Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Baseball fans look forward to Opening Day. Football fans look forward to training camp. Me? I look forward to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The grind of the regular season is over. 16 teams battling. First team to win 16 games gets the chalice. It takes sacrifice, pain, sweat, blood, grit, toughness, patience, and most of all, desire. I have goosebumps just thinking about it. So here goes.

(1) Boston v. (8) Montreal
A storied rivalry, but that was when both teams played in their old buildings (Montreal in the Forum, the Bruins in the Boston Garden). The only things that remain the same are the team colors and logos. This new NHL has Boston as one of the elite teams in the league, and I don't foresee the Habs having the firepower to overtake Boston. In my opinion, the only way the Habs win the series is if goaltender Carey Price has his soul taken over by the likes of Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden, or even Jacques Plante--all at the same time. Pick: Bruins in 5

(2) Washington v. (7) NY Rangers
An interesting series when you factor the free-wheeling Capitals against the Rangers who aren't as skilled, but they have plenty of toughness. They also have Henrik Lundqvist in the nets, and he could be the difference maker in this. A hot goaltender can take a team all the way to the Cup, and Lundqvist will have to be superior, otherwise the likes of Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and the rest of the Caps firepower will light the Broadway Blues up. The flipside of this is Jose Theodore, Caps netminder. He has not been the playoff-caliber goaltender in the past. Pick: Rangers in 7

(3) New Jersey v. (6) Carolina
It must be the post-season if these two teams are battling. The Hurricanes played the most unbelievable stretch of hockey through March and into April, and went from fighting for the last spot, to nearly having home-ice in the first round. Throw out the season series between these clubs (a series Carolina won). Martin Brodeur was a non-factor due to injury. He's back now, and he's one of the games all-time greats. Carolina will have their hands full getting past the Devils, but I believe guys like Eric Staal, Erik Cole, and the venerable Rod Brind'Amour will find a way to get past these Devs. It won't be easy. Pick: Hurricanes in 6

(4) Pittsburgh v. (5) Philadelphia
The Keystone State comes alive once again, as these two rivals get it on when it matters most. The Pens went to the Cup final last summer, falling to Detroit. That experience has got to pay off for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Give credit to Philly, though. They went from nowhere 2 seasons ago to the conference finals last season, and nearly earned the #4 seed this year. Still, too much talent for the Pens, and that should be the difference. Flyers have a shot if they slow down Crosby and Malkin, but that isn't easy. Look for this series to be the most physical in the first round. Pick: Penguins in 6

(1) San Jose v. (8) Anaheim
The Sharks were also an elite team in 2008-2009, and they have everything: solid offense, stingy defense, and maybe the best goaltender this season. Evegeni Nabokov is the lynchpin for the Sharks, and he will have to continue to be solid for the Sharks to advance. Let's not forget, Anaheim won the Cup 2 years ago, and there are still some parts from that championship team that remember the feeling. Pick: Sharks in 6

(2) Detroit v. (7) Columbus
Detroit. Period. All due respect to the Blue Jackets, the Wings are made for this time of the season. Goaltending will be key. Chris Osgood got the nod as the starter, and Columbus will send Steve Mason--he has been dynamite this season. Still, the Wings are the Wings. They are Hockeytown. They are the team everyone wants to beat--and not many have succeeded in the past decade. Pick: Detroit in 5

(3) Vancouver v. (6) St. Louis
The Blues are back to relevance, but Vancouver is loaded with offensive firepower, and fantastic goaltending in Roberto Luongo. The Blues have gotten to this point on heart, grit and just better than average talent. They'll need great goaltending, but I don't see that happening. Vancouver has the edge, and they have my vote. Pick: Canucks in 5

(4) Chicago v. (5) Calgary
Much like the Eastern Conference 4-5 matchup, this one promises to be physical. The Blackhawks are, like St. Louis, back to relevance in the Windy City. Chicago is young, and very skilled, and they have two, number 1 goaltenders in Cristobal Huet and Nikolai Khabibulin. The Hawks took flight after an early season coaching change, and broke through the 100 point barrier this season. Calgary is tough, and talented. This will be a difficult series, but I pick youth and inexperience to win out-Chicago won't know any better, and just win. Pick: Blackhawks in 6

We'll break down 2nd round matchups when we get there. Enjoy the games!

Mike Solarte

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