Starting in the East, the big story line is the Washington Capitals. They dominated the regular season with 121 points and the President's Trophy for best record in the NHL. If Ovie and the Caps have ever wanted to win a Cup, now is the year. Everything is in place, but can the goal tending keep pace with the offense? Jose Theodore has a bad history of flubbing it in the playoffs and the young Varlamov was strong last post season, but can he come in cold if needed? It wouldn't surprise me if Theodore and the Caps struggle early. Another thing to watch in the east is Buffalo and their injury roster. Thomas Vanek came back strong from injury in the final two games of the season, scoring 5 goals in three games. Key players Tim Connelly and Jochen Hecht did not play in Buffalo's final weeks worth of games but both have recently practiced. Buffalo will need them both if they want to contend past the opening round.
Way out west, plenty of surprises blessed the top 8. Detroit struggles early cost them a top three seed but they are still the most dangerous team I think in the west. Colorado turned it around after a league-worst finish last year so that is good for them. Phoenix nabbed their first playoff spot in 10 years amid turmoil of ownership. The biggest story is the San Jose Sharks. They have dominated the west for the last two seasons, yet they have failed to make it past the second round in the playoffs. "Jumbo Joe" Thornton is the leader of this team but always seems to flop in the playoffs. He, along with Russian goalie Evgeni Nabokov, will need to step up for the Sharks. Nabokov was picked apart by the Canadians in the Olympics and he can not afford to struggle on a big stage again. Prediction time:
1. San Jose vs. 8. Colorado
San Jose HAS to win a 1st round series eventually. Colorado faded toward the end. Sharks in 5.
2. Chicago vs. 7. Nashville
Blackhawks are loaded with young talent. Nashville is scrappy. Hawks win on home ice in 7.
3. Vancouver vs. 6. Los Angeles
Remember that guy who won a gold medal between the pipes. Luongo is too good. 'Nucks in 6.
4. Phoenix vs. 5. Detroit
The Red Wings are the scariest team in the playoffs. Phoenix is good but inexperienced. Experience wins out. Detroit in 6.
1. Washington vs. 8. Montreal
No brainer. Caps too talented and Montreal can't score. Caps in 5.
2. New Jersey vs. 7. Philadelphia
The Devils defense will win out over physical Philly. Devils in 6.
3. Buffalo vs. 6. Boston
Miller is America's boy. He wants to get a silver cup to match is medal. Buffalo in 6.
4. Pittsburgh vs. 5. Ottawa
Barry Melrose says if Ottawa wins, it proves God is a Canadian. But God isn't Canadian. Pens in 6.
1. San Jose vs. 5. Detroit
Uh oh. Red hot Detroit runs into San Jose. Wings steal one in San Jose and win the series in 6.
2. Chicago vs. 3. Vancouver
This series boils down to if the Hawks can stop Henrik Sedin and get the puck past Luongo. I see an upset here. 'Couve in 6.
1. Washington vs. 4. Pittsburgh
The match up every NHL fan wants to see. Sid the Kid versus The Great 8. Ovie and the Caps took all four games in the season series, and they take this one. Caps in 5.
2. New Jersey vs. 3. Buffalo
This is speed versus defense. Buffalo can slow it down if needed. Two outstanding goaltenders in this one. Buffalo has more firepower and pull it out in 7.
3. Vancouver vs. 5. Detroit
Vancouver back with home ice is tough to beat. The offense will overwhelm Detroit who has to cool off at some point. Canucks will win in 7.
1. Washington vs. 3. Buffalo
Ovie never played Miller in the Olympics. It would have been an great game. Two high-octane offenses here, Caps outscore the Sabres. Caps in 6.
Stanley Cup Finals
Washington Capitals vs. Vancouver Canucks
An awesome final. These two teams are capable of winning the cup. Washington can put shots on net like no other team in the league. That will be key for the Caps if they want to win, the more shots at Luongo the more likely they find holes in his armor. Capitals will win Lord Stanley's Cup in 6 games and Ovechkin will be the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Finals MVP.