Western Conference

1. Boston versus 8. Montreal


1. Boston Bruins

You know I really like it
I know I’ll always be here
You know it makes my heart beat
You know I’m happy up here

Happy Up Here, Röyksopp

Regular Season Record: 53-19-10
Record v. Montreal: 5-0-1

The Scoop:
These fellas are seriously good. 9 foot tall defenseman Zdeno Chara has had a Norris-worthy campaign. Tim Thomas, the goalie nobody wanted, is a deserving candidate for the Vezina. Claude Julien, twice fired with a winning record (Montreal and New Jersey) ought to be considered a Jack Adams candidate for coach of the year. Throw in a breakthrough year from David Krejci and the scary prospect of Milan Lucic being even meaner than last year tells you that the brown bears are ready to sip honey from Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Reason to Doubt:
Although they’ve looked pathetic at times this year, historically Montreal has pulled off playoff upsets on Boston, leaving some to worry about this first round matchup.

Reason to Believe:
You don’t get to be first in the East without earning it. This is largely the same team that snuck into the playoffs last year into the 8th seed based on hard work. This year, they’ve worked hard all year, added offensive power and kept their defense stingy.

8. Montreal Canadiens

Dug too deep into illuminati
Rather have found out from the sleaziest paparazzi
Want to bet check the internet
It’s something that I’d show you but its something that you might regret
So don’t check just yet

Jimmy’s Crazy Conspiracy, The View

Regular Season Record: 41-30-11
Record v. Boston: 1-3-2

The Scoop:
The ordained team of destiny at the start of the year has had some serious speedbumps along the way, limping into the playoffs with inconsistent play on the ice and consistent distractions off it. This is not what anyone had planned for the 100th Anniversary for Les Habitants. If it makes them feel any better, technically, their anniversary comes in the fall.

Reason to Doubt:
Pretty much every player on this team has digressed in performance since last season, with the exception of Guillaume Latendresse (26pts in 56 games, versus 27pts in 73 games in 2007-2008). Tomas Plekanec: 69pts in 07-08, 39pts in 08-09. Alex Kovalev: 84pts in 07-08, 65pts in 08-09. Andrei Kostitsyn: 53pts in 07-08, 41pts in 08-09. Hardly facts that breed confidence. Oh, wait, sorry, Andrei Markov had 64pts this year, 6 better than last year. But he’s injured. So yeah…

Reason to Believe:
This is the team of destiny. And they are playing Boston.

Boston in their last 10 games: 8-2-0. Montreal: 5-3-2 (losing the last 4). Boston really should win this in 4. But, throw in a courtesy game for the unexpected, and because this is Montreal, another for good measure: Boston in 6 games.

2. Washington versus 7. New York


2. Washington Capitals

You’re not down with who I am
Look at you now, you’re all in my hands
Tonight, I’m a rock ‘n’ roll star

Rock ‘N’ Roll Star, Oasis

Regular Season Record: 50-24-8
Record v. New York Rangers: 3-0-1

The Scoop:
This is Alex Ovechkin’s team and will go as far as he takes them. Them’s some big shoulders he’s got and he’ll pull them a fair way, methinks. Alex Semin, Mike Green, Nick Backstrom and Jose Theodore (shudders) will put in their best efforts, energized by the best player in the world. New York will get the memo, if they haven’t already heard, Alex the Gr8 is a Rock ‘N’ Roll Star.

Reason to Doubt:
Aside from Mike Green, there aren’t really any household names on the blueline, and he’s not especially known for his defensive qualities. This means that the end to end rushes that the Capitals rely on will occasionally leave Theodore exposed, and while he’s been playing well, he’s not anywhere near where he was in 2002, when he was a Hart and Vezina winner.

Reason to Believe:

When AO8 is on fire, nothing can stand in his way. He is the most dominant offensive player in the league and last year’s taste of the playoffs was far too short to satisfy his insatiable thirst for glory.

7. New York Rangers

There’s so much destruction
All over the world
And all you can do is
Complain about me

You bang your head against the wall
And say you’re sick of it all
Yet you remain
‘Cause all you need is me

And then you offer your one and only joke
And you ask me what will I be
When I grow up to be a man
Uhm, nothing!

All You Need Is Me, Morrissey

Regular Season Record: 43-30-9
Record v. Washington: 1-2-1

The Scoop:
Sean Avery, the most hated man in hockey, made a return to the Rangers and jump-started their winning-ways. I don’t get it. I don’t think even John Tortorella, an avowed-Avery-hater, and his new coach, gets it. But it seems to work.

Reason to Doubt:
Name the Rangers’ leading points-scorer. No luck? That’s probably because they’ve scored only 210 goals as a team, the lowest total in the playoffs, and the third lowest in the league. Sorry, tied for third (with Tampa Bay). Oh, and in case you were wondering, the answer was Nik Antropov. Yes, Nik Antropov, with his 59pts (most of which came playing with Toronto before he was traded).

Reason to Believe:
Henrik Lundqvist. He’s been one of the best goalies in the league since he arrived from Sweden four years ago. You can chalk up a few stolen goals right now. A few stolen games? It’s possible when King Hank is in net.

Washington, also known as The Team With the Best Player in the Universe, wins it in 5
(one stolen game by Lundqvist).

3. New Jersey versus 6. Carolina

3. New Jersey Devils

Let’s pick a fight on whomever we like
Cause we’re never wrong
Nobody likes us
We don’t care
So let’s lose ourselves
Let’s lose ourselves

The Outsiders, Athlete

Regular Season Record: 51-27-4
Record v. Carolina: 1-3-0

The Scoop:
Brendan Shanahan returns. Bobby Holik returns. Brian Rolston returns. Martin Brodeur felt left out of the whole reunion thing so he goes out and gets himself injured for half the season. Scott Clemmensen, much to everyone’s amazement (amusement?), including his own, is actually a pretty decent goalie and carries the team in Brodeur’s absence. Oh, and Brodeur came back and broke Patrick Roy’s record for career wins.

Reason to Doubt:
Carolina (8-2-0 in their last 10 games) has been one of the hottest teams in the second half of the season and will be no slouch. Their record against New Jersey should be enough of a reason to have doubts about the Devils.

Reason to Believe:
Martin Brodeur is Martin Brodeur. And, as an added bonus, New Jersey has developed something of an offense this year to help out their keeper (probably when they were worrying about having Clemmensen back there, better help the guy out…). Zach Parise put up ridiculous numbers this year, playing for a so-called “defensive” team. Anyone that can score 45 goals and get 49 assists on this team must be special.

6. Carolina Hurricanes

You don’t wanna know how I manage alone
Oh no, you don’t wanna know what goes on when I’m on my own
You don’t wanna know how I plan on my own
Oh no, you don’t wanna know how I know when you’re on your own

I’ll never be alone, yeah (turn it on)
You know I’d follow you to Rome, yeah (turn it on)
I know the places you call home, yeah (turn it on)
You know I’ll get you on your own, yeah (turn it on)

Turn It On, Franz Ferdinand

Regular Season Record: 45-30-7
Record v. New Jersey: 3-1-0

The Scoop:
How come Erik Cole was such a bust in Edmonton? How come Paul Maurice couldn’t hack it as coach in Toronto? They’ve both been sensational since returning to the Triangle. Eric Staal is a world-beater when he’s got Cole riding shotgun. Cam Ward seems to be playing better, that’s right, better, than when he won the Conn Smythe and the Stanley Cup in 2006. Tuomo Ruutu and Sergei Samsonov are contributors on a nightly basis. What?!

Reason to Doubt:
They may have racked up the wins against New Jersey, but will have to face a healthy Martin Brodeur at his home in the first two games. If they can’t win one of those two, it could be curtains as the experienced Devils don’t like to give up momentum.

Reason to Believe:
When Carolina makes the playoffs they make the most of it, losing in the finals in 2002, and winning the Stanley Cup in 2006. All it takes is for this streaky team to get a run started and they are hard to slow down.

Carolina has been red hot, but Brodeur gets home ice when it counts. I still like the way the Hurricanes have been rolling, despite losing their last two games to close the season. They might have to concede a game to the Devils in Newark, but should steal one before they return to Raleigh for games three and four. If they can take those and then close it out back in Jersey, I can see the Canes winning it in 5.

4. Pittsburgh versus 5. Philadelphia

4. Pittsburgh Penguins

Heart beat soundin’
Ricocheting in their cage
Thought I’d lose my balance
With the grounds bounce and sway
And all this violence
And all this goes away
And the vibes that rise like
Fireflies illuminate our play

Golden Age, TV on the Radio

Regular Season Record: 45-28-9
Record v. Philadelphia: 4-2-0

The Scoop:
This was the team that went through the post-Stanley Cup Finals hangover, only to recover when it added some fresh bodies (Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz) and a new coach (Dan Bylsma) mid-season. Since then, Pittsburgh has looked as scary as it did last year, when, as I’ve mentioned, they went to the Finals.

Reason to Doubt:
Marc-Andre Fleury. I know he took them to the Finals last year, but there has been nothing to convince me that he’s improved since then. Does he have the goods to be a championship winning goaltender? You don’t want to even ask about his backup.

Reason to Believe:
This was the team that went to the Finals last year. Even if I have my doubts about Fleury, he has been there before. Sidney Crosby is Sidney Crosby. Plus, they’ve got Evgeni Malkin playing to a new level. They added some skilled grit in Guerin and Kunitz. They’re 7-2-1 in their last 10 heading into the playoffs against a rival that they’ve got home-ice advantage and a winning record. It will be fierce, but it’s well within their grasp.

5. Philadelphia Flyers

I’ve got a confession
That I will make if you will listen
Late in the nighttimes
We’d drive around with hairspray and sharp knives
Lookin’ for road kills
Lightin’ things on fire for cheap thrills
Stab the corpses
And lick the knives like we’re evil forces

Everybody Get Dangerous, Weezer

Regular Season Record: 44-27-11
Record v. Pittsburgh: 2-2-2

The Scoop:

The Broad Street Bullies are back. While they couldn’t control Steve Downie and had to send him away (seriously, that dude is messed up in the head), they did bring in reinforcement in the form of Daniel Carcillo (254PIMs). Throw in Riley Cote (174PIMs), Arron Asham (155PIMs), Scott Hartnell (143PIMs) and Braydon Coburn (97PIMs) and you’ve got some mean. Oh, and Hartnell chipped in 30 goals along the way, a career high.

Reason to Doubt:
While Philly has been running around town all season, they haven’t been as hot against their Pennsylvania rivals, winning only twice in six games. Sidney Crosby plays for Pittsburgh. So does that guy Evgeni Malkin, perhaps you’ve heard of him? He’s only the Art Ross winner for 2008-2009, the award that goes to the league’s highest scorer.

Reason to Believe:
Six guys (Jeff Carter, 46; Simon Gagne, 34; Mike Richards, 30; Hartnell; Mike Knuble, 27; and Joffrey Lupul, 25) with 25 or more goals. Plus a healthy Daniel Briere (25pts in 29 games). So, what you’re saying is that they are mean, and they can score? Yes, yes, that is what I am saying.

While they have virtually identical records, Pittsburgh has been far more convincing in the second half of the season. They have home ice. They have a winning record against Philly. All that, and the fact they went to the Finals last year makes me think they’ll prevail in a hard-fought series that will go the distance. Penguins in 7.

Western Conference