San Jose looks pretty good coming out of the Western Conference, but what about the East. With the playoffs just hours away now, it's time to see who I predict will come out of the East to play with the Sharks.
The Eastern Conference could have been a toss this year, much like last season. But there are a few teams that have some momentum going and I doubt it is as wide open as some may think. There are some very good teams like Boston and Carolina that seem poised for a good run. While other teams seemed to flounder down the stretch. The East's teams were set early on, nearly a week before the end of the season. But I smell upsets up and down the Eastern seaboard.
#1 Boston Bruins vs. #8 Montreal Canadiens - These two teams seem destined to play each other in the post season. Although this year the roles have been reversed from last year. The Canadiens were atop of Eastern standings and the Bruins just squeaked in. Boston has been a monster all season long, playing staunch defense and finally their scoring is up. The Canadiens struggled, fired their coach and fluctuated in the standings only to wind up at the lowly 8th spot. But don't count them out, if Alexei Kovalev gets inspired and Boston goalie Tim Thomas plays inconsistent it could be a disappointing end to a whirlwind Boston season.
Briuns limps out in 7 games.
#2 Washington Capitals vs. #7 New York Rangers - A lot of "experts" are calling this the upset of all upsets. Really? The Capitals did not look like a playoff bound team in their last few games of the season. They have allowed 20 goals in their last six games. However, the Caps will be facing a Ranger team that has struggled scoring. If the Rangers can not get the puck in the net, it should be a very short series for them. They will make it interesting though, with the tough play of Henrik Lundqvist in net and pest Sean Avery mixing it up. Plus, the Capitals have a bit of history and luck on their side, their goaltender Jose Theodore is a perfect 4-0 in the first round in his career. It is just the second round you need to be careful of.
Capitals win in 6 games.
#3 New Jersey Devils vs. #6 Carolina Hurricanes - It's been a story book year for Martin Brodeur. His injury sidelined him for much of the season, but when he returned the Devils helped him secure his spot in the history books as the winningest goaltender of all time. It could end there for NJ, because they struggled to finish the season. Suddenly they had a lack of scoring and Brodeur didn't look like Brodeur. On the other bench, the 'Canes finished the season with flair. Cam Ward has been playing like he did when they won the Cup years ago and the team seems to be rallying around him. This is a series where both teams seems to be traveling in opposite directions. Upset alert.
Hurricanes win in 5 games.
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Philadelphia Flyers - Rematch of last year's Eastern Conference final. Only this time the Flyers will be better rested. The could pose a problem for the flightless fowl who have had trouble finding their identity this season. The Penguins however made a few smart acquisitions at the trade deadline and a coaching changes seemed to spark them. The Flyers, when healthy and on top of their game are a pretty scary team when they want to be. This will be a hard fought, battle of Pennsylvania. I like the Flyers this time, they are holding a grudge.
Flyers win in 7 games.
Round 2 (probable matchups based on Round 1 predictions)
Boston Bruins vs. Carolina Hurricanes - Interesting matchup. If Boston can stay healthy through their first round against a passionate Montreal squad, I don't see any reason why Boston can't dominate this series. Oh yes I do, Ward. When the 'Canes get the momentum and if they can quickly dispatch of New Jersey, the Bruins will have their hands full. Boston must score early and often if they wish to make it to the conference final. I will flip a coin on this one.
Bruins win in 6 games.
Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers - After an emotional series with Pittsburgh, the Flyers could ride the momentum through the next round, much like they did a year ago when they met Montreal. The Capitals will be shocked to see a grittier team than the Rangers were. If the Capitals' defense shores up in the first round, they should be tougher on the Flyers scoring barrage. But Theodore will have to be sharp. Maybe because it's bias, but I think the Caps can pull it out.
Capitals win in 6 games.
Eastern Conference Final
Boston Bruins vs. Washington Capitals - When the Caps faced the Bruins in the regular season, they were tight one goal affairs. A chess match that the Capitals seemed to have an edge on. But if the Bruins break out the scoring, it is going to be tough on a Capital squad that is in new territory, deep in the playoffs. It will all depend on which team is more tired and more injured going into the conference final. I like the Capitals depth, but I think Boston will pull it out.
Bruins win in 6 games.
Stanley Cup Final
San Jose Sharks vs. Boston Bruins - We are going to extremes here. Just about as east coast as you get against just about as west coast as you could get. Travel will be a key and I expect home ice will come into play in a big way. Time fluctuations and long plane rides will kill momentum in a heartbeat. The Bruins are not used to that kind of travel on a regular basis, so it is an edge for the Sharks. But the Sharks have to be weary of Boston's attack. In the end, Bruins give it a valiant effort but the Cup stays out west.
Sharks win the Cup in 7 games.
NBC will get their money's worth on that series. The Sharks just look good this year, and if they don't pull out of the west it will be a disappointment for them this season. The one thing that can trip them up is overlooking their first round opponent. It is a hurdle for every team once they get a one or two game lead then blow it down the stretch.
I like Boston coming out of the east just because of their play all season (although being a homer, I would like the Capitals better). But it should be an interesting and winding road for any team out of the east.
About noon today I should be coming out with a game preview of the game tonight with the Caps and Rangers. Don't forget I will be updating on twitter through the whole series. You are happy to follow along at twitter.com/pckhdsthghts.