The Washington Capitals finished an amazing season winning the President's Trophy and the race for eighth was a bit riveting with a near miss by the New York Rangers who lost their playoff spot by a shoot out. It makes panning out the Eastern Conference no easy chore. But I will try anyway.
Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals
#1 Washington Capitals vs. #8 Montreal Canadiens
There will be a more comprehensive breakdown of this series hopefully by tomorrow. But the long and short of it, Montreal just doesn't have the guns to run an open style of game with the Capitals. Canadien coach Jacques Martin will most likely play a controlled game where one goal will be the deciding factor and bet his team can grind out a defensive transition game to make it close. But the Caps are far to skilled and if the games are going to be decided by a goal or less, the best bet is the Caps score it.
Washington defeats Montreal in 5 games.
#2 New Jersey Devils vs. #7 Philadelphia Flyers
If there was ever going to be an upset in the first round of the playoffs, best bet is it is in this series between the Devils and Flyers. The Flyers played New Jersey surprisingly tough this season, partly because of their size. The Devils don't usually like to get into a physical type game and the Flyers aren't happy unless someone is getting thrown out of a game. It is going to come down to goaltending, and my money is on Martin Brodeur.
New Jersey defeats Philadelphia in 7 games.
#3 Buffalo Sabres vs. #6 Boston Bruins
This is actually a tough series to figure out. Buffalo just doesn't score much and Boston is a very defensive team. So it is going to come down to goaltending. Boston's Tuuka Rask is a rookie, but has played strong enough to over take the number one job from veteran Tim Thomas. While in the other net, Ryan Miller has played so well for the Sabres that many are considering him this year's MVP. Rask was 4-1 against the Sabres, while it's hard to ignore Miller's good play. It is literally a coin flip. Injuries also play a pretty big factor as both seem to be limping into this series.
Boston defeats Buffalo in 7 games.
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Ottawa Senators
When are these two not going to square off in the first round of the playoffs. Ottawa was destined for disaster at the beginning of the season, but they found a savior in Brian Elliott. He helped the Senators rise to a playoff spot when most left the team for dead. The Penguins are the returning Stanley Cup Champs, and taking on Ottawa was not what it was like 3 years ago when they lost that emotional series. If the Pens come out sluggish or play to Ottawa's level, the Sens could steal a series away. I doubt if a healthy Evgeni Malkin and their coach Dan Bylsma will let that happen.
Pittsburgh defeats Ottawa in 5 games.
Eastern Conference Semi-Finals
Washington Capitals vs. Boston Bruins
The Caps offense against the Bruins defense. They should be close games and the Caps will have to deal with a lot of Bruin hard work. If the Capitals can hold their own on the defensive end, it's no contest. The Bruins don't have the offensive power to over match the Caps. Most likely the Bruins will play a tough game keeping the score close to one goal differential as possible, much like the Canadiens did the round before.
Washington defeats Boston in 6 games.
New Jersey Devils vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
A divisional matchup with Stanley Cup implications. The Penguins will have to face down a tough defense in the Devils while holding their own on the back end. This is were they will miss a few of their defenesmen gone way of free agency. Marc-Andre Fluery will have to out duel the best if the Pens hope to repeat. The Devils will have to lean heavily on Ilya Kovalchuk to get them to the next step.
Pittsburgh upsets New Jersey in 7 games.
Eastern Conference Finals
Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
The road to the Stanley Cup Finals in the Eastern Conference will go through these two teams. Again, the ratings will be huge, the games will by hyped and Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby will not disappoint. But just like the Penguins were determined after they lost to Detroit to not repeat, the Capitals will look for the same. Last post season, this series would eventually decide the Stanley Cup winner. A possible repeat of the same?
Washington defeats Pittsburgh in 7 games for the Eastern Conference Crown.
Caps move on, at least in theory, to the Stanley Cup Finals. But wait, no fearless prediction can go much further with out a look at the Western Conference first. That will come out this afternoon along with my pick for the Stanley Cup winner. I am so excited, I could just spit.