It’s time to separate the men from the meek as the NHL’s elite 16 gear up for this year’s playoffs. But with disappointing performances from Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver, it’s up to Montreal, Calgary and Ottawa to pick up the slack for Canadian Stanley Cup hopes. Here’s a look at each series and how the teams match up.
#1 Detroit Red Wings vs. #8 Nashville Predators
Synopsis: The Wings are far too loaded with offensive talent such as Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and the recently returned Tomas Holmstrom to let this series get away from them. The challenge for the Preds is to hold down the fort while players such as J.P. Dumont, Alexander Radulov and Jason Arnott exploit the Wings’ injury-plagued and inconsistent goaltending, but they’ll probably be too busy getting the puck fired at them to make the attempt.
Prediction: Eager to hit back at the naysayers, Detroit makes an example out of Nashville in five games.
#2 San Jose Sharks vs. #7 Calgary Flames
Synopsis: Sharks forward Joe Thornton and goaltender Evgeni Nabokov have been less than exceptional against the Flames, but they are the hottest team in the NHL going into the playoffs, and momentum like that is hard to contain. A Calgary victory is entirely possible, but it’s reliant on Jarome Iginla firing on all cylinders and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff hitting his springtime stride.
Prediction: San Jose wins in a seven-game heartbreaker. Wails of anguish emanate from the Red Mile.
#3 Minnesota Wild vs. #6 Colorado Avalanche
Synopsis: Under head coach Jacques Lemaire, the Wild’s strong goaltending from Niklas Backstrom and defensive style of play should present real problems for Colorado’s skilled but aging forwards, including Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg.
Prediction: It’s a grinder, but Minny muscles out a win in seven.
#4 Anaheim Ducks vs. #5 Dallas Stars
Synopsis: Sure, Dallas won the season series and have lots of pluses, but the Ducks are the champs, and their assets outnumber the Stars: Ryan Getzlaf is one of the best power forwards in the NHL, Chris Pronger is back from his suspension to beef up an already superior defence and Jean-Sebastien Giguere is a Conn Smythe Trophy winner.
Prediction: Ducks deal with the Stars in a super-physical six-game series.
#1 Montreal Canadiens vs. #8 Boston Bruins
Synopsis: The Canadiens handed the Bruins their rear ends all season long. As was the case with Patrick Roy in 1993, the goaltender is the key to a Stanley Cup win for Montreal; if last year’s AHL playoff MVP netminder Carey Price proves he’s ready for the big dance, and if Alex Kovalev decides to show up, the Habs could go all the way.
Prediction: Canadiens annihilate the Bruins in five, and your Hab-loving co-worker will remind you of it.
#2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #7 Ottawa Senators
Synopsis: The Sens had the advantage of a playoff-weathered lineup when they beat the Penguins this time last year, but now the shoe is on the other foot. Pens’ wunderkinds Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are one year wiser, and have Peter Sykora and Marian Hossa backing them up. If Ottawa is to have any chance at all, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza have to bring their A-game.
Prediction: It’s a total breakdown for Ottawa as the Pens get their revenge in four.
#3 Washington Capitals vs. #6 Philadelphia Flyers
Synopsis: Washington’s Rocket Richard Trophy and Art Ross Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin will have to watch his back in this series. The ruthless Flyers will no doubt want to take the tough young Russian sniper out of the equation as soon as they can, any way they can.
Prediction: Mercy is for the weak! The Flyers bludgeon the Caps into submission in six.
#4 New Jersey Devils vs. #5 New York Rangers
Synopsis: The highlight of this series will be the duel between the pipes: Henrik Lundqvist has been exceptional against Jersey, but Martin Brodeur is the best goaltender of our time. Should be an amusing series to watch, even if goals might be lacking.
Prediction: The Rangers handily won this season series, but Brodeur has an uncanny knack for carrying the Devils deep into the playoffs. New Jersey wins in seven.