The playoffs start today in the NHL and the match-ups are as follows:
#1 San Jose Sharks vs. #8 Colorado Avalanche
#2 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #7 Nashville Predators
#3 Vancouver Canucks vs. #6 Los Angeles Kings
#4 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #5 Detroit Red Wings
#1 Washington Capitals vs. #8 Montreal Canadians
#2 New Jersey Devils vs. #7 Philadelphia Flyers
#3 Buffalo Sabers vs. #6 Boston Bruins
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Ottawa Senators
In the Western Conference there are only three starting goalies that have any playoff experience, and of those three Nabokov has more playoff wins than the other two goalies have participated in playoff games. The Blackhawks have Hossa this year so they could easily make it to the Finals just to lose. The Kings are my sleeper team in the West. Although they finished the year 2-0-3, with all five going to at least overtime, they beat the Canucks 8-3 on April 1st. The Wings may have the easiest trip to the Western Conference Finals, provided all the top seeds win. The Wings face a team in the first round with little playoff experience and a their second round opponent would be San Jose, a team they are 3-0-1 against this year. Also, let us not forget they are the hottest team in the league since the Olympic break, including 8-1-1 their last 10 games. If Howard can continue his Calder-like performance and the veteran players play like they should, then there is no reason to think that the road to the Stanley Cup won't go through Detroit.
In the East it is a different story. This is the second year in a row the Penguins have finished fourth in the East. That isn't a bad thing for them since they won the cup last year. They did not finish the season strong though. Their record was a 5-4-2 with four of those wins coming against teams that are not in the playoffs. A possible first round upset is the Flyers over the Devils. The season battle between these two was 5-1 in favor of Philadelphia. Emery and Leighton won both their games against the Devils, and Boucher went 1-1. The real question is: is this the year for Ovechkin? With Backstrom becoming a restricted free agent at the end of the year, it is unknown where he will end up. The main problem will be the goaltending, but with the number one scoring offense in the league the Capitals have a legitimate chance this year. One thing I do know is the playoffs should be great.