This one is especially hard for me. I want to look at this in a fair way and not have too much bias. Since this is the first time the Caps have reached the post season on my fearless predictions posts, I suddenly feel a strong conflict of interest.
It's also that the East is wide open. There is a mix of struggling teams and hot ones coming into the post season, it's hard to really pick a favorite, unless you're a homer like me (Go Caps!). These are just my gut predictions for the wide open East.
#8 Boston Bruins at #1 Montreal Canadiens - If you looked up the word domination in the dictionary, there would be the regular season record the Canadiens had on the Bruins this year. 8 games, 8 wins. But that was regular season. Goaltending might be the key and since neither Carey Price or Tim Thomas really have any playoff experience. This might be a shooters affair and may the best goaltender survive. While the Habs have had the Bruins' number this year, we are talking history here between these two clubs. Boston, Montreal, an original six series. It should be a hard fought, very long series. If it does come down to offense, Boston is just a step behind.
Montreal wins in 6 games.
#7 Ottawa Senators at #2 Pittsburgh Penguins - Two teams in opposite directions. The Senators started the season so strong that many were doubting that the Sens could be caught in the east. Not only were they caught, they darn near missed the whole post season. To add insult, they have injuries. Daniel Alfredsson, the heart of the Senators, most likely will be sidelined. On the flip side, the Penguins are looking at some goaltending issues. They still have two net minders that seem to run hot and cold and it looks like Marc-Andre Fleury will get the start. The Penguins had a choice in the last game of the season, play a physical series with cross state rivals the Flyers or play the already beat up Senators. Hmm, sit Crosby and sit on your hands for three periods boys, lets go in against the lesser of two evils. Afterall, first place is first place.
Pittsburgh wins in 5 games.
#6 Philadelphia Flyers at #3 Washington Capitals - Good vs. Evil. That is what some are calling this series. A physical hard nosed team versus the feel good story of the season. The Flyers have come a long way since their lowly finish dead last the year before. The Capitals weren't that far off. This should be a battle, very physical and I wouldn't be surprised to see a few fights per game. While the Caps have seemed to solve their goaltending problems, Philly's status is still in the air. Marty Biron has played spectacular at times, and poor for the rest. Offense is pretty even and if the Flyers start taking stupid penalties, lights out.
Washington wins in 6 games.
#5 New York Rangers at #4 New Jersey Devils - The metro series. Talk about an easy commute. The Rangers look to avenge their quick exit from 2 seasons ago when the Devils swept them in the first round. The Devils will once again ride the coat tails of one Mr. Marty Brodeur for as long as they can. Like two years ago, I expect this to be a hard fought series, meriting a seventh game to decide. Rather than what really happened when the Rangers tanked and were out in four. For any hope of the Rangers to move on is if Jaromir Jagr is playing to his potential. If Jagr isn't into it, then the Rangers will struggle at the Rock.
New Jersey wins in 7 games.
Round 2 - probable match ups based on 1st round predictions.
Washington Capitals at Montreal Canadiens - If the Hurricanes hadn't tanked the last game, this could have been a first round match up. Now that the Caps have tasted post season, just how far their winning momentum will take them is in question. They will be pretty beaten up surviving a series with the Flyers, and that could slow down any hopes for a Cinderella story here. It should be a goaltending duel between former teammates. How's that for drama. My heart says the Caps, but my rational side says the Habs.
Montreal wins in 6 games. (But I wouldn't mind being wrong, Go Caps!)
New Jersey Devils at Pittsburgh Penguins - An Atlantic Division battle. These two teams just couldn't win in their own buildings against one another during the regular season. Maybe home ice advantage doesn't mean a whole lot here. The Penguins got a first round pass playing a demoralized Senators team. The Devils are coming off an emotional 7 game metro series. If the Penguins can't shake the rust, Sid "the Kid" Crosby will be finding tee times a bit earlier than planned. Maybe they should have skated against the Flyers, toughen them up a bit.
New Jersey wins in 5 games.
Eastern Conference Championship
New Jersey Devils at Montreal Canadiens - If the Canadiens came this far beating an age old rival and an upstart talent, what makes you think that Broudeur will scare the breezers off of them. The Devils made a run, but their scoring is key. They can play defense with the best of them, but they are going up against a team that knows how to score. I am actually quite surprised that the Devils did get this far. But think of that red New Jersey sweater as the carpeting for the coronation of the Canadiens winning the Eastern Conference championship.
Montreal wins in 5 games.
The Devils are just a different team in the playoffs and I can see them making quick work of both the Rangers and Penguins. As for Montreal, this might be all or bust for them. They will be playing like it. When you have that kind of desperation, it's hard to beat a team that has committed like that.
Stanley Cup Final
Montreal Canadiens at San Jose Sharks - This should be fun to watch. Both teams will be on a mission, both will have been tested to this point. But how do you pick a winner?
Let's start with goaltending, Carey Price may have won in the minors but will that help him in the finals. Evgeni Nabokov has been down this road a time or two, you can bet he isn't intimidated. Advantage: Sharks.
The defense for the Canadiens continues to impress, even with the loss of Sheldon Souray. For the Sharks there is just Brian Campbell, a trade deadline pickup. While the Sharks defense may have some bite offensively, they still rely on Nabokov a bit too much. Advantage: Canadiens.
With names like Joe Thornton, Jonathan Cheecho and Patrick Marleau, you would think that would be an All Star line. But the Candiens know how to put the puck in the back of the net too, even against the toughest of goaltenders. Advantage: Draw.
Special teams are important to any series, in the Finals they are essential. Penalty kills and power plays for both teams are important, and the Canadiens are masters of the extra man. Advantage: Canadiens.
Coaching is a position sometimes not discussed in predictions, but it is important to each team. Ron Wilson will have his troops ready, and he does have a bit more coaching experience in the post season than his counterpart Guy Carbonneau. Advantage: Sharks.
While both teams can play the tough role and the scoring role, it will be a battle of endurance. It will come down to who wants it more.
San Jose are Stanley Cup Champions in 6 games.
With Jeremy Roenick in the fold and some hot goaltending, I like the Sharks chances here. Plus they had a good record against Eastern Conference teams during the regular season. I think this whole notion of the west being a cut above the east is bull, but what ever keeps them happy. The Capitals always seem to have success against Western Conference teams when they go on their little road swings. But I do think that the Sharks have better personnel in this match up with the Habs. Canada is so close to bringing the Cup back, yet so far away.