Winnipeg makes their return to the NHL playoffs for the first time since leaving. And that was 20 years ago. The keys to this matchup is weather the Jets acquired enough players with playoff experience. Dustin "Buff" and Andrew Ladd are the Jets with the most achievements, but eyes will also be on Myers and Stafford to see if their acquisitions were worth it. Anaheim, despite their goaltending lack of depth, have made it to the top spot on the Western conference. Look for Kestler, Perry, and Getzlaf to have the deeper pool of playoff experience.
Prediction: Ducks in 6
St. Louis v. Minnesota
Minnesota's struggles throughout the middle of the season may have made them a better team now. They went on a really incredible run with the trade deadline acquisition of Devan Dubnyk. But this might be the year that St. Louis gets it together and makes a deep run through the west. They are the gateway after all! Look for Tarasenko to be the big hero and supporting with Oshie.
Prediction: Blues in 5
Vancouver v. Calgary
Calgary Flames have been this anomalous team that went from being one of the worst (statistically) to one of the more respectable and competitive teams in playoff contention. They were a quiet team, but notably they have "Johnny Hockey" Gaudreau to continue on his young career. Vancouver's window from their Finals success is quickly closing as the roster is turning. Ryan Miller may not be strong enough to carry them past the first round having been injured most of the season.
Prediction: Flames in 6
Nashville vs Chicago
The Predators have the worst luck in the history of the NHL to always get ousted by stronger teams in the first round. It took them the realization to move on and find a more balanced scoring attack with an offensive minded coach. Laviolette has his name on the Cup and will know how to take the Predators over the hump. Chicago is just a juggernaut encased in a powerhouse wrapped in a barrage. But this might be the year that the core players will start to show some serious wear and tear having played so many more games than the rest of the league.
Prediction: Predators in7
Montreal v. Ottawa
The Canadians have the most to prove to their fans and the biggest disappointment to their fans if they fail. Carey Price is playing like he wants to be the first Hart and Vezina trophy winner in the same year since Jose Theodore in 02. There could be a lot of hardware handed out to other players at the end of the season. But Ottawa is the fighting chippy never say die teams that could surprise people.
Prediction: Habs in 5
Detroit v. Tampa Bay
The story here is having one of the most revered players in Detroit's recent history as the GM for the opposing team. Has Stevey Y's Tampa Bay team developed into a deep playoff contender? Ben Bishop is a giant among men in goal and may stand tall for the entire series. But as you know that the Red Wings have been built to be in the playoffs for 24 straight years.
Prediction: Bolts in 6
NY Islanders v. Washington
The Islanders are celebrating their last year on the Island with a playoff appearance that marks the first payoff for the rebuilding years. Captain John Tavares has a great crew built around him and they've played with each other and developed next to one another in the minors. Look for Isles goalie Halak to be motivated for revenge against his former teammates. The Capitals have Ovechkin and his scoring skills to carry them through the next round. They've finally figured out the balance between forwards and defensemen on their roster. Orpik and Niskanen were great pick-ups in Free Agency. And Joel Ward will somehow be a game hero once more during the playoffs.
Prediction: Capitals in 5
Pittsburgh v. NY Rangers
The New York Rangers are this year's Presidents trophy winners and carry with them that curse. Could they be too overconfident? Crosby and Malkin know how to get to the promised land but have been playing hurt the past few years. They can't get any scoring consistency or linemates. It took them several tries to get into the post season. But this year, they might go out ready to heal up for a better run in next season. Every Pens fan I talk to have no hope for them.
Prediction: Rangers in 4