My 2009 playoff bracket
Montreal (8) vs. Boston (1): Talk about déjà vu. While the Canadiens own the historical advantage in the series, having won 24 of the 31 previous meetings, the teams have been an even 4-4 since 1989. This time around, the Bruins have the definite edge with an extremely balanced attack (six 20-goal scorers, tied with Philadelphia and San Jose for the most in the league). And Zdeno Chara will always hold the size advantage. Montreal goalie Carey Price could steal a game, especially if the Bruins are thinking what the rest of us are: This should be a cakewalk. Bruins in five.
New York (7) vs. Washington (2): A chance to answer the timeless question: offense or defense? The Rangers' top-ranked penalty kill will frustrate the Caps, who have the best power play in the East. New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist can be a difference-maker in a series, but he's struggled on the road this season with a 13-14-3 record away from MSG. With a roster replete with dynamic scorers who absolutely love to play at home, Washington will be an impossible hurdle for the Rangers to clear. But expect an active series for New York's Marc Staal, who has done a decent job as Alex Ovechkin's on-ice shadow in the past. Better that than Alexander Semin's drum set, right? Capitals in six.
Carolina (6) vs. New Jersey (3): This is a toughie. The goaltending will be nothing short of superb for both teams, so it will come down to the skaters. The Devils' defensively-responsible forwards should muzzle Carolina's top line of Eric Staal, Erik Cole and Tuomo Ruutu, but must beware of the Hurricanes' depth. Sergei Samsonov, freed up since Cole replaced him on Staal's right wing, has sparked captain Rod Brind'Amour (eight goals, 18 points in 16 games since the trade deadline). Defenseman Anton Babchuk has been a Devils-killer this season (four goals, five points in four meetings). I can see this one going either way, but give the Devils the slightest advantage because they have the physical edge, and hold the upper hand in smarts and experience. Devils in seven.
Philadelphia (5) vs. Pittsburgh (4): The addition of wingers Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin to Pittsburgh's top line jump-started Sidney Crosby, and Penguins fans are finally saying, "Marian who?" Since ditching coach Michel Therrien (on the heels of getting defenseman Sergei Gonchar back), the Penguins have averaged 3.67 goals per game, up from 2.93. The Flyers' special teams are stronger, but Pittsburgh has more consistency and talent all-around. The Pens must improve their power play and can't give an inch to Philly's crease-crashers. Penguins in six.
Anaheim (8) vs. San Jose (1): The first California series in 40 years is overdue given that these are two of the most successful post-lockout teams. It promises to be worth the wait. Anaheim's top line will give San Jose trouble, especially if the Sharks can't shed the 800-pound playoff monkey of their past failures. The Ducks are a terrific road team, but so are the Sharks. Anaheim has been lights-out on the power play, but San Jose's better. The most significant difference rests on Anaheim's iffy penalty killing. At 79.7 percent, the Ducks are ranked 23rd, not great news for the second most-penalized team in hockey. If they can avoid taking bad penalties, they could pull the upset. But sometimes it's just too hard to teach the old Ducks new tricks. Sharks in six.
Columbus (7) vs. Detroit (2): Welcome, Blue Jackets, to the wonderful world of postseason play. Now, get out. Okay, maybe that's a little harsh, but when the two people most important to their success (Rick Nash and Steve Mason) are in their first playoffs, against the defending champions no less, it's hard to see how Columbus can sway this series in its favor. Detroit has its issues, but over the course of a seven-game series, the Wings are the much better team. Red Wings in five.
St. Louis (6) vs. Vancouver (3): The hottest team since the All-Star break (Blues) got a bum draw against the second-hottest team. But maybe it's not such a bad thing. Hot second-half teams have had a tendency to cool the last three years -- two flamed out in the first round, and the best post-All Star record hasn't gone past the second -- so the ice may be level for these two. It'll be close, but Vancouver's propensity to report to the box sets things up nicely for the Blues. Their eighth-ranked power play against the Canucks' 16th-ranked penalty kill is exactly where St. Louis must seize the opportunity to pull the upset. Blues in seven.
Calgary (5) vs. Chicago (4): Don't let the seedings fool you. Calgary is the favorite and should win this one, what with a definite size advantage and veteran playoff experience (save for Olli Jokinen, who finally makes his postseason debut!). But the Flames have been so inconsistent that it's hard to know which team will show. It's been five years since Chicago was in the postseason, and they haven't won a series since 1996, but that's about to change. The Hawks have owned Calgary this season, winning all four games, and recent history suggests that teams that sweep the regular-season series will win a subsequent playoff battle. Blackhawks in six.
Pittsburgh (4) vs. Boston (1): Tim Thomas and Chris Osgood should start a support group for goalies who don't get no respect. But the Bruins' fatal weakness is in transition, which Pittsburgh can and will take advantage of. Penguins in six.
New Jersey (3) vs. Washington (2): Goaltending will be an issue for the Caps. Whereas Jose Theodore can probably get away with a 2.87 GAA and .900 save percentage against the Rangers, a team that would have trouble scoring against a chair, he won't have that luxury against the Devils, who have 45-goal- scorer Zach Parise on their roster. Devils in six.
St. Louis (6) vs. San Jose (1): The Blues' Cinderella story ends here, where they will be outmatched. Even if the Sharks are totally banged up from their go-around with Anaheim, a quick series will give them time to recover. Sharks in four.
Chicago (4) vs. Detroit (2): Chicago's young guns will come out firing, but their mediocre special teams will expose them against the league's finest power play. Red Wings in six.
Pittsburgh (4) vs. New Jersey (3): The Devils lack a real play-making center; Pittsburgh has three. The mismatch down the middle tilts it in the Pens' favor. But goalie Marc-Andre Fleury will be the primary reason Pittsburgh wins this series. Penguins in five.
Detroit (2) vs. San Jose (1): Detroit and its inconsistencies, especially in net, will be exploited by San Jose's firepower. Home-ice advantage is key; neither team lost in its own building during their four meetings this season. Sharks in seven.
Stanley Cup Final
San Jose vs. Pittsburgh: A year removed from the bitter disappointment of losing it all, the Penguins won't experience the newbie jitters that essentially gave Detroit a two-game head start. If anything, they'll look to capitalize on the Sharks' excitement about making it past the second round. Sid takes the Conn Smythe Trophy. Penguins in six.