My 2010 playoffs bracket
Sorry, no Crosby-Ovechkin rematch this year -- you can blame the Devils for that
The Red Wings have the Sharks' number this season, not a good sign for San Jose
Worry for the Canucks: Roberto Luongo's been making unusual mistakes of late
Montreal (8) vs. Washington (1): This marks the first time these two teams have met in a playoff series. These are the two best power-play teams in the league, with the Caps at 25.2 and the Habs at 21.8, so discipline will be at a premium. Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak will have the world's pressure on his shoulders -- Washington scored 101 more goals than Montreal during the regular season -- so look for Jose Theodore, who has played well down the stretch, to lead the handshake line in his old haunt. Capitals in 6.
Philadelphia (7) vs. New Jersey (2): This is New Jersey's 13th straight year in the playoffs. In each of those years, they've lived and died with a simple formula: Defense and Martin Brodeur's goaltending. Still, the Devils have won just two series since their last Cup run in 2003 and now they have sniper Ilya Kovalchuk to complement scorers Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. That will be a good test for Chris Pronger, who always plays at his best and meanest in the spring. Philadelphia has dressed seven goalies this season and used five of them. The Flyers have also beaten the Devils in five of their last six meetings, and they have Brian Boucher rounding into form in goal. They'll need a nasty Pronger, a consistent Boucher and a healthy Jeff Carter to win the series. Devils in 6.
Boston (6) vs. Buffalo (3): First goal wins. With Ryan Miller and Tuukka Rask in goal against two so-so offenses, this series could be as explosive as a soccer game. It's amazing that the Bruins could go from one of the top offensive teams of the season to the very worst. Granted, the trade of Phil Kessel and the loss of Marc Savard to injury could explain it. Maybe they should play shorthanded the whole game. Still, the Sabres will need to score, too. The re-emergence of Thomas Vanek over the last week bodes well for the postseason. The Sabres have a decisive goaltending edge against most teams they face, and even though Miller may be the league's best, Buffalo won't be able to fall back on him during this series, which features the top two keepers in the league in goals-against average and save percentage. Guess which one is on top? Bruins in 7.
Ottawa (5) vs. Pittsburgh (4): Sidney Crosby is hot and Evgeni Malkin is healthy and rested, so what can stop the Penguins? Maybe a streaky team such as Ottawa, which won 11 straight during the season, but had two six-game losing streaks as well. Still, the Pens are moving in the right direction and without the injured Alex Kovalev, the Senators don't have the weapons to gun with them. Penguins in 5.
Colorado (8) vs. San Jose (1): Repeat after me: "This is the year." Well, first San Jose has to get past the first round. The top forward line, filled with three 80-point studs (Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley) may be the best in hockey and there is only so much that Paul Stastny can do to keep up for Colorado. Avs goalie Craig Anderson will have his mitts full with an onslaught. Sharks in 6.
Nashville (7) vs. Chicago (2): The Hawks' young forwards (Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp) have matured nicely this season, but Chicago has to decide who will play in goal. Christobal Huet had more work, playing in 48 games, but Antti Niemi has outplayed him lately. Chicago will come at Nashville with speed and the Preds will need a breakout series from Patric Hornqvist, who has been their best player this season (30 goals, plus-18), but he must prove he can do it in the postseason. Blackhawks in 5.
Los Angeles (6) vs. Vancouver (5): The Kings are a team for the future. They have talented scorers such as Anze Kopitar and Alexander Frolov and a future Norris-Trophy winner in Drew Doughty, but the Canucks have a goaltender who just backstopped Canada to an Olympic gold medal and a twin who led the entire league in scoring. Roberto Luongo and Henrik Sedin are only part of the story. Alex Burrows, Mikael Samuelsson, Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond are all 25-goal scorers. If Luongo is on his big-game best, L.A. will have to wait its turn. Canucks in 6.
Detroit (5) vs. Phoenix (4): This is the one series in which the team with the better record really isn't the favorite. How can you pick against one that has been to the Cup final the last two seasons? By getting on a streaky roll, the Wings moved up from a fight for the eighth seed in the West into sixth. And now that they've committed to Jimmy Howard, they have confidence in their goaltender. As for the Coyotes, who are these guys? They have one player with 20+ goals (Radim Vrbata, 24) and just two forwards with 50+ points (Shane Doan, 55; Matthew Lombardi, 53). They'll need to circle the wagons in front of Ilya Bryzgalov just to stay with Detroit. Red Wings in 6.
Boston (6) vs. Washington (1): The Caps scored 112 more goals the Bruins during the regular season. Boston allowed just 200 goals, second-fewest behind New Jersey. If this series happens, it will be a great story-within-a-story to see how the Bruins' goaltending and strong defense, especially Norris Trophy-winner Zdeno Chara, can shut down Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Semin. Capitals in 5.
Pittsburgh (4) vs. New Jersey (2): This is not a series the Penguins would care to see. The Devils are 6-0 against them this season, outscoring them 26-5, and have smothered Pittsburgh's top weaponry as well as any team in the league. Here's betting that New Jersey will be the team to freeze out the Igloo for good. Devils in 7.
Detroit (5) vs. San Jose (1): The Wings stopped the Sharks three times this season, so despite their indifferent play during the first two-thirds of the schedule, they proved they can still win the big challenge games when they need to. Until someone gives Jumbo Joe Thornton a good cup of wakeup Joe, we'll expect the Sharks to fall short of postseason expectations built by another strong regular season. Red Wings in 6.
Vancouver (3) vs. Chicago (2): Vancouver can win this series if the Luongo who played in the Olympics can return to form. If he does, the bet is that the Canucks will win and ultimately go to the Cup final. But teams have been putting up crooked numbers against him lately. It could just be fatigue, but Luongo has been overplaying his angles, a mistake he doesn't normally make. If this shapes up to be a series, it could be a memorable one, especially given the skill level of the top forwards on both teams. Blackhawks in 7.
New Jersey (2) vs Washington (1): Sorry, no Crosby-Ovechkin match-up. If styles make prizefights, the contrasts between the two teams will make for a compelling Eastern final. The Caps want to race and turn up the tempo as much as possible. Even with some speedy forwards of their own, New Jersey will want to play Devil hockey, with attention to defense first. Yes, that will still be the mantra even with Kovalchuk's addition to the roster. The series winner may be the one who can keep the pace to their liking. This bet says is it will be the Caps, as much because they have more balance this year than in the past. Capitals in 7.
Detroit (5) vs. Chicago (2): The Hawks led the league in shots (34.1) and shots allowed (25.2) per game. The Wings were second in the league in shots (33.4), so it's always fun to watch these two skilled teams turn turnovers into scoring chances. The rivals spilt the season series, with two shutouts and four games decided by a goal. So goals would be at a premium in such a series. Detroit's star players have already stamped their names into playoff lore. It's time for Chicago's to do the same. Blackhawks in 7.
Stanley Cup Final
Chicago vs. Washington: Given the changing goaltending fortunes the teams had this season, it wouldn't be a shock to see Niemi and Theodore start the playoffs as No. 1's only to be replaced at some point by Cristobal Huet and Semyon Varlamov. The team that survives four rounds will probably need one goalie who can steal a game somewhere along the way. Watch for one of Washington's forwards who isn't named Ovechkin to have a monster night. How many teams can hit you with a 50-goal scorer, a 40-goal scorer, a 30, four more 20s and a point-a-game defenseman (Mike Green) who netted 19? Hawks right wing Marian Hossa has been on the wrong end of the last two finals. This one would be the third. Capitals in 6.
NHL Truth & Rumors