith in Dale Hunter leading the Caps anywhere. If you had a choice right now, to enter the postseason with Bruce Boudreau or Hunter behind the bench, who would you take? You may not think Boudreau has what it takes to lead this team to some sort of promised land, but you certainly don't think Hunter has it in him. Ovechkin has slightly returned to his old form in the last few weeks of the season, but he'll still need to up the ante to put this team on his back and get them through this round. And he'll need help, Nicklas Backstrom's return helps, Alex Semin will need to play like he gives a shit, and that playoff monster in Joel Ward will need to return for them to do any damage on a bruising Bruins squad.
Boston was flat after the midseason break, but returned to form at the end of the season. I really don't know have the Bruins have the energy, or desire, to get the 12 wins to get to the Finals, but are nonetheless a strong, well-built team. Tim Thomas is not the same goalie he was last year, then again, the postseason let out a freak in him that earned him a Conn Smythe by the second or third round. You've still got Bergeron, Krejci, Lucic, Seguin, and Chara to deal with, and they definetely know what it takes to up it another level.
Bruins in 6.
#3 Florida Panthers vs. #6 New Jersey Devils
Back in the postseason for the first time in forever, this Frankenstein of a team with Kevin Dineen will give the people of Miami/Ft. Lauderdale something to cheer about, if only for a short while. As everyone has said, this team won a division title thanks to being in an incredibly weak division that saw Washington take a nosedive. They'll give a try, probably win a game on home ice, but I expect it to be over quick.
The Devils are most certainly a better club than the Panthers, and won't need much to sleepwalk through this series. DeBoer is a solid coach who's handled the team well despite last year's debacle after the Summer of Ilya. Brodeur is nowhere near the goalie he once was, and I honestly hope he hangs them up after getting a first round win after a few years. I wouldn't call this an upset, but maybe beating the Rangers in the next round would be.
Devils in 5.
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Philadelphia Flyers
The 4/5 matchups are certainly the best, probably because they're the most even. Either one of these teams could move on, but they'll be worse for wear in the next round. Pittsburgh was so damn strong without Crosby, adding him only makes them scarier. Malkin has been a beast all year, but he's got support and that's what makes this team so dangerous. Fleury is a solid, little goaltender, who can do enough to get a win.
Philadelphia will need Ilya Bryzgalov to be stellar, and even steal this round to give the Flyers some hope. Pronger's presence is deeply missed, and I have a feeling we'll see him in the next round if the Flyers can get there, and if not, in late games in this round. The Flyers have scoring depth like the Penguins but will need it from all parts of the lineup. This will be a brutal series and more than likely the best one of the first round. Its anybody's guess who ends up the winner in this one.
Penguins in 7.
Sorry about the formatting for this, Blogger sucks.