O.K., enough lollygagging about, just make the damn picks already...
Detroit VS Calgary
The Red Wings are incredibly lucky that Colorado missed the playoffs, because the Avalanche were the hottest team in the league down the stretch, going 15-2-2 in their last 17 games, but missing the playoffs by a mere point.Colorado would already be the hotter team, clicking on all cylinders, and would take it up another notch for the heated rivalry.
Instead, Detroit gets the Calgary Flames. The team showed signs of figuring things out by going on a late season six game winning streak, then almost crapped it all away by losing their last four and finishing the season on a 7-8-1 slide. That type of inconsistent play does not bode well for playoff contention. Detroit should dominate this series - unless of course Hasek's groin falls apart. again. Red Wings in six.
Nashville VS San Jose
I mentioned that Nashville had struggled against Detroit, and that if they faced them in the playoffs, they would get murdered. Fortunately for the Predators, they won't play the Wings just yet. Instead, they'll spend their first round against the one team out West that they outplayed all season, the Sharks.
Sure, San Jose finished the season going 13-2-2 in their last 17 games, but 8 of those 13 wins came against the bottom five (CLB, CHI, LA, PHX, EDM), and even including that streak, San Jose was still only 19-11-4 after the All-Star break. Say what you want about Nashville padding their record against mediocre teams, all the top five teams out west did it - that's why most of the five teams I just mentioned were packing their golf clubs as much as a month ago. The Sharks were only 17-15-4 against the Western Conference teams appearing in the playoffs. Predators in six.
Vancouver VS Dallas
This could very well be the most boring series in the coming two weeks. The two lowest scoring playoff teams face off, as will two goalies - Roberto Luongo and Marty Turco - looking to finally make their playoff mark. Yes, Marty had his run before, but he has done nothing since. Vancouver may have scored fewer goals on the season, but the Sedin twins alone give them more playmakers than Dallas, where only one forward finished the season with more than 50 points. Canucks in five.
Anaheim VS Minnesota
I am sticking to my guns. I said that Anaheim would survive the first round unless they played Minnesota. Well, here they are - and there they go. Anaheim went 2-1-1 against the Wild this season, but they played all those games before Minnesota got Marian Gaborik back from injury. The team from the blue state has been on a tear, going 27-8-5 after Gaborik returned, including a 13-2-1 stretch to finish off the season where they outscored their opponents 45-19.
Minnesota isn't getting enough credit for what they do, and Gaborik's return has rejuvenated Pavol Demitra's game to give the Wild two dangerous lines. Anaheim is older and Niedermayer may not be able to hang with Gaborik all night all series. Wild in seven.
That means Detroit, if they stay healthy, putting a whomping on Nashville, and Vancouver eking out Minnesota in a defensive second round battle. Vancouver takes down a finally worn down Detroit team in six to go to the cup finals.
Buffalo VS Islanders
Hmmm....Ryan Miller (40-16-6, 2.73 GAA, .911SV%) against Wade Dubielewicz (4-1, 2.06 GAA, .934 SV%). As nice as Doobie's numbers are, and against the Rangers, Devils and Leafs no less, it's still only four games, and this is still an elite goalie against a career backup. Sabres in four.
Ottawa VS Pittsburgh
A local sports broadcaster, whom I will not name, but who I have lost all respect for, actually went on national TV and said "I wish the Pens could have drawn any team but this one, because I have no idea how they will handle such a talented and experienced playoff team." This statement was absolutely retarded, since the Penguins just beat Ottawa five days ago, and have beaten them three times in the last month.
A big to-do was made about the Penguins and Ottawa dueling for home-ice advantage, based in the teams home records being better than their road records, but I really don't think it matters in this case. Most of those record disparities are due to early season struggles overall - these two teams are a combined 65-16-13 since Christmas.
The Senators are a very sound defensive team (as opposed to a Pittsburgh team full of more offensive defensemen), but Pittsburgh has a clear edge in goal. Marc-Andre Fleury has played very well for a while now, and Ray Emery can't be particularly confident against the Penguins. His last three games against them (again, within the span of a month): 1) blew a 4-1, third period lead in a span of three minutes as the Pens went on to win in a shootout, 2) gave up three goals on only 19 shots, but kept his team in it all the way to a shootout, only to give up the decisive goal to Jarkko Ruutu of all people, and 3) allowing the game winning goal with 9.8 seconds left in regulation of a 3-2 loss. Some, if not all, of that will be in his head throughout this playoff series. Penguins in six.
Atlanta VS New York
Atlanta finished off the season playing solid, if unspectacular, hockey. There are large amounts of pressure on this team to finally do something with the talent they have. They have a chance against the Rangers, as their 3-1 record against them this year might indicate, although the two teams only played once after the All-Star break. We'll get to find out if a) those free -agent acquisitions were a good idea for Atlanta, b) if Jaromir Jagr has a bit more left in his tank, and if c) Sean Avery is able to ratchet up the intensity to playoff levels without taking anyone's head off. I say he does, and Atlanta goes home. Rangers in six
New Jersey VS Tampa Bay
Brodeur is the man, Johan Holmqvist and Marc Denis most definitely are not. The Devils are not a team that is intimidated by Tampa's incredible top line of Lecavalier and St. Louis, because they know if they stay within the system they will have no trouble shutting that line down, and there's no one else who can beat them on that Lightning squad. There will very likely be a lot of 1-0 and 2-1 games, but the Devils will move on. New Jersey in five.
So moving forward, I love my Penguins, but I don't think they're quite ready to hang with Buffalo in a seven game series. Buffalo advances in six games to the conference final and face a Devils team that mows through the Rangers in five games. However, the Devils meet their match, setting up a Buffalo-Vancouver cup, with a great goalie duel on tap every night and just enough scoring, speed, and physicality for non-stop excitement. Sabres in seven!