(1) New York Rangers vs. (8) Ottawa Senators
Murph’s Pick – Rangers in 6
Why?– This has been a dream season for Henrik Lundqvist (39-18, 1.97 GAA, .930 Save %). The Swedish netminder has been the heart and soul of the Rangers night-in and night-out. When I spoke to him in Stockholm at the NHL Premiere in October, he had a look in his eyes – a look that said more than any quotes. He had the same look that Tim Thomas had the season before in Prague for the Bruins. We all know how that worked out. For the Sens, they are a surprise playoff team. They should be proud of their season, but an upset in not on the cards here.
(2) Boston Bruins vs. (7) Washington Capitals
Murph’s Pick – Bruins in 6
Why? – There’s an old saying – ‘never bet against the defending champions!’ The Bruins have had a weird season. They had an undefeated November, and some dicey moments in parts of February and March. They are a team that knows how to win in the playoffs – and Tim Thomas has a lot to prove after some off-ice turmoil. The big X-factor – or should I say Z-factor is Zdeno Chara. The guy hates to lose, and will have the assignment of shutting down Alex Ovechkin. For their part the Capitals have never gotten off the runway this season – and Ovie will see no room against Chara.
(3) Florida Panthers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils
Murph’s Pick – Devils in 6
Why? – The Panthers have turned around nicely in Florida. Again a surprise playoff team, so huge credit for their season. The problem for the cats, is that they backed into the playoffs (2-3-5 in last 10), and look like a team that has hit the skids at the worst possible time. The Devils are always tough in the playoffs, and Martin Brodeur knows he only has a few chances left at playoff glory. This will be an interesting series, but the Devils will pull off the upset as far as seeds go.
(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers
Murph’s Pick – Penguins in 7
Why?– What can be said about a team that has the NHL’s MVP in Evgeni Malkin (50G, 109PTS), and the NHL’s best player in Sidney Crosby! Not to mention a playoff proven goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury. This is a very deep and talented Pens squad, that is built for a deep run. The Flyers are a rugged team that boast their own star in Claude Giroux (93PTS). These two teams hate each other, and no quarter will be given on either side of the ledger. The big decider for me, and the reason I pick Pittsburgh in 7 is simple – goaltending.
Wild Western Showdown:
(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings
Murph’s Pick – Canucks in 7
Why? – The Canucks are still stinging from a game 7 Stanley Cup loss in their own barn last summer. They have had to endure the Bruins wild summer of celebrating, and I’m pretty sure that this is plenty of motivation for the #1 seed. The Kings are a good team – they’ve had some internal issues – but they have Jonathan Quick in net (35-21-13, 1.95 GAA, .929 Save %). Goaltending can win a series, and I think Quick will give LA a fighting chance. The Canucks will be hoping that Daniel Sedin can come back and play in this series after his concussion issues. Either way this one will be a beauty, but Vancouver are too good to be upset here.
(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (7) San Jose Sharks
Murph’s Pick – Blues in 6
Why? – Who could have predicted that this Blues team would be so good after Ken Hitchcock took over behind the bench? His air-tight defensive schemes, coupled with extraordinary goaltending from both Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak have made St. Louis one of the stories of the league. It is now emerging that Elliott could be struggling with a nagging injury, but Halak will be ready to go. Again this emphasizes the importance of goaltending this time of year. The Sharks have expelled a lot of energy in the past two weeks just to make the post-season. It could be argued that they have been in playoff mode for 7 games already at this point. St. Louis will just be too stifling defensively for San Jose in this one.
(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (6) Chicago Blackhawks
Murph’s Pick – Hawks in 6
Why? – The Coyotes have been great down the stretch (7-1-2 in last 10) – no faulting them there as they win a tight Pacific Division. The reason I am taking Chicago is simple – talent and depth. The Hawks have Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp – and hope that captain Jonathan Toews (concussion issues), will play in the series. That’s the type of talent that the Coyotes cannot match. The Hawks will be a tough proposition for Phoenix if they can roll their lines, and have a healthy Toews back.
(4) Nashville Predators vs. (5) Detroit Red Wings
Murph’s Pick – Predators in 7
Why? – As good as the Red Wings have been in the playoffs the past decade, and as much as they have great leadership in Nicklas Lidstrom and others – this will be a tough one for them. The Predators are built for a playoff run. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are possibly the NHL’s best defensive tandem, and will be charged with shutting down the Wings top unit. And Pekka Rinne (43-18-8, 2.39 GAA, .923 Save %) has been super-human in Nashville’s net. It will be the time for the younger, faster Preds to dispatch the veteran Wings in a long, tough series.
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