Hockey nirvana begins tonight with the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the View is here with his fearless first round picks. Let's start with the Eastern Conference.
Boston vs Montreal
The Habs centennial season has been disappointing as the Canadiens struggled after a strong start. Off ice turmoil has embroiled the team and the on ice performance has been spotty. Boston had a strong season, finishing one point behind the Sharks in the race for the President's Cup with 116 points. Tim Thomas has been stellar in goal and the Bruins have had solid play and consistent scoring from all lines. Carey Price is streaky in goal for the Habs, and I believe his confidence is fragile.
The Pick: Boston in 6
New Jersey vs Carolina
Carolina got on a hot streak at the end of the season to capture the 6th seed in the east. Carolina brings balanced scoring to this matchup, with Whitney, Staal, Ruutu, Brind'Amour, and Cole leading the attack. Cam Ward will man the pipes for the 'Canes and comes in with a .916 save percentage and a 2.44 GAA. For the Devils, the venerable Marty Brodeur will be in the net after missing much of the season due to injury. The Devils are led on offense by Zach Parise, and have an abundance of playoff experience in their line up. I think this comes down to goalie play between two teams that appear to be evenly matched.
The Pick: New Jersey in 6
Washington vs New York
This is a match up of one of the most explosive offensive teams in the NHL against a team that that is anchored by "King" Henrik Lundqvist in goal. The Caps have not won a playoff series since 1998, and although we are aware of their offensive prowess, their playoff fate will hinge on the play of Jose Theodore in net. I look for Lundqvist to face a lot of shots and for the offense of Washington to overwhelm the defense of New York, while the Caps D limits the Ranger offense.
The Pick: Washington in 5
Pittsburgh vs Philadelphia
Hide the women and children for this one. Philly lost home ice advantage on the last day of the regular season by virtue of a loss to the Rangers, and this could be a deciding factor in the series. This should be a fan's delight to watch as the skill of the Pens is matched against the grit of the Flyers. Philly has some offensive horsepower in its own right with Carter and Richards leading the way. This series comes down to goal tending as Marty Biron duels with Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Pick: Philadelphia in 7
And now on to the Western Conference match ups:
Detroit vs Columbus
Perennial playoff participant Red Wings against playoff virgin Columbus- experience versus enthusiasm. The skill of the Wings up front is beyond question. What is the BIG question in Motown is the D and the goal tending. Outside of the pairing of Lidstom and Rafalski, Detroit's D is average at best. Osgood has been given the starting nod for the Wings, but his play has been shaky, especially in the latter half of the season. For the BJ's, rookie goaltending phenom Steve Mason anchors the Jackets while scoring machine Rick Nash leads the way up front. There has been much talk about the inexperience of the Jackets running headlong into the pressure of the playoffs. Two words: Ken Hitchcock. His experience is a calming force for the Jackets.
The Pick: Blue Jackets in 7
San Jose vs Anaheim
The battle of California- in the playoffs- that has been long awaited. Bad blood exists between these two teams and I expect a physical and chippy series (after all, this is Anaheim we're talking about). San Jose has big Joe Thornton leading the way up front, and you have to wonder if Jumbo Joe isn't starting to feel some pressure from the Shark's under achieving ways in recent playoffs. I look for Hiller to get the start in net for the Ducks, and I expect the experienced blueliners for Anaheim to exert their will in this series (it helps to have Francois Beauchamin returning for the Ducks). Look for the Duck offense to effective and steady.
The Pick: Anaheim in 7
Vancouver vs St. Louis
The Blues made a remarkable run to the playoffs and gained the 6th seed in the West. This team has shown amazing resiliency, having overcome a myriad of injuries. The Blues are expected to have Paul Kariya back and available for the playoffs. Their young pups have matured this season and played well, and Chris Mason has played like we all thought he could once he was named the starter. The Canucks bring the offensive firepower of the Sedins, along with Mats Sundin and Kyle Wellwood. Roberto Luongo has had an outstanding season in net, and this team turned their season around after a lackluster January. The Canuck offense will exert some serious pressure on the Blues D.
The Pick: Vancouver in 6
Chicago vs Calgary
I think this series will be very entertaining as two teams that are very similar collide. Chicago and Calgary both have capable scoring from their forwards. The Chicago D is solid and active, while the Flames have dealt recently with some injuries on their blue line to Sarich and Regher. This series will hinge on the play of the goal tenders, and Nikolai Khabibulin has owned Calgary throughout his career with a 22-5-1 record lifetime. I have to wonder if Kiprusoff hasn't been overworked by Mike Keenan during the regular season, as he looks to be wearing down.
The Pick: Chicago in 6
There you have it- the View's fearless (and some might say brainless) first round playoff predictions. Agree? Disagree? Feel free to leave a comment and tell me your thoughts.