Let's get to it:
(1) Boston vs. (8) Montreal
Let's face it. This was not the centennial season Montreal was hoping for. They struggled and clawed just to make it into the playoffs, and are rewarded with facing The B's in the first round.
I actually chose The Habs to take the Eastern Conference this year, and now, they are the only team that I absolutely, 100 percent believe has no chance of making it out of the first round.
Now, Tim Thomas is playing way out of his league this year, but there's no reason to believe that won't continue. Savard has been out of this world, and Chara has been, well, Chara. Milan Lucic will pound players. Canadiens fans say that they can match Lucic with Laraque, but there's no way that Big Georges should even be playing. Lucic put up 42 points to match his 136 PIM's. He can play the game. He deserves to be there. Laraque doesn't. He shouldn't even be playing in the regular season, but I've already covered that. There is no way that he should ever see game time come the playoffs.
I'm sure Gainey doesn't agree with me.
The biggest problem here is Price. Last year, he was obviously not ready for the second season. That's ok. He's young, and it was great experience. But it became quite obvious early on this year that his confidence was shaken. This kid is projected to be the next great goalie, but the Canadiens have done nothing to protect him. He should have been sent down in November, let him dominate the AHL for awhile, and grow that confidence back. But the Montreal brass may have sent this kid's career into the toilet for good.
And if they didn't, Boston has a good chance to do it themselves.
Bruins in 4
(2) Washington vs. (7) New York Rangers
This will be billed as Ovechkin vs. Avery, but I don't think that will be much of a story. More likely, it will end up being Ovechkin, Green, Semin, Backstrom and Laich vs. Lundqvist. Because, make no mistake about it, Lundqvist is The Rangers' only chance to win this series. The thing is, he's good enough to do just that. He truly is.
Like the Canadiens, the Rangers probably shouldn't have made the playoffs, but they're here, and they were lucky enough to get to the 7th spot and face the Caps instead of being a spot lower and taking a trip to Bean Town.
The Caps are near the top in goals scored. The Rangers are near the bottom. The Rangers are near the top in goals against. The Caps are near the bottom.
Something's gotta give.
Caps in 7
(3) New Jersey vs. (6) Carolina
Is there a series I care about less? I'll tell you. There isn't. I hate the Devils, and I nothing the 'Canes. While I've always liked Paul Maurice, and even more now that he's in a post-Leafs world, I just can't muster any interest in this series.
I do hope Shanahan is amazing, because I'll always love Shanny.
Hurricanes in 6
(4) Pittsburg vs. (5) Philadelphia
Now here's a series I can sink my teeth into. The Battle of Pennsylvania should be great. It's a fiece rivalry from these cross-state foes. The goaltending at both ends have ups and downs - stellar one moment, shaky the next.
But it's really the offence in this one that's lip smacking. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on one side, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards on the other.
This will be a goal fest, with checking hitting, speed, great passing, great play making, fun, fun, fun hockey.
This may be the best first round series.
Pens in 7
(1) San Jose vs. (8) Anaheim
Another great series. St. Louis really did both these teams a disservice on Sunday by winning their game against Colorado, and jumping into sixth place, moving Anaheim in the eighth spot and this first round matchup against the Sharks.
San Jose, looking to put an end to their playoff woes have drawn absolutely the worst opponent they could, outside of The Red Wings. Anaheim, on the outside looking in for most of the season, pulled it all together in the last month or so, and are looking almost unstoppable. With Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, they have youth, speed and talent. With Rob and Scott Niedermeyer and Chris Pronger, they have proven winners, and experience. And between the pipes, they have a guy that won the 16 most important games of his life just two years ago in J.S. Giguere.
San Jose has Thornton, Marleau, Cheechoo, Nabokov, etc. All superstars. All guys that have failed come the playoffs, though often being considered a favourite. Can they finally pull it together this year? I don't know.
I hate to call this one, because it's the series I'm the least sure of. It'll go seven. I'm pretty positive about that. Who'll win that last game? I'll give it to the Sharks only because they have the home ice advantage.
Sharks in 7
(2) Detroit vs. (7) Columbus
Columbus makes it's first ever playoff apperance against my beloved Wings. They split the season series, with Columbus prevailing 8-2 in one of those games. Rick Nash has been a Wing killer, with two hatricks against the boys from Detroit, and Steve Mason, quite possibly this year's Calder Trophy winner, has been amazing between the pipes for the Blue Jackets.
But Columbus simply can't match Detroit's talent. The big question for everyone concerning Detroit is Chris Osgood, but I just don't see it being a problem. I think Ozzie will be fine, and that leaves Columbus with no chance.
Detroit in 5
(3) Vancouver vs. (6) St. Louis
You just know that Mats Sundin is sitting in a pool of his own saliva right now as he looks at his first game in the playoffs in four years. I don't think he'll be the best player in the game, but he'll definately have an impact. Let the Sedins feed off of his veteren presence, and rack up some goals. And with Luongo in net, arguably, the game's best goalie right now, the Canucks will be tough to beat.
But I think St. Louis will do it. This team has absolutely no pressure on them. They weren't expected to be in the playoffs at all, and the most talked about thing in this series will be the fact that the Blues were in last place IN THE ENTIRE LEAGUE as of February 15, exactly two months to the day that this series opens. They were the hottest team in the league since the all star break, and really have nothing to lose. If they win the series, great. If not, it's amazing that they made it at all.
St. Louis in 6
(4) Chicago vs. (5) Calgary
This will be a great series. Lots of speed, and talent.
It's really hard not to love Jerome Iginla. He is that true hockey player - strong, talented, feisty, smart, quick, and a great leader. Giving him a guy like Jokinen was a great move by Calgary, and it has worked out, for the most part. Bertuzzi has revived his game, though nowhere near where he was pre-scandal, but he should be a factor in the series. Phaneuf had an off year, but none of that matters anymore, and I'm sure the Hawks will be keeping their heads up when he's on the ice. Kiprusoff will, of course, be Kiprusoff again.
But let the Hawks roll out the future for us. Jonathon Toews and Patrick Kane have the skills to rack up a lot of goals, and then add Havlat, Eager, Sharp, etc. Back on the blue line you have Campbell, Seabrook, Sharp, Keith, Barker. I mean, that's just an amazing defensive corps, and will be the difference maker in the series. It doesn't hurt that Khabibulin won a cup with Tampa Bay.
Chicago in 6
Favourite stat of the day: Last night, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye of the Chicago White Sox hit back to back homers. The 300th career homer for BOTH players. The odds of that happening have to be phenomenal.
This is why I LOVE baseball. It's all about the numbers. The game is fun to watch, and there's nothing like the battle between pitcher and batter, but I could enjoy a season of baseball without ever seeing anything more than the newspapers.
The stats, the facts, the history, this is what makes this game so much more than the game that's played on the field. While hockey has the slight edge in my heart, the sunny days of baseball are a thing of beauty.