* Vote for how many games you think the Pittsburgh/Tampa Bay series will need to decide a victor in the polls section!*
It’s time. Eight teams, four series. There is an all-time classic matchup (Boston-Montreal), a couple of big-time favorites looking to not choke (Washington and Philly) and what I think will be the closest series of the entire first round (Pittsburgh-Tampa).
Let’s get started…
Sorry, but there’s no way the Capitals blow another first-round series. Just no way. The Caps came on strong late in the season to capture the conference crown. They’re healthy, and they’re motivated. The Rangers have Henrik Lundqvist and not much else. New York’s unquestioned leader, Ryan Callahan, is out with a broken ankle. I’m sure the Rangers will put up a fight, but not much of one.
Capitals in 5
The Flyers recovered just in time to win the Atlantic Division. With or without Chris Pronger, Philly is the much better team. The lessons learned from last season’s playoff run should serve them well. Even with Ryan Miller in goal (if healthy), I don’t give Buffalo much of a chance. The Sabres have a couple stars in Thomas Vanek and Tyler Myers, but it won’t be enough to pull the upset.
Flyers in 6
This is the most anticipated series of the bunch. The Chara-Pacioretty incident just adds to the long history between these two bitter rivals. Tim Thomas vs. Carey Price is the best goaltender matchup in the first round. Can Thomas carry over his regular-season dominance? Can Price duplicate Jaroslav Halak’s effort from last postseason? This one is close, so I’m going with the better team. Boston has good scoring depth, Chara’s a monster and Tomas Kaberle could be a difference-maker. I’m sure the Habs will fight to the bitter end, though.
Bruins in 6
This just might be the closest series of the first round. This will not be easy for the Penguins, who will have to rely heavily on Marc-Andre Fleury and their excellent penalty kill. The Pens role players are going to have to contribute, and their power play is going to have to at least be not terrible. Tampa Bay has some impressive offensive talent, and its special teams have been, well, special. Their 1-3-1 system has been difficult to crack at times, and Dwayne Roloson has brought much-needed stability to their goaltending situation. In a close series, however, I’m going to go with the better goalie and the team with home-ice advantage (Pens were 2-0 at home vs. Tampa this season).
Penguins in 7