A peek into our thoughts on how the first round will go down...
Montreal - Ottawa: Habs 4-2 in a much closer series than the final scores will show. This version of the Canadiens will continue their march into May with no real scare. Montreal's current squad was built for the playoffs, and no amount of Hamburgluring (sounds like a race track in Germany, no?) will deter them. Carey Price has found His Time. A lot to like among Ottawa's stellar forwards but Habs are in the zone.
Tampa Bay - Detroit: Bolts in 5. No drama here beyond endless speculation over UFA coach Mike Babcock's landing spot in 2015-16. Tampa has it all in every zone.
New York Rangers - Pittsburgh: Rags in 6. I'd like to laugh at the Pens making the dance on the final day of the season but I won't. Serious weapons on that club when healthy, and they are mostly healthy at this point. Rangers are Presidents Trophy winner - which tends to be a curse - but having been around the league for a few years I'm getting a '94 vibe with this team.
Washington - New York Islanders: Jaromir Jagr played for many teams in his 21-year career but the only club in the former Patrick Division he's declined to suit up for (using "declined" in a breathless fashion here) is the Islanders. So, Isles in 5 for no reason other than my brother is a Caps fan :) And I do love coach Jack Capuano, as he continues to succeed regardless of the odds against him.
St. Louis - Minnesota: 4-1 Blues. Four-year Florida forward Sean Bergenheim had the good fortune of being dealt to a surging club like the Wild. He notched a point (1 goal) in their run to a playoff spot in the west after the trade deadine. That said -and we loved Bergie in his time here - the Blues are in their final throes with Hitch. It's now or nothing.
Nashville - Chicago: Preds have this one on mucho-surprising scoring and the usual excellence in goal, but the Hawks remain the Hawks. F Patrick Kane is cleared to play, which is not good news in the Music City. Need a final? Going with Nashville to cover it, 4-3.
Anaheim - Winnipeg: Digging deep here. Well, maybe not. The Panthers - and more importantly, fans - took a brutal series of shots by means of verbal barbs via Winnipeg supporters since the Thrashers relocated. Almost none of it was respectful in any way or form. We have a few favorites in the 'Peg - and they know who they are - but we'll keep this related to the playoffs. Ducks in 6 games.
Vancouver - Calgary: Flames in 5. Yep. Currently writing a book about this matchup, so stay tuned.
Montreal - Ottawa: I'm taking the Senators in an upset. Montreal is the favorite, but the Sens are red-hot and the Hamburglar is going to keep the happy meals rolling in Canada's capital. Ottawa in six
Tampa Bay - Detroit: The Bolts will get a stern test from the Red Wings, but my feeling is Tampa Bay is clearly the better team here. Tampa Bay in six
New York Rangers - Pittsburgh: I like the Rangers big-time in this one. The Penguins are having trouble scoring against anyone right now. This is not a good matchup for Crosby & Co. Rangers in five
Washington - New York Islanders: The Caps are my dark horse team this year. Not saying they are going to win it all, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them in the finals losing to the representative from the west. Capitals in seven
St. Louis - Minnesota: No matter how good they are in the regular season, I'm just never sold on the Blues in the playoffs. I'll take the Wild in a hard-fought minor upset here. Minnesota in six
Nashville - Chicago: I'm not big on either one of teams as true contenders this year, but someone has to win here to advance to round two. I'll take the more experienced Blackhawks, who could benefit greatly from the return of Patrick Kane. Chicago in six
Anaheim - Winnipeg: I've adopted the Jets for this year's playoffs. I see them giving the Ducks fits, with Anaheim eventually pulling it out in game seven, in overtime. Anaheim in seven
Vancouver - Calgary: This might be the most entertaining series to watch in the opening round. The Flames haven't been to the playoffs in quite some time so I'll go against my better judgement and say they'll wilt in the end game. Vancouver in seven
Montreal - Ottawa: I can't think of any way that Carey Price does not allow less than the Canadiens can score four out of seven times. I'm taking the Habs in five.
Tampa Bay - Detroit: The Red Wings outperformed themselves to get this far, IMO. Stamkos Express and Company in six.
New York Rangers - Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh seems to be on their last legs. Funny how they were worldbeaters early in the season. The Rangers should shut them down in four, but I'll say five just for funzies.
Washington - New York Islanders: Likewise the Islanders, although I think they'll make this interesting. Capitals in seven.
St. Louis - Minnesota: My heart is with the Wild, but I don't think they have an attack they can keep up for a seven-game series with these Blues. St. Louis in six.
Nashville - Chicago: I would take Chicago in a minute, but Pekka Rinne is on a level with Price. Nashville in seven.
Anaheim - Winnipeg: I would take the Jets because I had a soft spot for the Atlanta Thrashers, but that went out the window one day after visiting Arctic Ice Hockey. I'll take the Ducks in five.
Vancouver - Calgary: The Canucks, still Panthers West, against my summer home team, the Flames. I covered the Flames for the 2014 calendar year, and can tell you it's something special watching Johnny Gaudreau find his legs, and I think the best is yet to come. Flames in a slugfest, seven games.
Montreal - Ottawa: As much as it pains me to do so, got to take the Habs here. This is, after all, THE franchise that showed a hot goalie can carry you to the cup with Patrick Roy. Carey Price wins this series for them over the Hamburglar. Further- as nice a story as the Sens were, take a look at how many games they won in regulation down the stretch....seriously, do it. Habs in six
Tampa Bay - Detroit: I predicted preseason that Tampa would be in the finals and I am sticking to that. Detroit is on the wane and if they do need Howard I think they have killed his confidence. Tampa in five.
New York Rangers - Pittsburgh: Rangers run away with this one. While the Blueshirts may have trouble in the scoring department at times, their defense and goaltending are some of the best in the league. Defense wins championships and Pittsburgh (with Letang out) has none. Malkin is playing hurt. Pens make a quick exit. Rangers in five
Washington - New York Islanders: As much as it pains me to say (because I have adopted the Islanders this postseason), Washington and their red-hot Holtby take this one. I was unaware of the hit numbers til recently, and wow, Washington throws the body. They are my dark horse as well. This team may be headed for the finals if Tampa's defense is not healthy enough. Washington in seven
St. Louis - Minnesota: Minnesota is the sexy pick but I like the Blues here. The Blues are hungry and will be very ready. Blues in seven
Nashville - Chicago: Chicago is the sexy pick here, as Nashville slumped down the stretch, but I am choosing and rooting for Nashville. Chicago will rely very, very heavily on their top-4 D while Nashville runs all of 7 deep and what wins championships? Nashville in seven
Anaheim - Winnipeg: Prognosticators love these sexy western conference picks, and here they are all jumping in on Winnipeg. Winnipeg is young and takes a lot of penalties. I take Anaheim- gotta believe Corey Perry reads the papers. Ducks in six
Vancouver - Calgary: Toss up city. And the coin flip goes too.... In all seriousness, I like Vancouver here because of the Sedins and Vrbata, and Ryan Miller. Yes, Lack may be starting, but in time of need, you better believe that Miller will be ready. Vancouver in five
Montreal - Ottawa: Carey Price is too good for Ottawa to overcome, and the Sens fail to get pucks by him. Habs in six
Tampa Bay - Detroit: Tampa Bay's high flying offense is too much for the Red Wings, who are having a goalie controversy at the worst time of the season. Tampa Bay in six
New York Rangers - Pittsburgh: Crosby and company are missing too many defensemen, and Marc-Andre Fleury has his usual postseason collapse. New York in five
Washington - New York Islanders: The Isles are a much improved team, but this is Ovechkin's year. Washington in six
St. Louis - Minnesota: Devan Dubnyk has saved Minnesota's season, but St. Louis is too deep and too skilled for him to stop. St. Louis in seven
Nashville - Chicago: Nashville is a great underdog to get behind, but Patrick Kane back in the lineup for Chicago means that their days are numbed. Chi-town in seven
Anaheim - Winnipeg: Winnipeg is this year's dark horse, and something about them just gives me a good feeling. Jets in seven
Vancouver - Calgary: Can Calgary keep up their miraculous run? I doubt it. Vancouver in six
Join in the fun and post your selections in the comment section. We'll check back and see who did the best after the first round is over. Two points for each series winner and one bonus point for getting the amount of games it takes right.