Tuesday, April 8, 2008

2008 Playoffs: First Round Predictions

The NHL playoffs are finally here! I'm not going to waste time as I get right to my breakdown and predictions for each of the 8 first round playoff match ups.

Western Conference

(1) Detroit vs. (8) Nashville

Breakdown: This one is a train wreck waiting to happen on paper. Of course this is coming from the guy who pretty much completely wrote off the Preds heading into the season, so take that for what you will. I'm not high on the Wings' chances this year, but I think they have more than enough to make it past the Predators relatively comfortably.
Player to Watch: Alex Radulov (NSH) - Arguably Nashville's most gifted offensive weapon, Radulov will need to be in top form if the Predators are going to have a shot at making this a lengthy series.
Prediction: Wings in 5

(2) San Jose vs. (7) Calgary

Breakdown: This series is a really tough one for me to call. The Sharks have been playing outstanding hockey for a while now, but I really think the Flames are capable of great things this post season. Evgeni Nabokov should be the Vezina Winner this year, but Mikka Kiprusoff has the ability to out play him. Joe Thornton is the heart and soul of the Sharks, but Jarome Iginla means just as much to the Flames and is a better all-around player than Thornton. Brian Campbell has been terrific since joining the Sharks, but Dion Phaneuf should have a much greater impact on this series. While all signs point to a Sharks victory, I'm going with the Flames on this one in what should be a hard fought series.
Player to Watch: Dion Phaneuf (CAL) - "The Dion" should make life hard for the Sharks' top forwards with his big hitting. As the checks pile up over the course of what should be a long series the Phaneuf Effect could really tilt things in Calgary's favor.
Prediction: Flames in 7

(3) Minnesota vs. (6) Colorado

Breakdown: This should be a good series as the Wild take on the 1998 2008 Avalanche. Minnesota clearly toughened up their roster with a rematch with Anaheim in mind, but they should still be able to handle Colorado in the meantime. The Avalanche have enough skill to take out the Wild, but I think the combination of the Wild's toughness, defense, and Marian Gaborik will be too much for the Avs.
Player to Watch: Ryan Smyth (COL) - Smyth's first season in Colorado has been a disappointing one, but that could all be erased if he has a big series against the Wild. It will be interesting to see if he can take the punishment in front of the net and score some big goals for Colorado.
Prediction: Wild in 6

(4) Anaheim vs. (5) Dallas
Breakdown: Goals will be hard to come by in what should be a very physical series between Dallas and Anaheim. The Ducks have really had a hard time putting the puck in the net, but I think they will find enough offense to get past the Stars. It wouldn't shock me though if the Stars rode Marty Turco and a few timely goals into the 2nd round. Expect a lot of 1-0, 2-1 games in this series. A two or three OT game wouldn't be a shock either.
Player to Watch: Brendan Morrow (DAL) - Dallas' leader could help them pull off the upset if he can counter the physicality of the Ducks with some punishing hits of his own and provide some scoring punch to go along with it. Morrow could prove to be a difference maker in what looks to be a very tightly played series.
Prediction: Ducks in 6

Eastern Conference

(1) Montreal vs. (8) Boston

Breakdown: This series is another one I'm having a tough time getting a handle on. I don't think too much of either of these teams and don't expect either one to make it past the 2nd round. With that said, someone has to win this round. I know Montreal is the #1 seed in the East, but they just don't feel like it, and they have heaped a ton of pressure on the young shoulders of rookie goalie Carey Price. Take into account that the Habs are built on high scoring and their power play, and they are missing their top blue liner in Mike Komisarek and you have a recipe for an upset if you ask me. This series could go in any number of ways, but I'll go out on a limb and take Boston to pull off the upset.
Player to Watch: Tim Thomas (BOS) - Thomas will have to be at his best for the Bruins to have a chance. Thomas seems to play better when facing a lot of shots and I think the Habs will be challenging him early and often throughout the series. If Thomas can play to the best of his ability, the Bruins could end up getting the best of their Original Six rivals.
Prediction: Bruins in 7

(2) Pittsburgh vs. (7) Ottawa

Breakdown: All bias aside, this should be an easy matchup for Pittsburgh. Ottawa has been playing like crap for months now and they are running into one of the hottest teams in the league who also happens to have revenge on the mind. Both teams can score plenty of goals (although the Ottawa offense has really struggled of late and they are missing Daniel Alfredsson), but the Penguins defense and the play of Marc-Andre Fleury is what really has me excited. The Penguins aren't giving up many goals and that is what should let them make short work of the troubled Senators.
Player to Watch: Jordan Staal (PIT) - Staal has struggled to score goals this year, but the talent is still there and he is the type of player who can come out of nowhere to score like mad in the playoffs. In addition he should also be seeing plenty of the Senators top offensive unit, and if he can shut them down it will be a very short series.
Prediction: Pens in 5

(3) Washington vs. (6) Philadelphia

Breakdown: This could be a very interesting series to watch. It will be interesting to see how Alex Ovechkin and the young Caps respond to the pressure of the playoffs and the physical play of the Flyers. The longer the series goes, the more that will favor the Flyers, but I think Cristobal Huet will prove to be the difference in what should for the most part (I can see the Caps blowing out the Flyers once at home somewhere along the way) a close series.
Player to Watch: Mike Richards (PHI) - Richards is the guy on the Flyers most capable of putting the team on his back and carrying them through a playoff round almost singlehandedly. If Richards can play the way he was early in the season, that may be enough of a difference to get the Flyers on to round 2.
Prediction: Capitals in 6

(4) New Jersey vs. (5) New York Rangers

Breakdown: Much like the Ducks/Stars series, goals should be few and far between in this series. Having said that, I don't see the Devils giving the Rangers much trouble. Martin Brodeur will probably steal a game for the Devils at some point, but I think the Rangers are just too much for New Jersey. On the strength of their defense I see the Rangers as one of only two (Pittsburgh being the other) real contenders in the East and I expect them to take care of business against New Jersey in quick fashion.
Player to Watch: Zach Parise (NJ) - Parise is probably New Jersey's most dynamic scorer and he will be called on to try to solve Henrik Lundqvist and the Ranger defense. If he can average over a point-per-game, New Jersey might have a punchers chance at advancing.
Prediction: Rangers in 5

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