It’s Stanley Cup time!

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are upon us! Stanley Cup PlayoffsAnd please do not refer to them as the NHL Playoffs. No such animal exists. They are the Stanley Cup Playoffs, prominently promoting the greatest trophy in the history of sports. It is the greatest time of year. I often tell my family that, when I ultimately kick the bucket, I hope it happens in July – after the Cup is awarded. Yep, that seems about right. Time to predict the first round of sweeps and upsets.

FLYERS over SABRES in 5 – I’m not convinced Ryan Miller is 100%. But I am convinced Sergei Bobrovsky is 100% the real deal. The Flyers reached the Stanley Cup Final last year. That experience is invaluable. They are superior to the Sabres in every zone, even without Chris Pronger off the top.

RANGERS over CAPITALS in 7 – What? Beginning with an upset right away? You bet. Henrik Lundqvist has never had a decent team in front of him. Glen Sather’s New Yorkers are decent. And they had a big push to reach the postseason. I always like that. And Washington’s goaltending is suspect at best. I realize it doesn’t take a Hall of Famer to reach the SCF (right, Antti Niemi?), but it’s gonna take more than Michal Neuvirth. Unless Alex Ovechkin stands on his head every night – and history says he won’t – the Caps are goin’ down.

BRUINS over CANADIENS in 6 – Boston has so much to prove. Becoming only the third team in Stanley Cup history to blow a three games-to-none lead has to have been a pain in their a** all year. Time to relieve that pain – at the expense of the Montréal Canadiens. Unless Carey Price thoroughly outplays Tim Thomas (unlikely, but not impossible), the Bruins will move on.

PENGUINS over LIGHTNING in 7 – If Sid comes back, this prediction will be bang-on. But I’m not counting on it. And neither should the Pens. I still think they have enough depth, and goaltending, to top Guy Boucher’s Lightning. But, don’t forget, Tampa Bay still has two big Stanley Cup Champions in its room – Vinnie Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. Those guys can explode. And Steven Stamkos may have something to say about that as well.

CANUCKS over BLACKHAWKS in 7 – The last team to be extended to seven games in the first round, then go on to win the Stanley Cup, was the 1994 New York Rangers. The Canucks will do that this year. But the Hawks are gonna press them hard. Very hard. Not having Dustin Byfuglien around to shove his hiney in Roberto Luongo’s puss is going to hurt Chicago, but if they continue to pester Luongo, he’ll crack. And then we’ll have to listen to Canucks’ fans’ whining all summer. But it says here the Sedin sisters will come through in the end.

SHARKS sweep KINGS – That’s right, sweep. The Sharks were not the talk of the NHL this season, and that had to suit them just fine. Their scoring is much more balanced. Only on the last weekend of the season did Patrick Marleau sneak into the NHL’s top twenty scorers. Joe Thornton played 80 games and only scored 21 goals and 70 points. That’s unheard of for Joe but, that balance, will be key for the Sharks. Guys like Joe Pavelski will step up again.

COYOTES over RED WINGS in 6 – Ilya Bryzgalov is, easily, the most underrated player in the NHL. The guy can win series on his own. And that’s exactly what’s going to happen here. The Wings are creaky, and their goaltending is anything but secure and settled. Jimmy Howard is just not doing it for me. And he won’t be doing it for the Wings either. Think Manny Legace v. Oilers in 2006.

DUCKS over PREDATORS in 7 – Frankly, this series could easily go either way. There is only one key – and his name is Pekka Rinne. But I have to think the Ducks’ 2007 Stanley Cup hold-overs – Getzlaf, Perry, guys like that – will find a way to close out Barry Trotz’ Preds.

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