2011 NHL Playoffs Preview

Now that Butler and UConn have closed out March Madness, we look towards a postseason filled April.

First up on our plates, is the NHL playoffs, which starts today! If this past month has taught us anything, it’s that the postseason is different. It’s an atmosphere like none other.

This postseason provides many interesting match-ups including an Original Six rivalry and a meeting between the 2011 President’s Trophy winner and the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals champion.

If the drama in the 2010-11 NHL regular season is any indication of what will occur this postseason, we are all in for a treat.

Anything can happen in the playoffs, but I will do my best to pick the team that will advance to the second round. Without further delay, here are your first round winners:

Western Conference

1 Vancouver Canucks vs 8 Chicago Blackhawks

After failing to beat the Red Wings on the last day of the season, the Blackhawks put their postseason hopes in the hands of the Minnesota Wild. Fortunately for the defending Stanley Cup Champions, Dallas wasn’t too interested in making the playoffs. The Canucks have been the best team in the West for the majority of the season and are the 2011 President’s Trophy winners. In a rematch of last year’s second round match-up, the Canucks will be seeking revenge. The Canucks get their revenge and advance to the second round through the stellar play of the Sedin twins.

Pick: Canucks in 6

2 San Jose Sharks vs 7 Los Angeles Kings

At one point in the season, the Sharks were flirting with missing the playoffs. Then, they were on an incredible tear trampling every team in their paths. Now, they head into the playoffs as the second seed in a ultra competitive Western Conference. On the last weekend of the season, the Los Angeles Kings were in a position to obtain home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Last season, the Kings pushed the Vancouver Canucks to six games. This season, a similar result is likely. Although the Sharks are infamous for early-round exits, they will escape the first round.

Pick: Sharks in 6

3 Detroit Red Wings vs 6 Phoenix Coyotes

Two familiar foes meet again. Last season, the Wings and Coyotes faced off in a first round match-up with Detroit eventually winning in seven games. The series was bizarre. The goal tending was absurd. The games were nerve racking and we shouldn’t expect less from this year’s series. The Wings are once again hampered by injuries, most notably Henrik Zetterberg suffering from a lower body injury. The series may be won in between the pipes, where Bryzgalov and Howard will have to be huge for their teams. The Wings get off to a quick start and rely on their veteran experience to close out the series while once again preventing the Coyotes from advancing to the next round.

Pick: Wings in 7

4 Anaheim Ducks vs 5 Nashville Predators

The teams atop the Western Conference standings were desperately hoping they would not draw the Ducks in the first round of the playoffs. Lucky for them, they won’t have to play the Ducks until the second round of the playoffs if the Ducks are able to advance. The Predators are always a tough out in the playoffs and last year took the eventual Stanley Cup Champions to six games and had a chance to win the series. The Predators could’ve caused damage in this year’s playoffs, but got a tough draw. The Ducks are just too big and too physical for the Predators to overcome.

Pick: Ducks in 6

Eastern Conference

1 Washington Capitals vs 8 New York Rangers

The Washington Capitals sit atop the Eastern Conference thanks to their dominating play down the stretch along with the faltering of the Philadelphia Flyers. The play of Alexander Ovechkin has improved as the playoffs approached which could mean bad news for the rest of the NHL. The Rangers battled their way into the playoffs and hold the regular season series lead over the Capitals, 3-1. The Rangers will be heaving dependent upon stud goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who has been their savior this year. The Rangers will be looking to accomplish what the Montreal Canadiens accomplished last year by knocking off the number-one seed Capitals. Last year was a humbling experience for the Capitals and they won’t let their mistakes repeat themselves.

Pick: Capitals in 5

2 Philadelphia Flyers vs 7 Buffalo Sabres

A month ago, if you would have asked anyone who they thought would represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals, nearly everyone would have said the Philadelphia Flyers. Now, people are unsure if they will make it out of the first round. The Buffalo Sabres come into the playoffs on a roll and are hoping to get Ryan Miller back in net. Something has to be said about playing your best hockey at the right time. After stumbling to the finish line, the Flyers’ confidence must be wavering. Fortunately for them, they will have a long offseason to think about their mistakes. The Sabres pull the upset and advance to the second round.

Pick: Sabres in 6

3 Boston Bruins vs 6 Montreal Canadiens

A heated rivalry. An Original Six match-up. In what should be a hard-hitting series, emotions will run high. The Bruins probably have the best goalie in the NHL with Tim Thomas in net while the Canadiens are hoping Carey Price finally steps up. The match-up of the physical play of the Bruins against the speed of quickness of the Canadiens will be a deciding factor in this series. After Zdeno Chara’s bone crushing hit on Max Pacioretty, the Canadiens sweet revenge will be sending the Bruins home early. Unfortunately, they fall just short, as the Bruins advance.

Pick: Bruins in 7

4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs 5 Tampa Bay Lightning

What a series this could have been. We could have had a Crosby vs Stamkos opening round series. The Lightning were in the number three spot in the Eastern Conference but faltered down the stretch. What the Penguins have accomplished this year without Crosby has been remarkable. Marc Andre Fleury will have to be sensational for the Penguins to advance, and even then, they may not be able to handle the offensive fire power of the Lightning.

Lightning in 6

Marvel at the talent and skill displayed on the ice. Appreciate the heart and passion the players put into the game. Most of all, enjoy this year’s playoffs, I know I certainly will, whether my picks are right or wrong.

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