The bracket racket
Predictions with conviction (not really)
(1) Montreal v. (8) Boston
Series key: Kovalev v. Chara
It's pretty rare that a team wins eight regular-season games against another, but that's what the Habs managed to pull off against the Bruins this season. And, understandably, few are picking Boston to have a chance. But what the Bruins are going to do in this series is what they've done all year: Make it ugly. This is a classic trapping team versus a high-flying offence. Montreal relies heavily on its power play, one that will get its chances in this series, but at even strength, it'll be size and strength against speed and finesse — even if the Bruins have Patrice Bergeron and Marc Savard in the lineup. Zdeno Chara's going to try and make life miserable for Alex Kovalev, and the Canadiens need him to respond like he has all season.
Canadiens in 6
(2) Pittsburgh v. (7) Ottawa
Series key: Martin Gerber
Even with all of the turmoil, the Senators were the NHL's highest-scoring team this season. It's a good thing, too, given the number of goals this team allowed (2.92 per game, 7th worst). If Pittsburgh's young stars can get on Ottawa early, pot a few goals and run away with one of the first two games, this could be a very short series. Without Daniel Alfredsson, there's a huge leadership void and the Penguins have the talent to capitalize. Sid Crosby is going to be hungry — and it doesn't help that Gerber, 33, has just one career playoff win.
Penguins in 6
(3) Washington v. (6) Philadelphia
Series key: Can Caps win ugly?
This is the first-round series to watch, in my view, with the NHL's nastiest team matched up against its greatest individual talent. The Flyers and Mike Richards are going to throw everything they can at Alex Ovechkin, and it almost goes without saying that Washington's going to be doing everything it can to protect its superstar. Players like Donald Brashear and Matt Cooke suddenly become important for the Capitals, which really isn't the sort of game they've been winning lately. It'll be a long series (and keep in mind that the Flyers actually finished with more points than red-hot Washington this season). There's a reason the Penguins didn't want to play these guys.
Flyers in 7
(4) New Jersey v. (5) N.Y. Rangers
Series key: Brodeur v. Lundqvist
Marty Brodeur turns 36 next month and has yet another 77-game season under his belt, and a lot of what happens in the postseason for the Devils rests with him. Coach Brent Sutter may have introduced more of a forechecking style, but this is still a team that rarely scores, one that had only one player with more than 22 goals or 55 points. And New Jersey's defence is as anonymous as they come. This may be a 4-versus-5 series, but I think whoever comes out of this one is going to have a big impact in the conference going forward, as both the Devils and Rangers play playoff-style hockey and have terrific goaltending. And there's a lot of untapped firepower on Broadway that could finally come out.
Rangers in 7
(1) Detroit v. (8) Nashville
Series key: Goaltending
Let's face it, the Predators are in pretty tough here. No one expected them to make it this far, and it's really only been a terrific penalty kill that's stood out this season. My real worry with Nashville is in goal, as if Tomas Vokoun was there, this could be a great series. As it is, Dan Ellis and Chris Mason are both likely to see time in goal, and Barry Trotz and company will just have their fingers crossed. There are some pieces in Tennessee that I really like — Shea Weber, for one — and this team plays hard, but they just don't have the horses to compete with the Red Wings' depth. Detroit will find it tough going on the power play, however.
Red Wings in 6
(2) San Jose v. (7) Calgary
Series key: Shutting down Jumbo Joe
Consider this a bit of a contrarian take on this series, but where I see San Jose as vulnerable is in its offensive depth. If you can make Joe Thornton a non-factor, that eliminates the only player in the lineup that had more than 55 points this season (in a Sharks uniform). Patrick Marleau's been a disaster this year, and as terrific as Brian Campbell's been on the blueline, there's still a lot of inexperience being thrown out there. If Miikka Kiprusoff can get a bit of his game back, Jarome Iginla will carry this Calgary team to Round 2.
Flames in 7
(3) Minnesota v. (6) Colorado
Series key: Injuries
I really like the Wild's roster, and I picked them to be the real dark horse in last year's postseason, but I'm going to keep this brief. Minnesota's missing two of its top four (or five) defencemen in Kurtis Foster and Nick Schultz, Colorado's added three key reinforcements, and Peter Forsberg has 11 points in his last four games. As long as Jose Theodore is decent, the Avalanche shouldn't have a problem here.
Avalanche in 6
(4) Anaheim v. (5) Dallas
Series key: Brad Richards
The Stars need secondary scoring in this one. They'll lose in four without it, in fact, given what their top line's going to be up against in The Nothing Line. Dallas is a bit beat up already, too, without Sergei Zubov, and wasn't playing well down the stretch. Anaheim's been incredibly low-scoring this season, but since Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne both rejoined the lineup, the Ducks have been 20-5-1. And Chris Pronger missed eight of those games with a suspension. Yikes.
Ducks in 5
And this is the year the Red Wings reclaim the Cup.