My 2010 playoffs bracket
The Canucks have an MVP candidate, the Kings have an upset in the making
Alex Ovechkin's Capitals ( '09) and Team Russia ('10) have had Achilles heels
The Blackhawks will be at the forefront of a changing of the guard out West
Montreal (8) vs. Washington (1): The Capitals won 15 more games than the Canadiens during the regular season and this series promises to be as lopsided as that disparity suggests. Washington's forwards will dance through and power over the Lilliputian Canadiens. Capitals in four.
Philadelphia (7) vs. New Jersey (2): The Flyers have some nice talent on their top two lines, and a determined defense, but too many players have underperformed. The Devils are deeper, and better, and will be especially dangerous if February acquisition Ilya Kovalchuk can really begin to click in New Jersey's system. Devils in six.
Boston (6) vs. Buffalo (3): Both teams have good goalies, strong penalty killing and trouble scoring. That could make for the most tightly contested matchup of the first round. The Sabres are getting healthy while Boston is not, and it sure is tough to bet against Buffalo keeper Ryan Miller. Still, Boston finds a way. Bruins in seven.
Ottawa (5) vs. Pittsburgh (4): The Senators won't quit -- heart and soul captain Daniel Alfredsson and structure-minded coach Cory Clouston will see to that -- and they'll score some goals. But Pittsburgh is too strong up front, and too tough in close games. Penguins in five.
Colorado (8) vs. San Jose (1): We know about the Sharks playoff failures -- has any team disappointed so consistently? -- and we know they're thinking about that, too. But you look at their talent (with everyone healthy to boot) and you look at Colorado's and, well, there's just no way San Jose can lose. Right? Sharks in five.
Nashville (7) vs. Chicago (2): The Blackhawks' goaltending issues may haunt them at some point, but they should hold against the Predators less-than-dynamic offense. Chicago also wants to score early in games so as to limit the workload on its fine top defensemen. To have a long playoff run, the Blackhawks need a short first round. They'll get it. Blackhawks in five.
Los Angeles (6) vs. Vancouver (3): The Canucks have an MVP candidate in Henrik Sedin and a goalie, Roberto Luongo, who despite recent unevenness is among the top three in the game. The Kings? Forward Anze Kopitar remains underrated and we saw Drew Doughty grow up and into an elite player on the Olympic stage. Add in L.A.'s gamers like Ryan Smyth and Dustin Brown and you have an upset in the making. Kings in seven.
Detroit (5) vs. Phoenix (4): The perennially contending Red Wings, we're told, are old and worn down from playing so many games the past few seasons. The Coyotes are young, loose, blessed with superb goaltending and poised to be an underdog darling. Here's where Detroit coach Mike Babcock, adapting as the series moves along, makes the difference. Red Wings in six.
Boston (6) vs. Washington (1): The Capitals' shaky goaltending could cost a couple of games, but this team is still many strides ahead of the Bruins, who'll be taxed after a chippy Round One. There may be a couple of 6-4 games in this one, and they'll fall Washington's way. Capitals in six.
Pittsburgh (4) vs. New Jersey (2): A test, a serious test, for the Stanley Cup Champions. The Devils swept six regular-season games from the Penguins. Six! That's no fluke. Devils goalie Marty Brodeur, benched in the Olympics, is motivated for another run at the Cup. Whichever team wins this series will go on to the Stanley Cup, and it's the hardest series to pick. Brace yourself for a good one. Penguins in seven.
Los Angeles (8) vs. San Jose (1): Riding a high off their first-round upset, the Kings could steal an early game in San Jose. That'll get people talking about San Jose's playoff chokes all over again. But this time, with Dany Heatley in the fold, the Sharks won't let up and the clock will strike 12 on the Kings. Sharks in six.
Detroit (5) vs. Chicago (2): A classic rivalry and a spirited battle, this is the series where the changing of the guard takes place -- at least for a season or two, as the Red Wings never stay down for long. With Jonathan Toews showing poise in the face of Red Wings aggression, and with a goalie, any goalie, making enough saves, Chicago moves on. Blackhawks in six.
Pittsburgh (4) vs. Washington (1): One of these years, the Capitals and Alexander Ovechkin are going to push Sidney Crosby and the Penguins out of their way. But not this year. For all of Ovie's wonderful skills, his teams -- both the Capitals of last playoff season and Russia in the 2010 Games -- have shown vulnerability when things get tough. Crosby and company have no such Achilles heel. Just like last year: Penguins in seven.
Chicago (2) vs. San Jose (1): In addition to all of their ability, the Sharks also do the little things well -- like win face-offs. That's what's going to make them so tough for the Blackhawks to beat. But Chicago will be able to keep control of the puck for long stretches, and even these new-look Sharks are prone to turnovers and mistakes. A few will be very costly. Blackhawks in seven.
Stanley Cup Final
Pittsburgh vs. Chicago: Another great final. The Toews-Crosby matchup will be deeply scrutinized. Evgeni Malkin could take over a game for Pittsburgh, but ultimately the series will come down to what the secondary stars can do. The fine play of Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal not withstanding, Chicago -- which may also get injured defenseman Brian Campbell back in time for these games -- is deeper on the lower lines. Blackhawks in seven.