Here are my 1st round predictions for the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs:
#1 Washington Capitals vs #8 New York Rangers- The Rangers went 3-1-0 against the Capitals in the regular season. Washington is a different team than they were last year. They still have miles of capability on offense, but are a much better team defensively than they have been in the past. Henrik Lundqvist will be a huge factor in this series, as he led the league in shutouts during the regular season. PREDICTION- The Rangers had success against the Caps in the regular season, but I don't see that continuing. The Capitals are my pick to come out of the Eastern Conference. Caps win the series in 6 games.
#2 Philadelphia Flyers vs #7 Buffalo Sabres- Both teams won two games in the regular season series between these two teams. The Flyers and Sabres have been moving in opposite directions lately. Philadelphia is coming into the playoffs going 8-8-7 in their last 23, while Buffalo has been playing great hockey going into the playoffs. PREDICTION: I think this is going to be a great series. Philadelphia wins the series in 7 games.
#3 Boston Bruins vs #6 Montreal Canadiens- This is one of the greatest rivalries in the NHL, and it was only amplified with Zdeno Chara delivered his controversial hit on Max Pacioretty. The Canadiens won the regular season series 4-2, but Boston destroyed the Candiens 7-0 in their last meeting. PREDICTION- Boston has something to prove after they let Philadelphia off of the hook last year. Boston wins the series in 6 games.
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs #5 Tampa Bay Lightning- This is one of the most interesting opening round series in the league. Both teams won two games in the regular season series. It's unclear when or if Sidney Crosby will return, but this will be a great series regardless. Steven Stamkos and the Lightning are one of the most exciting teams in the league to watch. PREDICTION: Lightning win the series in 7 games.
#1 Vancouver Canucks vs #8 Chicago Blackhawks- These are two teams that really do not like each other. The Canucks are going to have a chip on their shoulder after being eliminated by the Blackhawks in each of the two previous years. Chicago backed their way into the playoffs and are nowhere near the team they were last year. PREDICTION: This series won't last long. Vancouver wins it in 5 games.
#2 San Jose Sharks vs #7 Los Angeles Kings- This is going to be a great series with two divisional rivals. Both the Sharks and the Kings are blessed with size, and have considerable skill as well. The Kings are going to miss superstar center Anze Kopitar, though. PREDICTION- San Jose wins the series in 6 games.
#3 Detroit Red Wings vs #6 Phoenix Coyotes- These two teams met in the 1st round of the playoffs last year, with Detroit winning the series in 7 games. Detroit is a team that has another gear when the playoffs come around. Phoenix is looking for their first playoff series win since moving from Winnipeg. PREDICTION: I think this is going to be another great series like last year. Unfortunately for the Coyotes, I think it produce the same result. Detroit wins the series in 7 games.
#4 Anaheim Ducks vs #5 Nashville Predators- The Predators won the season series against the Ducks 3-1. Anaheim's big line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan have been on fire. Teemu Selanne always plays extremely well against the Predators. Nashville has something to prove in this series, and have the best defensive pairing in the NHL in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Accompanied with that is arguably the best goalie in the NHL, in Pekka Rinne. PREDICTION: I think this is going to be a very entertaining series. Nashville wins it in 6 games.