With the NHL playoffs set to get under way Wednesday night with five games on the schedule, here's all the match-ups with my completely biased and arbitrary picks for who I think will be winning their opening round series.
#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Chicago Blackhawks
A rematch twice removed as these teams have faced off the past two postseasons with Chicago emerging victorious each year. This Chicago team had its struggles this year following a cap salary-induced team overhaul, but have played their best hockey recently. Vancouver was simply the best team in the league all season and won the President's Trophy. That being said, Roberto Luongo and co. have not exactly shined in postseason's past. The team's split the season series, but haven't played since February. Vancouver in 7.
#2 San Jose Sharks vs. #7 Los Angeles Kings
Two Pacific Division rivals squaring off in the first round here in what should be a high energy affair. The Kings have to deal with a few key injuries, including to leading point scorer Anze Kopitar, while the Sharks need to prove that, like the Canucks, they can win when it counts. Joe Thornton showed last year that he could lead his team through a few rounds, but ultimately came up empty of the big prize. For LA, this young team will rely on Jonathan Quick to keep them in this one. Ultimately, I think the Sharks have a bit too much fire power. San Jose in 6.
#3 Detroit Red Wings vs. #6 Phoenix Coyotes
A rematch of last year's heartbreaking seven game series loss by the Coyotes, this one should be an energetic affair. For all the talent of Detroit, the Coyotes played them tough all season, taking points in each game. The biggest difference between the two teams from last year's match-up, a healthy Coyotes squad that hopefully won't lose its captain to a freak shoulder injury two games into the series. With Ilya Bryzgalov again playing some of the best hockey of any goaltender in the league, it should be a tight, low scoring series if the Coyotes play their style. If it gets run-and-gun, it could spell trouble for the Desert Dogs. Coyotes in 6.
#4 Anaheim Ducks vs. #5 Nashville Predators
The Ducks have one of the best top lines in all of hockey, with the league's only 50-goal scorer in Corey Perry skating with Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan. Combined with an aging, but still dangerous Teemu Selanne, they pack a fairly effective offensive punch. Unfortunately, they draw one of the best defensive teams in the league led by Shea Weber and Finnish netminder Pekka Rinne. Barry Trotz has never had much (read any) postseason success, but this is a fairly favorable match-up as the Ducks' goaltending carousel could be ripe for getting a little lit up here. As with Phoenix, if Nashville can control the pace of play and force a defensive, grind-it-out style, they should have success, otherwise, look for the Ducks to move into the second round. Predators in 7.
(more abbreviated due to slightly greater lack of familiarity)
#1 Washington Capitals vs. #8 New York Rangers
The Capitals struggled earlier this year to adapt to a more defensive style of play, but have been one of the hottest teams over the past month and a half. The Rangers barely made the playoffs, needing to win their final game of the year and get help from the Hurricanes losing their last game. Washington is the more complete team, but with possibly shaky goaltending, the Rangers have the goaltending, but are more shaky elsewhere. Capitals in 6.
#2 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #7 Buffalo Sabres
The Flyers are the anti-Caps, playing solid all season and then struggling down the stretch without veteran defenseman Chris Pronger, who should be returning for the playoffs. Goaltending is the constant issue in Philly, whereas Buffalo has one of the best in the business with Ryan Miller. The Sabres, however, lack the depth that the Flyers have in their roster up front, and that could spell the difference in the series. Flyers in 6.
#3 Boston Bruins vs. #6 Montreal Canadiens
An old-school original six rivalry that has seen everything get much more heated recently after the Zdeno Chara hit on Max Pacioretty. These two teams, and fan bases, don't care much for one another and this series is likely to be one of the most physical that we see in the first round - personally in a physical series I'll take the team with Chara and not the team with a lot of 5'10" speedy forwards. Boston in 5.
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Tampa Bay Lightning
Will Sidney Crosby return this postseason? Does it really matter considering how well Pittsburgh has played without him and Evgeni Malkin (who definitely will not return)? And Tampa Bay certainly didn't finish the season strongly, and was greatly aided by shootout wins earlier in the year. Will Marc-Andre Fleury and Jordan Staal be enough to stand up to Steven Stamkos, Marty St. Louis and co. Personally, I wouldn't put it past them. Pittsburgh in 7.