Tuesday, April 13, 2010

2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round Predictions

The best playoff tournament of any league is about to get started! Whether you are a hockey fan or not, it's hard to argue that there is anything better than the Stanley Cup Playoffs when it comes to non-stop action, intensity and drama. While my in-depth look at the Flyers series is coming tomorrow, here are my picks for the first round of the playoffs:

Eastern Conference:
(1) Washington vs. (8) Montreal
Washington in 5

All that offense and just a smattering of defense should be enough for the Capitals to handle a Montreal team that lacks the offensive punch to keep up. The only real advantage the Canadiens have in this series is in net but it's not going to matter against the league's best power play attack. The Rangers should be happy they didn't squeak into the 8th seed to face this Washington team that is destined to go far; this series is going to be ugly enough.

(2)New Jersey vs. (7) Philadelphia
Philadelphia in 7

You came to a site called All Things Philly Sports and you are probably rolling your eyes thinking "of course this guy picked the Flyers to win". Well, I'm sure I have my biases, but I legitimately think the Flyers can take down the Devils, and so do several "experts" like The Hockey News and Bob McKenzie of TSN. When looking at these two teams, there is really only one clear-cut advantage that the Devils have over the Flyers and that's goaltending. Now, I know it's a huge advantage and that goaltending is pivotal in the playoffs, but looking at every other matchup in the series, from special teams play to the defenses, the teams are either even or the Flyers have the advantage. Plus, you really can't toss out that 5-1 regular season record the Flyers had against the Devils, one that saw them outscore Jersey 20-13. I'll have more on this series tomorrow when I break it down even further but you can't deny that this was the best matchup possible for the Flyers in the playoffs.

(3) Buffalo vs. (6) Boston
Buffalo in 6

Remember last season when Boston was the number one seed in the East? Yeah, a lot has changed since then. Buffalo is better in all aspects of the game, starting with Ryan Miller in net and continuing with their deep defensive corps. Since neither team is known to light up the scoreboard, the only chance the Bruins have is if Tuukka Rask pitches two or three shutouts in the series. Count on a lot of 2-1 games and count on Miller carrying the Sabres to the next round.

(4) Pittsburgh vs. (5) Ottawa
Pittsburgh in 5

What do the Senators do well? They aren't particularly good on the powerplay or penalty kill, they don't score very much and they don't have an elite goaltender. I guess the best thing that can be said about them is that they aren't bad in any one particular area but that's not going to be enough for Ottawa to get past the defending Stanley Cup champs. Teams with great centers, great goaltenders and puck-moving defensemen win in the playoffs and the Penguins have all of the above.

Western Conference:
(1) San Jose vs. (8) Colorado
San Jose in 5

It has become a right of passage every spring for the Sharks: get a top seed in the West and then get knocked out early. Things should be a little different with Dany Heatley on board this year giving them even more punch on offense. While the Sharks still might not have a long run in them, the Avs weak defense and goaltending isn't going to get the job done here. Besides, the second round is usually where the Sharks choke.

(2) Chicago vs. (7) Nashville
Chicago in 7

The Blackhawks might be the trendy pick to win the Stanley Cup but I see them having some problems against the Predators. For all those studs the Hawks have on offense they sure don't take care of their own end the way most Cup winners do. Add in plenty of question marks about Antti Niemi in net and you have the makings of a team that could get ousted early. As for the Predators, they boast a pretty deep scoring attack (9 players with double digit goals) and one of the best sets of d-men in the league. I still don't think Nashville has quite enough to knock off the Hawks but this one could go the distance.

(3) Vancouver vs. (6) Los Angeles
Vancouver in 6

The Canucks are too well-rounded and deep to have issues with an inexperienced Kings team that is likely happy just to have made the playoffs. In two or three years we will be talking about how good this Kings defensive group is but LA just isn't ready to make a deep run in 2010.

(4) Phoenix vs. (5) Detroit
Detroit in 5

Poor Phoenix, they come from nowhere and have this amazing season only to be forced to play against a Detroit team that makes a habit of getting to the Stanley Cup Finals every year. While the Coyotes do play a balanced game and get contributions from all over their lineup, the Red Wings appear to have woken from their midseason lull and are as dangerous as ever with all of the usual cast of characters. Just about the only question in Detroit is how Jimmy Howard is going to do; fortunately, Chris Osgood and his three Stanley Cups (2 as a starter) make for the best possible insurance.

Those are my picks for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Check back tomorrow for a more complete breakdown of the Flyers/Devils series.

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