It took all 82 games, but we finally have the 16 teams that have qualified for this season's Stanley Cup playoffs. As per usual, the first round has thrown up some juicy ties so read on, find out who plays who and then give me your opinion on who will beat who.
Washington Capitals (1) vs (8) New York Rangers
It is hard to look beyond the Washington Capitals in this series, especially considering the quality of players they have on their roster coupled with the fact that the Rangers recently lost Ryan Callahan to injury. However, The Caps threw away a 3-0 series lead against the 8th placed Montreal Canadiens last year proving that anything can happen.
Prediction: Caps 4 – 2 Rangers
Philadelphia Flyers (2) vs (7) Buffalo Sabres
Philly have been very strong this year and the Sabres have not. Philly are bigger and more skilled than Buffalo so I can see this being a very one-sided series. Ryan Miller is going to have to be as good as he ever has been to get the Sabres through this one.
Prediction: Flyers 4 – 0 Sabres
Boston Bruins (3) vs (6) Montreal Canadiens
One of the most heated rivalries in Hockey comes to the fore here with probably the best first round match-up. Boston will be the favourites going into this one but that rarely matters when it comes to rivalries. Both teams will be pumped up for this one and I can't wait.
Prediction: Bruins 4 – 3 Habs
Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs (5) Tampa Bay Lightning
There still is no set date for Crosby's return so it looks like Pittsburgh might have to play one or two more games without their star player. However, they have been doing just fine without both Crosby and Malkin in recent weeks so they should be ok. Tampa will be looking to secure as many wins as they can before Crosby returns and, with Lecavalier, St. Louis and Stamkos in the team, there is no reason why they can't knock the Penguins out in the first round.
Prediction: Penguins 2 – 4 Bolts
Vancouver Canucks (1) vs (8) Chicago Blackhawks
Vancouver have simply dominated this year, even with all the injuries to their blue-line. Led by Kesler and the Sedins, Vancouver stormed their way to the President's Trophy and look set to finally destroy their reputation as perennial under-achievers in the playoffs. Luongo looks solid in net and the Canucks have a great back-up in Cory Schneider. Despite all that, the Blackhawks are the defending Stanley Cup champs and they have dumped the Canucks out of the playoffs in the last two years so this will not be easy.
Prediction: Canucks 4 -3 Hawks
San Jose Sharks (2) vs (7) LA Kings
The San Jose Sharks will want to go one step further than they did last year and reach the Stanley Cup final. They are up against a tough first round opponent but they definitely have the edge. The Sharks' top line will be key in this series and I can't see how LA can match them offensively without Kopitar.
Prediction: Sharks 4 – 1 Kings
Detroit Red Wings (3) vs (6) Phoenix Coyotes
A rematch from last year's first round sees the Red Wings go up against the Coyotes again. Last year the series went seven games (with Detroit prevailing) and I see no reason why this year won't be the same. The Red Wings and the Coyotes shared two wins each against each other this year during the regular season and every game they play is a close one. The Coyotes will be out for revenge for sure and, as a fan, I have to believe they can do it.
Prediction: Red Wings 3 – 4 Coyotes
Anaheim Ducks (4) vs (5) Nashville Predators
The class and skill of the Ducks' top line will go up against the hard working Nashville Predators and I can't see past a series win for Anaheim. With Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan in such great form, the Ducks should progress to the second round despite the fact that Nashville took three of the four games between the two this year.
Prediction: Ducks 4 – 1 Preds
Give me your opinions.