The Stanley Cup Playoffs are finally upon us! The quarterfinals in my opinion are the best rounds to watch. As the playoffs approach, predictions are made. Take No Prisoners is no exception. After all, it’s playoff hockey! Let’s check out both conferences, shall we?

EASTERN CONFERENCE

  1. Washington Capitals (1) vs New York Rangers (8) – If the Washington Capitals want to avoid an early exit two years in a row, they will have to do it against a New York  Rangers team that owned the Caps during the regular season. The Rangers took the season series three games to one, outscoring the Caps 18-6 in the season series. Washington will need a heavy dose of Alexander Ovechkin along with Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin in order to advance to the next round. Mike Knuble, Marco Sturm, Jason Arnott and second year player Marcus Johansson will also be key elements in the Caps’ success. The Rangers’ strength comes from the goaltender position. Henrik Lundqvist is a brick wall of a goalie. Recording an NHL leading 11 saves and a 92% save rating, Lundqvist will be tough to score on. Prediction: Given that Washington has the home ice advantage, I’ll pick the Capitals in seven.
  2. Philadelphia Flyers (2) vs Buffalo Sabers (7) – These teams split the season series 2-2. As far as goaltending is concern, Buffalo has the edge. Goaltenders Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth are as good as they get in that position. On the contrary, Philly’s goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has had an up and down season. All is not lost for the Flyers as Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton are formidable players at the goalie position. With players like forward Kris Versteeg along with right wings Nikolay Zherdev and Ville Leino, the Flyers can score at will. The main focus in this series will be on the defensive end.  Prediction: With strong goaltending, I see the Sabers edging the Flyers in six.
  3. Boston Bruins (3) vs Montreal Canadiens (6) – This will be a great first round contest, even if the sixth seed Canadiens swept the Bruins in the regular season. These teams absolutely despise each other. Expect much bloodshed in this series. Both teams are about equal offensively, but on the defensive side, Montreal is deep enough to handle Boston’s defensive power. Defensemen  Zdeno Chara and Tomas Kaberle are valuable commodities as defenders. Both teams have solid goaltenders but Boston’s goalie Tim Thomas is hands down is the best goalie in the National Hockey League. Predictions: Although Montreal won the regular season, Boston will be the big winner this time around.
  4. Pittsburgh Penguins(4) vs Tampa Bay Lightening (5) – Two years removed from its last title, Pittsburgh is once again is on a championship quest. The road to Lord Stanley’s Cup has been rocky due to injuries for the Penguins. Sidney Crosby, the star center for the Pens has been injured for a large portion of the regular season with a concussion, along with center Evgeni Malkin (knee surgery). With those key players hurt, Pittsburgh still managed to obtain a fourth seed. Tampa Bay has a solid goal tender in Dwayne Roloson but goalie Marc-Andre Fleury of the Penguins is better. Fleury has held the fort down for Pittsburgh. Prediction: This season series is split between the two. These teams are somewhat evenly match. With the Crosby’s availability uncertain, I’ll have to give the edge to the Lightening. Tampa Bay in six.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

  1. Vancouver Canucks (1) vs Chicago Blackhawks (8) – This is a great story. The Presidents’ Trophy winner (Team with the best overall record) Vancouver Canucks, vs the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Will Vancouver avoid the “Presidents’ Trophy Curse” of losing in the first round? Can the Blackhawks make a dramatic run and repeat? During the regular season, the two teams split with Chicago winning the first two games and Vancouver taking the latter two. When it comes down to ice play, there’s no comparison. Vancouver is better when it comes to goaltending, defense, scoring and special teams. Yes, Hockey has a special teams unit! Prediction: Chicago will have to impose its championship swagger along with the help of “Lady Luck” to pull this one-off. Vancouver has been consistent all season and I don’t see that changing. I don’t see a repeat of  last years’ Presidents’ Trophy winner meltdown, when the top seeded Washington Capitals lost to the eighth seed Montreal Canadiens. Canucks in five.
  2. San Jose Sharks (2) vs Los Angeles Kings (7) – The battle of California happens in the first round. San Jose has played great hockey for the past seven seasons, a run that includes a Presidents’ Trophy. This could be the year that San Jose might wins it all. The Kings are a good team as well. There’s this perception that L.A. is merely a stepping-stones in the NHL playoffs. Well these Kings can do some serious damage in these 2011 playoffs. Jonathan Quick is a rock of a goalie for Los Angeles. Jonathan Bernier, is a great backup for Quick. Defensively, both teams are about equal. Offensively, centers Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture have been great scorers for the Sharks. Prediction: Although both teams have similar qualities, San Jose is the more polished team. Look for the Sharks to take the series in six.
  3. Detroit Red Wings (3) vs Phoenix Coyotes (6) – Phoenix is trying to make a playoff appearance an annual thing. Getting out of the first round will be their next goal. Unfortunately, they’re facing the same Detroit team that bounced them out of the first round last season as the underdog. Now that the Red Wings are the favorites, can the Coyotes return the favor? It’s highly unlikely. Although the Coyotes have the edge in the goaltender position with Ilya Bryzgalov, the Red Wings are much deeper on defense and offense. Add that to Detroit’s power play and you will have a recipe for and early exit two years in a row for Coyotes’ fans. Prediction: Detroit in six.
  4. Anaheim Ducks (4) vs Nashville Predators (5) – This series isn’t really what you would call a powerhouse match-up. Yet, you have the only 50-goal scorer in Corey Perry, the Ducks’ right wing and Nashville’s goalie Pekka Rinne, one of the leagues’ best in saves. Anaheim played some great hockey during the second half of the season and will be a hard team to beat, whoever they play. The Predators aren’t filled with a high-powered offense. They get it done collectively. What may ultimately decide the series is goaltending, which clearly favors Nashville. Prediction: Predators in seven.

By Keith Madyun

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