Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Coach Willie's first round NHL playoff predictions

Boston vs Montreal

Boston has a clear edge in size and physical play. Tim Thomas is a Vezina Trophy favourite. Their powerplay is 4th best in the NHL. Montreal limped into the playoffs with indifferent play from star players most of the season. The goaltending has been a worry. In the last two weeks the line of Kovalev-Koivu-Tanguay has come alive. Bruins won 5 out of 6 head-to-head games during the regular season.

Bruins in 5.

Washington vs Rangers

The Rangers have an edge in net with Lundqvist but that's about it. Washington not only has Ovechkin but Semin, Backstrom, Federov and Green - a lot of fire power. Washington ranks 2nd in powerplay but New York is 1st in killing penalties so powerplays should be interesting. Washington won 3 out of 4 head-to-head games in the regular season.

Capitals in 6.

New Jersey vs Carolina

Conventional wisdom would say that the Devils should easily win with Brodeur back in net and with the most balanced attacking in the 15 years. But not so fast. Carolina was out of the playoffs when Paul Maurice took over and since then they have been the hottest team in the NHL. Cam Ward is playing like he did when Carolina last one the Cup and Eric Staal has been a dominate player this season. And since breaking PAtrick Roy's all-time win record, Brodeur's game has gone south. Carolina won 3 out of 4 head-to-head games in the regular season.

Hurricanes in 7.

Pittsburgh vs Philadelphia

This is my favourite series in the first round. These Pennsylvania rivals don't like each other. Both have dominant players who can break a game open - Crosby and Malkin for Pittsburgh and Carter and Richards for Philadelphia. In addition, the Flyers have Gagne and Briere to provide a balanced attack. But the Flyers' goaltending has been inconsistent while Fleury has been solid for the Penguins. In addition, Pittsburgh added much needed grit at the end of the season with Guerin and Kunitz. Pittsburgh won 4 out of 6 head-to-head games in the regular season.

Penguins in 7.

San Jose vs Anaheim

San Jose finished with the best record in the NHL but carry the burden of being a perennial bust in the playoffs. Will this year be different? The Sharks bring a well-balanced attack as they get offensive contributions from all four lines as well as the defence. The Sharks made a conscious decision this past offseason to bring in proven winners. The blueline was restocked with Dan Boyle, Rob Blake and Brad Lukowich. The Sharks acquired a pair of players in Kent Huskins and Travis Moen, who were critical to the Anaheim Ducks' Stanley Cup run just two years ago. So they have made the right kind of moves to change their post season record. The Ducks are still Brian Burke's team and have a good mix of skill and muscle. Giguere is a former Conn Smythe winner and Anaheim seems to have gotten hot at the right time. San Jose won 4 out of 6 head-to-head games in the regular season.

Sharks in 7.

Detroit vs Columbus

Columbus is this year's Cinderella team making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history but they are up against the Red Wing juggernaut. Detroit had the best powerplay in the league and Columbus has the worst. The Red Wings have no weaknesses, ok just one - weak goaltending. And goaltending is the Blue Jacket's strength with rookie sensation Steve Mason. The two teams split their season series.

Blue Jackets in 7.

Vancouver vs St. Louis

I predict this will be the most boring opening series. I can't get excited about either team and don't care that Sundin is a Canuck. The difference in this series will clearly be Luongo. The two teams split their season series.

Canucks in 5.

Chicago vs Calgary

Calgary's top line of Iginla, Mike Cammalleri and the newly-acquired Jokinen are as good as any in the NHL. But the Flames have been hit with so many injuries that I can't see them limping out of this series. Someone recently suggested that the Blackhawks would win the Cup in 3 years. I asked why not this year? They are a powerhouse lineup that might be short on experience but on talent. They are backedstopped by solid goaltending. Who knows where this team will be in 3 years. With the salary cap you can't assume management will be able to keep the core together. Chicago swept the 4-game regular season series.

Blackhawks in 5.