With the Vancouver Canucks having the collapse of the century (no hyperbole here!), I'm more of an outsider observer of the playoffs. Sure, my other favourite team, the St. Louis Blues, is in the playoffs... but we know the Blues have a history of playoff failure just like the Canucks do.
First, I'll start with the teams on the other side of the continent.
Want more proof that the Western Conference is Bestern Conference?
1. Two of the playoff teams in the East were in the West last season. Ha!
2. Western Conference had six 100-point teams vs. four in the East.
3. Six of the West teams have a +30 or better goal differential. In the East? Just two.
On to the predictions. I'm using their spot in the overall standings, vs. the new weird format the NHL uses...
#1 Boston vs. #8 DetroitMike Babcock deserves some Jack Adams votes for the way he's handled the battered Red Wings this season. Despite playing with half of an AHL team, the Wings made the playoffs with a second-half push.
Goaltending: Rask is one of the very best, while Howard is merely average.
Defense: Zdeno Chara anchors one of the better two-way defense corps in the league. Detroit just doesn't have the D corps it used to when Mr. Perfect (Lidstrom) was around.
Forwards: Detroit has some real quality, and Gustav Nyquist is quite the story, but their depth just doesn't match up to Boston's. The Bruins have depth, size, and a playoff-tested group of grunts.
What are you going to do, brother, when Milan Lucic runs wild over you?
Prediction: Bruins in 5.
#3 Tampa vs. #4 Montreal
Goaltending: Carey Price finished 3rd in Save Percentage, while the Bolts #1, Ben Bishop, suffered a late-season injury. The Habs won many games thanks to Carey Price, who made up for Michel Therrien's terrible coaching.
Defense: Douglas Murray is, probably, the very worst defenseman in the NHL. On the flip side, PK Subban and Andrei Markov are two of the most talented. As a group, the Habs give up a lot of shots, and the Bolts' D is far steadier. Hedman has developed, quietly, into one of the league's better two-way defenseman, while Sami Salo and Eric Brewer bring a wealth of experience.
Forwards: The Bolts got some surprising performances from youngsters Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson. Inexperience, plus the loss of Marty St-Louis (due to his whiny trade demand) could be their downfall. The Habs have a very small forward corps, but they do have fairly solid depth. Both teams seem quite similar, in this regard.
Prediction: Habs in 7. I hope the Lightning win, but the Bolts seems to have run into some bad luck.
If the Bolts do lose, at least Ryan Malone can throw a great party!
#2 Pittsburgh vs. #7 Columbus
The BJs make the playoffs for the second time in franchise history, thanks to a move to the Leastern Conference, and a stifling put-your-opponent-to-sleep strategy.
Goaltending: BOBROVSKY!!! Given Fleury's penchant for meltdowns, this is easily an advantage for the Dinner Jackets.
Defense: Kris Letang is back after suffering a stroke, and we hope we don't see another scary incident. The Pens' D is quite mobile and offensively talented, while the Dinner Jackets play two of the most defensively risky players in the game on the back end (Johnson and Wisniewski).
Forwards: The Jackets do have a pretty decent forward corps, albeit without the star power of the Penguins. At the very least, they can grind out goals when needed. I'll take Crosby and Malkin over whoever the hell plays for Columbus.
Prediction: Penguins in 5.
#5 NY Rangers vs. #6 Philadelphia
Ugh, two teams I care little for. I am happy Alain Vigneault is doing well in New York, though.
The Flyers best hope is to play their usual thug brand of hockey, and hope the refs and NHL head office let them get away with it.
Goaltending: Henrik Lundqvist is not the elite goalie he used to be, but he's still better than Steve Mason.
Defense: The Rangers are the 2nd best defensive team in the East, and the Flyers D core is shallow and full of holes.
Forwards: The advantage for the Flyers here is that they have star power that can actually score. The Rangers have some big names, but both Rick Nash and Brad Richards' best days are far behind them.
Prediction: Rangers in 7 nasty games.