No 1. Washington Capitals (107 points)
Many complain and say the Caps should have a Cup right now with the likes of Alexander Ovechkin and an offense that destroys. But there’s an obvious reason for a lack of a cup – no goaltending. Michal Neuvirth and Simeon Varlamov are still unproven and there are now three instances where the Caps have gone to a game seven and have come up short. I think this could easily happen again. Goaltending is still too young.
No 2. Philadelphia Flyers (106 points)
The Broadstreet Bullies just narrowly missed the Eastern Conference Title this year, but they’re pretty much the same as Washington. The Flyers have an incredibly strong offense that includes at least five players who are 20+ goal scorers…but then we go to the defense. With no Chris Pronger, there’s trouble. The goaltending is the worst part. Don’t be surprised if they leave early because of it. I mean for God’s sake, they re-signed Michael Leighton.
No. 3 Boston Bruins (103 points)
The Bruins are probably the most complete team coming in from the Eastern Conference and Tim Thomas has what it takes to carry them through. The team will be hosting the most intensive first-round fight against long-time Original Six rival Montreal, which will be a lot of pressure. Add on the pressure of impressing fans at home and redeeming themselves after last year’s debacle against the Flyers, the Bruins have a lot to do.
No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins (106 points)
With Evgeni Malkin out for the rest of the year and Sidney Crosby only possibly coming back in time for first round play, the Pens have a lot to worry about. Not having Crosby will be a serious blow to the Penguin’s chances of moving on, especially since Sid the Kid is the type of player who makes everyone around him better. Early exit? More than possible.
No. 5 Tampa Bay Lightning (103 points)
Sure, the Lightning may have lost some of the spark that they had for a majority of the season, but it will be incredibly interesting to see how Tampa does in their first playoff appearance since 2007. Superstar Steven Stamkos had 45 goals this season, the second highest in the league, and there are plenty of people who will be watching to see how he performs in his postseason debut.
No. 6 Montreal Canadiens (96 points)
Honestly? The Montreal Canadiens aren’t that good. The Habs are a fast team, but they’re pretty easy to push around. If their power play doesn’t show up, they’re done for. They’ll be opening up in TD Garden, where all of Boston will be screaming for their blood. It’s bad news for Canada.
No. 7 Buffalo Sabres (96 points)
No one should ever count out Ryan Miller. Remember when the 2010 U.S. Olympic team wasn’t even supposed to see the podium and then was that close to winning the gold medal and beating power-house Canada? Ryan Miller is a big part of why that happened and it’s because of him that I could easily see Buffalo annihilating the Flyers come first round. If Ryan Miller turns it up going in, the Flyers have a lot to worry about.
No. 8 New York Rangers (93 points)
The Blueshirts will start the playoffs by going up against a team that is completely different from them. No one could have ever expected the New York Rangers to have one of the best defensive corps in the league that was reliable enough to carry them into the post season. The offense is a BIG problem, but if Henrik Lundqvist gets hot, New York will upset and stun plenty.
No. 1 Vancouver Canucks (117 points)
The Canucks come in as the heavy favorite around the NHL. They have the best first line in the league with the Sedin twins and Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler had a breakout season and Roberto Luongo will definitely be up for Vezina consideration come June. However, the loss of Manny Malhotra is not only bad for the Canucks, it’s devastating. If the Canucks can make do without Malhotra though, they should be fine.
No. 2 San Jose Sharks (105 points)
There are a lot of reasons to favor the Sharks to be the Western representative in the Finals; Strong offense, strong defense, strong goaltending and mind-numbing speed and strength will do nothing but help the Sharks get through the playoffs. Although, no matter how good San Jo is during the regular season, they always choke when it comes time for the playoffs. But maybe…Could this be the year?
No. 3 Detroit Red Wings (104 points)
It would be stupid for anyone not to consider Detroit a serious threat in the playoffs. The thing about Detroit is that no matter what kind of season they have, they always manage to find a way. This year they’ll be making an extra strong push since this is probably Nicklas Lindstrom’s last chance and Pavel Datsyuk is playing so well that ruling them out isn’t an option. They should have no problem in getting past the first round.
No. 4 Anaheim Ducks (99 points)
Not many people know about Anaheim, but they’re one of the sleeper teams this postseason. The only problem is that they’re going up against Nashville, the other sleeper team. It’s anyone’s game to be completely honest. But that Anaheim first line? The one with Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and 55-goal-scorer Corey Perry? That’s a hell of a line that should produce.
No. 5 Nashville Predators (99 points)
The other sleeper team are the last team I want to face in the playoffs and Pierre McGuire agrees. They have the best goalie you’ve never heard of and the best defensive pair in the league. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter? That’s rough for Anaheim. Despite the fact that it’s Nashville and no one cares about hockey there, I’m really excited to see how the Preds will do during this postseason.
No. 6 Phoenix Coyotes (99 points)
There’s just nothing special about Phoenix coming into the playoffs. Shane Doan had the most goals this season with 20 and there’s just nothing that gives them an edge over their competitors, plain and simple. Ilya Bryzgalov may be a pretty solid goaltender, but he’s no match for the type of force that Detroit will be in the first round.
No. 7 L.A. Kings (98 points)
The Kings started off the season looking like they would be one of the hottest teams in the Western Conference, and they definitely started the season on the right foot. However, injuries to the likes of Anze Kopitar will seriously hurt L.A. Having them go against state rival San Jose without a home ice advantage doesn’t help matters either.
No. 8 Chicago Blackhawks (97 points)
Last year’s Stanley Cup Champions were lucky to make the playoffs this year. Large contracts for big name players forced the Hawks to lose some key players that made large contributions to their cup run, and it showed how much it hurt the team. The Hawks will be going against the Canucks, whom they eliminated last year. Now the tables are turned, and you can believe that the ‘Nucks are out for blood after last postseason.