It's that fun time of year again. For 16 teams, they dare to dream of hoisting Lord Stanley in the warm month of June filled with champagne and Cup parades. Last year, it was finally Chicago's moment to celebrate their first Cup win since the days of Bobby Hull in 1961 with Patrick Kane playing the hero, stunning the Flyers in sudden death. This year, the defending champs didn't know they were in until the Stars lost to the Wild on the final day of the regular season. Now, they play the role of underdog against the odds on favorite President's Trophy winner Canucks, who are having a special season but have gone out two straight years to those Blackhawks. Will it be a third for Roberto Luongo or is the year the Cup finally returns to Canada for the Canucks first championship?
That and a whole lot more, we'll try to answer in this exciting playoff preview filled with predictions and who will be left standing at the end.
(1) Capitals over (8) Rangers in 6
(7) Sabres over (2) Flyers in 7
(3) Bruins over (6) Canadiens in 6
(5) Lightning over (4) Penguins in 6
Analysis: Too much pressure on Caps to bow out early to Rangers minus Ryan Callahan. The Flyers were our preseason Cup pick but question marks in goal and with Chris Pronger are bad timing for hot Sabres who can expose weakness and boast better netminding. Bruins-Habs is as good as it gets but Boston's too big and strong for Habs. Unless Carey Price steals it, we can't see a deep Boston club losing. The Bolts are hot and Vinny Lecavalier's back. Pens will have problems scoring unless Sid The Kid returns. Marc-Andre Fleury is their best bet.
(1) Caps over (7) Sabres in 6
(3) Bruins over (5) Lightning in 5
Analysis: Ryan Miller could make things interesting but a more talented and healthier Cap roster prevails thanks to Ovechkin. Boston's size will create problems for high-tempo Bolts. Physicality will prove too much.
(3) Bruins over (1) Caps in 6
Analysis: Unless Tim Thomas folds, this should be the year Boston returns to the Final for the first time since the days of Adam Oates, Cam Neely and Ray Bourque. Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic lead a strong Bruins club in search of first Cup since '72 (Orr, Espo).
(1) Canucks over (8) Blackhawks in 6
(2) Sharks over (7) Kings in 6
(6) Coyotes over (3) Red Wings in 7
(4) Ducks over (5) Predators in 6
Analysis: Canucks are deeper and better. Ryan Kesler should have a big series and Christian Ehrhoff's emerged into a tower on the blueline. Luongo's experience over Corey Crawford. It'll be heated but Vancouver can't lose this time. If the Kings had Anze Kopitar, I'd take them over Sharks. Sharks boast too many weapons including Calder hopeful Logan Couture. The 'Yotes came close last year. Unless Henrik Zetterberg plays, they should finally win franchise's first series since the '87 Jets. Ilya Bryzgalov and Keith Yandle are difference. Pekka Rinne and Shea Weber give Nashville a chance but too much Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne and Norris pick Lubomir Visnovsky.
(1) Canucks over (6) Coyotes in 5
(4) Ducks over (2) Sharks in 7
Analysis: Canucks have too much firepower for Coyotes. Big series for The Sedins and Alex Burrows. The Sharks are deeper but would you go against Perry, Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf? Ducks blueline also is underrated with Francois Beauchemin and Toni Lydman plus rook Cam Barker. If they lose, it'll be because of goaltending where Ray Emery's the guy with Jonas Hiller (vertigo) sidelined.
(1) Canucks over (4) Ducks in 7
Analysis: A rematch of '07 this time goes to 'Nucks, who are more balanced up front and on back end with Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler and Keith Ballard big minute loggers. The goaltending also favors them. Look for scrappy additions Max Lapierre, Raffi Torres, Chris Higgins and Jeff Tambellini (yes that guy) to contribute at key moments. It should be enough to get them to their first Final appearance since '94.
(1) Canucks over (3) Bruins in 6
Analysis: The battle between Neely's former team that gave him away and the one he emerged into one of the game's premier power forwards much like protoge Lucic, should be intense. A sexy goalie match-up featuring Vezina frontrunner Thomas versus Luongo, who has never performed well on the big stage. A contrast in styles between the magician-esque Sedins and the in your face B's led by Lucic, overlooked duo David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron, along with Nathan Horton and warrior Mark Recchi. A battle on the blueline featuring Ehrhoff and Zdeno Chara. The Canucks' talent should win out along with better depth on the back end. If it comes down, it should be a fantastic series. If they're ever gonna do it, now's the time.
Stanley Cup Champs-Vancouver Canucks
Conn Smythe-Ryan Kesler