My 2010 playoffs bracket
Detroit is trying to reach its fourth straight conference final -- with a rookie goalie
The Capitals' loss to the Penguins last year will prove to be great motivation
The Canucks are driven to avenge their loss to the Blackhawks and ultimately will
Montreal (8) vs. Washington (1): Last season, Montreal entered the playoffs as the eighth seed. Last season, the Bruins swept them. I see no reason to think that the same won't happen this year against a bigger, deeper, more motivated Capitals team than last year's foe. Of note: Jose Theodore faces his former team...for better or worse. Capitals in four.
Philadelphia (7) vs. New Jersey (2): The Flyers snuck into the playoffs by the skinniest of margins -- a shootout win on the final day of the season in a winner-advances showdown with the Rangers. Brian Boucher played with mettle down the stretch as injuries made him the default option in goal. He remains so. Meanwhile, Marty Brodeur of the Devils was the best goalie on the planet after the Olympics, securing the Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals-against in the league. 'nuff said. Of note: The Flyers won the season series 5-1. Devils in five.
Boston (6) vs. Buffalo (3): If you like your hockey low scoring and hotly contested, then this series is for you. Both teams are adept defensively, which extends to the penalty kill, with the Sabres ranked second and the Bruins third. Neither has produced efficiently on the power play, so goals will be hard to come by. Factor in the goaltending of Ryan Miller for the Sabres and Tuukka Rask of the Bruins, one goal might be enough to win any game in this series. Of mote: The Bruins have won five of six postseason match-ups versus the Sabres and took the season series 4-2. Both their losses? By one goal...Sabres in six.
Ottawa (5) vs. Pittsburgh (4): The Penguins begin their title defense from the fourth seed, the same place their Cup quest began last spring. They didn't play with much consistency down the stretch, however, and failed to win consecutive games over the final 16 tilts of the season. Part of the problem was taking too many unnecessary penalties. Another issue was giving up far too many goals. Neither of those issues should be debilitating here, as the Senators can't match the Penguins' upper-end talent and drew the fifth -ewest power play chances in the NHL. Of note: These teams meet for the third time in four years in postseason play. Penguins in five.
Colorado (8) vs. San Jose (1): The Avalanche paid off their surprising season by holding onto the final playoff berth. Make no mistake, though. They were running out of energy. Which is not a good thing when much of their strength came from the up-tempo, hard-driving approach the young Avs brought to most games. They are up against one of the deepest and most finely-constructed rosters in the league. Any errors of youth and exuberance will put the Sharks' prolific power play right where they want it to be -- in a position to make a difference. Of note: Sharks netminder Evgeni Nabokov returned form the Olympics and went 3-6. He then reestablished his game by posting a 7-1-1 mark to close out the regular season. Sharks in five.
Nashville (7) vs. Chicago (2): For all the talk surrounding offense in Chicago, their team defense often gets overlooked. The Blackhawks yield the fewest SOGA in the NHL, but that isn't as eye-popping as the exploits of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Nashville is all about team defense and scoring on the counterattack, which is all well and good, except that admirable trait isn't balanced on the other side with offensive punch. Additionally, for a team rooted in play without the puck, the Preds' sub-78% penalty kill is problematic. True, they don't make life easy for their opponent, but they make it awfully hard on themselves with so little firepower to draw on. Of note: The Predators have never advanced out of the first round in postseason play. Blackhawks in five.
Los Angeles (6) vs. Vancouver (3): The Kings are in the playoffs for the first time in eight years, while the Canucks are looking to win it all. That's where these franchises are overall and in their respective developmental stages. The Canucks' core is in it's collective prime. The Kings' core is all under the age of 25. The Canucks, led by Art Ross-winner Henrik Sedin, scored the most goals in the Western Conference. The Kings enter the playoffs with goaltender Jonathan Quick fighting to find his game. He failed to win over his final eight starts and got the hook in two of those outings. Talk about bad timing. For the Canucks, their time is now. Of note: It isn't just about the first round for the Canucks. They want to get past the second for the first time since losing the 1994 Stanley Cup Final in seven games to the Rangers. Canucks in five.
Detroit (5) vs. Phoenix (4): It was a season of role reversal for the Red Wings and Coyotes as the Wings spent much of it outside the top eight while the 'yotes surprised from the outset with their stingy, disciplined play. The Wings got healthy and ended the season as the best team after the Olympic break. The Coyotes added at the trade deadline and continued to impress, especially Lee Stempniak and his 14 goals since coming over from Toronto. Still, with the Red Wings in the mix, the Coyotes have to be viewed as an underdog, so to speak, despite their higher seeding. Jimmy Howard wrested the starting goaltending duties from Chris Osgood, so for the first time since Osgood was a rookie, Detroit will have a first-year netminder in goal for the playoffs. How Howard performs will dictate how close this series will be -- and it already promises to be a tight affair. Of note: The Red Wings are vying to get to at least the Conference final for the fourth year in a row. That's a lot of hockey. Red Wings in seven.
Pittsburgh (4) vs. Washington (1): A repeat of the second round match-up of a year ago, this is the Capitals' starting point. After losing in seven games, everything they've done as an organization is to get to this point and beyond. The motivation derived from losing has been the impetus for many teams to improve and ultimately achieve their goals. Witness the Capitals' 4-0 record against the Penguins this season. Capitals in seven.
Buffalo (3) vs. New Jersey (2): Two teams built on defensive responsibility first and two organizations that thrive on continuity. The Sabres' coach, Lindy Ruff, will match wits and lines with the Devils' legendary bench boss, Jacques Lemaire. Call it a draw. Ryan Miller vs. Martin Brodeur in goal -- again, an exciting and even contrast. Derek Roy and Tomas Vanek vs. Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk on the attack. Advantage Devils, and the reason they gave up so much to get Kovalchuk leading up to the Olympic break. Devils in seven.
Detroit (5) vs. San Jose (1): At some point, the Sharks have to get past the class of the conference, right? This is the year if goaltender Evgeni Nabokov finally has a series in which he is the difference. Sharks in seven.
Vancouver (3) vs. Chicago (2): Much like the round two match-up in the east between the Penguins and Capitals, the Canucks' jumping-off point is avenging last year's loss to the Blackhawks. This time, no Luongo meltdown as the Canucks prevail, going to the conference final for the first time since 1994. Canucks in seven.
New Jersey (2) vs. Washington (1): In a series pitting Ovechkin against Kovalchuk, it comes down to backend production from Mike Green. Ovechkin produces as well, and Caps fans get to leave the series chanting "our Russian is better than yours." Capitals in six.
Vancouver (3) vs. San Jose (1): This comes down to Henrik Sedin in outperforming Joe Thornton, producing offensively while handling Thornton defensively. Canucks in seven.
Stanley Cup Final
Washington vs. Vancouver: Brendan Morrison scores the series-clinching goal against his former team after not even playing in the first two games of the series. Roberto Luongo delivered a gold medal to the Canuck faithful at the Olympics, but falls short on the silver chalice. Capitals in six.
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