The NHL season has finally come to an end, and after a year of surprises of good and bad, it is now crunch time and the next few months will decide who will win hockey’s most coveted trophy in the league, The Stanley Cup. The 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs open up on Wednesday April 11th with 3 games on opening night. In this article I will discuss each match-up and my predictions for the first round of the playoffs.
Starting with the Eastern Conference bracket. We have the following games.
1 Seed, New York Rangers Vs 8 Seed, The Ottawa Senators
The number 1 team in the Eastern Conference for over 3 and a half months, the New York Rangers open up their series with the Ottawa Senators who have a record of 3-1 against the Rangers this season. This series opens up on Thursday Night at 7:00 PM on MSG and the NHL Network. This series can go either way, a lot will rely on the psychical play of the Rangers and their ability to wear the Senators down, who might not be able to hang with King Henrik and the Rangers in a 7 game series. Though the Senators have the Rangers number this year, everything is different in the post-season. We have potential to see a 6 or 7 game series here but I will go ahead and say Henrik Lundqvist, Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards will be too much for the Senators to handle and the Rangers will take this series in 5.
2 Seed, Boston Bruins Vs 7 Seed, Washington Capitals
This series features the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins going up against one of the best players in the world in Alexander Ovechkin. The Capitals come into this series ready to give the nod to 22 year old rookie goalie Braden Holtby after goalies Michael Neurvith and Thomas Vokoun have went down with injuries. The Boston Bruins were the first team in the NHL to lock up their division title in the regular season and look to come off a strong playoff performance last season. With the experience of net minder Tim Thomas and most of their team returning from last years cup run, I see this series going the Bruins way and them winning this series in 6.
3 Seed, Florida Panthers Vs 6 Seed, New Jersey Devils
The Panthers are coming off their first ever South Division Title and their first playoff appearance since 2000. The Panthers have lead their division for most of the regular season but towards the end of the year, only closed it out with a 2 point lead over the Capitals. The New Jersey Devils are coming off a major turn around season from last year when they were a bottom dweller to now the 6th seed in the playoffs. Martin Broduer has shown some signs that he can still be an everyday goalie in the NHL even at his old age, and with superstars Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk, I can see the Devils making this an easy series for them, and finishing out the Panthers have in just 5 games.
4 Seed Pittsburgh Penguins Vs 5 Seed Philadelphia Flyers
In probably the best series of the first round of the playoffs, it features two of the biggest rivals in all of hockey, with just miles separating the two teams and them meeting 6 times a year, this series is going to be the longest and most hardest fought out series in the entire playoffs. With the brawl that happened in the 2nd to last meeting of the regular season occurring between the two teams and the hatred they have for one another, I see this series going to 7 games, a very tiring series that will wear each other down, leaving the winners with many bruises into the next series and the loser with a bitter taste in their mouth. Ultimately I see this series going to the Flyers in 7.
Over in the Western Conference we have some new comers to the playoffs and some regulars, there are some good match-ups in this first round. Starting with
1 Seed Vancouver Canucks Vs 8 Seed Los Angeles Kings
The Vancouver Canucks are coming off of their second straight Presidents Trophy and a runner up in the Stanley Cup Finals last season, are facing a very good Kings team who were in 3rd place and leading their division up until the final night of the regular season. In this series it features two of the best goalies in the league in LA Kings Jonathan Quick and Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo, this is a series that may not see many goals in it, but can see some 1-0, 2-1 games and some possible shutouts. This may be one of the best opening series in the Western Conference, but I think we may see an upset here with the Kings taking out the Canucks in 7 games.
2 Seed St. Louis Blues Vs 7 Seed San Jose Sharks
These teams after only one season have basically switched spots in the standings. Last season the Blues saw themselves on the outside of the playoffs looking in while the Sharks saw themselves as the 2 seed last year but now sit in the 7th spot, something they have not been used to seeing over the last few seasons. The St. Louis Blues have some of the best goal-tending in the league that is followed by up by one of the best defense’s of the league. The Sharks are a team that is normally bounced out early after finishing strong in the regular season, this year finishing 7th and having to face the Blues in the 1st round I see them getting knocked out in just 5 games. I give this series to the St. Louis Blues in 5 games.
3 Seed Phoenix Coyotes Vs 6 Seed Chicago Blackhawks
The Phoenix Coyotes have won their first division title in the franchise history, though it took them till the 82nd game of the season to clinch it, the Coyotes come into this post-season with a potential to advance to the 2nd round. The Blackhawks, who won the Stanley Cup two seasons ago against the Philadelphia Flyers, enter as the 6th seed, but they have the scoring power and young goal-tending to get by in this series. But they are facing one of the hottest goalies in the league in Mike Smith, Smith has been on a tear towards the end of the season and is one of the main reasons they won their division. The high power offense of the Blackhawks may provide too much pressure for Smith, and I think the Blackhawks and that offense will be able to sweep the Coyotes and advance to the 2nd round.
4 Seed Nashville Predators Vs 5 Seed Detroit Red Wings
In probably the second best series of the post-season, we get to see two Central Division rivals, the Red Wings and the Predators. Both featuring two of the best goalies in the league in Detroit’s Jimmy Howard and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne. Each of these goalies can take over a series for their team and help them advance, but the high power offense of the Wings lead by Pavel Datysuk and Henrik Zetterberg may be too much for the Predators in this series. If Rinne is on he can steal this one from the Red Wings and send them home early, but ultimately I think Jimmy Howard has a strong first round of the playoffs and helps his team advance in a long and hard fought 7 game series. So the Detroit Red Wings will advance in 7.
So lets sit back and enjoy the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and lets see if there are any upsets or any shockers in the 1st round. In the NHL you never know what can happen, and this is why they play 7 games.