The NHL playoffs are two months off and there’s still the trade deadline to get through and injuries to avoid before we can even contemplate a conversation about the 2009 NHL post-season.
If the playoffs started today, here are the matchups – and predicted outcomes.
Boston Bruins (1) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (8)
The Bruins have come too far, too fast this season to see it all end in the first round. The Canes have the edge in experience, given their Stanley Cup run in 2006, but history lessons don’t win you hockey games.
Outcome: Bruins in five games
Washington Capitals (2) vs. Buffalo Sabres (7)
The Sabres are the kind of low-seeded team you don’t want to face: they’ve got an elite goalie in Ryan Miller, a game-breaker in Thomas Vanek and one of the strongest team bonds in the NHL due to the fact most of the players were drafted by the team and came up through the minors together. But. Washington has Alex Ovechkin. (And great support in Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and defenseman Mike Green.) Washington got a taste last season, losing in the first round to the Flyers in overtime of Game 7; this year, the Caps have looked like a contender virtually all season rather than a last-day-of-the-schedule playoff qualifier.
Outcome: Capitals in six games
New Jersey (3) vs. NY Rangers (6)
Martin Brodeur should be back in net for the Devils – and Sean Avery might very well be on the ice for the Rangers. But there’s a significant difference from last year’s New Jersey-New York Round 1 matchup: This time, Brendan Shanahan is a Devil. Bring your own helmet to this one.
Outcome: Devils in six games
Philadelphia Flyers (4) vs. Montreal Canadiens (5)
The Flyers derailed the Habs in five games last season. Montreal has magic on its side this time around – the Canadiens are celebrating their centennial season – while Philadelphia wants to take the next step and make it to the final. Tough call. The Habs and Flyers could get on a roll and steamroll through the East. Or, they could suffer from inconsistent goaltending, as has been the case this season, and maybe win a round before being eliminated. Given the importance of goaltending, that’s much more likely to happen.
Outcome: Flyers in six games
San Jose Sharks (1) vs. Vancouver Canucks (8)
Wow, what a matchup. Assuming Roberto Luongo rounds into his all-star form and Mats Sundin gets going, the Canucks are a great pick as a Cinderella team. Then again, the Sharks are due, due, due in the playoffs. Don’t know if San Jose will go all the way, but no way do they lose out early.
Outcome: Sharks in five games
Detroit Red Wings (2) vs. Minnesota Wild (7)
Nobody likes to play the Wild in the post-season because, well, it’s the Wild. Minnesota plays 82 regular season games like they’re tight-checking playoff affairs, so the Wild is good and ready when the playoffs roll around. But the Wings are the defending champs and their Slovakian-shooting-star-named-Marian – Hossa – has been healthy, happy and productive all season, while Minnesota’s Slovakian-shooting-star-named-Marian – Gaborik – not so much.
Outcome: Red Wings in five games
Calgary Flames (3) vs. Anaheim Ducks (6)
Barring trades, the Ducks would go into this series with Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer manning the blueline and ever-improving Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry leading the offensive charge. Not bad for a No. 6 seed. And not easy for Calgary to overcome. Surprisingly, both teams haven’t received the top-notch goaltending they’re used to seeing from Miikka Kiprusoff (Flames) and J-S Giguere (Ducks). But both are big-gamers and should be ready when it really counts. Maybe Jarome Iginla is saving all his goals for the playoffs.
Outcome: Flames in seven games
Chicago Blackhawks (4) vs. Dallas Stars (5)
The upstart Hawks against the playoff-hardened Stars? Gotta go with experience, right? Dallas advanced to the conference final last season; they’re looking to improve on that, not step back, right? Meanwhile, the Hawks will be just happy to be there, right? Wrong.
Outcome: Hawks in six games
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