HabsWorld.net -- 

The 2012 NHL playoffs have arrived. Unfortunately, the Habs will be nowhere
near them after a 28th place finish that instead yielded them their top draft
pick since 1980. Nonetheless, there are still many intriguing matchups and
storylines to follow. Our writers have analyzed the matchups and provide their
prognostications for the rest of the series.

Eastern Conference


Mitchell Tierney predicts: NYR in 6
Brian La Rose predicts: NYR in 5
Alex Létourneau predicts: NYR in 6
Norm Szcyrek predicts: OTT in 7

(Mitchell) It has been a feel good story coming out of Ottawa this season. A
team who many figured wouldn’t even compete for the playoffs let alone be in a
playoff position at the season’s end. However, this is where the feel good story
ends for the Senators. The Rangers are the far better team in every position
minus offense. But the Senators lack depth and if Spezza and/or Karlsson can be
shutdown for the series it could be a walk over. That being said the Senators
should put up a decent fight in this series. If nothing else the Senators have
proved that they have excellent team chemistry this season. Goaltending will
prove to be the main difference in this series.

(Brian) If there was ever a year for the Rangers to go deep, this is it. Their
forward depth is strong, the blueline is better, and they have arguably the top
goalie in the league. No one expected Ottawa to make it to the playoffs, their
top guys had strong years. But, I don’t trust that their depth is good enough to
counter that of New York and their goaltending is still suspect, no matter
whether it’s Anderson or Bishop. I think Ottawa can get a game but that’s about

(Alex) Even though the Rangers won only one meeting out of four against the
Senators this year, I don’t see the blue shirts bowing out in the first round.
Ottawa is a streaky team and they have been in poor form recently. They’ll give
the number one seed in the East some trouble but I see Henrik Lundqvist
ultimately shutting the door and John Tortorella out-foxing Paul MacLean.

(Norm) There is always a big upset or two in the first round of the playoffs.
These are two very well coached teams who have both far exceeded everyone’s
expectations prior to the beginning of the season. The Senators match up well
against the Rangers up front and New York holds a slight advantage advantage on
D and in goal. However the Sens took 3 out of 4 games against the Rangers and
have a great record (11-2) in New York since the lockout. The X factor in this
series could be Jason Spezza, who has been a point a game player in the post
season for his career, and will need to elevate his game to lead his team to
victory this round.


Mitchell Tierney predicts: WAS in 7
Brian La Rose predicts: BOS in 5
Alex Létourneau predicts: BOS in 6
Norm Szcyrek predicts: BOS in 6

(Mitchell) The favourite going into this series is quite clearly the Boston
Bruins. The defending Stanley Cup Champions have had yet another solid season.
However something about the Bruins, especially recently, seems off. On the other
hand the Capitals had to fight for their life to try and make the playoffs.
While most would say the Bruins wins this series if goaltending can hold up for
the Capitals I think they have a decent chance. Ovechkin is looking ready to
finally dominate the way he can in the playoffs after a solid finish to the
regular season. If they cover Ovechkin they still have plenty of problems in
Alexander Semin, a sniper playing for a contract. However, for me it is not as
much that I believe in the Capitals but the fact that I don’t believe in this
Bruins team. One of the only reasons they beat Montreal in the first round last
year was a certain player by the name of Michael Ryder. Where is Ryder this
season? Dallas.

(Brian) Isn’t the storyline behind this just terrific? Tim Thomas and his
comments about US President Barack Obama go right to the forefront once again.
If the Bruins weren’t playing a team that just squeaked into the postseason and
had a boatload of question marks (not the least of which is their goaltending),
I’d predict they’d lose. But because it’s Washington they’re playing, a team
famous for first round exits and playoff underachievers, I expect Boston will be
able to overcome any sort of sideshow that is associated with Thomas.

(Alex) The defending cup champions have had an up and down year but they seem to
be on track going into the playoffs. I wouldn’t hold my breath for a repeat but
a Washington team that struggled all year long will not have what it takes to
push the Bruins to the limit. Washington did win three out of four meetings
between the two clubs but in a seven game series, where Boston has one of the
best road records in the league and aren’t too shabby at home either, I give it
to Boston.

(Norm) The Bruins begin their Cup defence and will try to duplicate last seasons
Cup win to become the first team in 14 years. First they will have to defeat
Washington. Boston had the 3rd best offence in the league in the regular season.
They get it done with balance as their top 3 lines all contribute despite the
loss of Nathan Horton. However Alex Ovechkin was one of the hottest shooters in
the last three months of the season and was a huge reason his team made the
postseason. If the Capitals can get a big performance from Nicklas Backstrom and
goalie Braden Holtby then they could surprise Boston. However its more likely
that Tim Thomas will repeat his playoff heroics and carry his team through the
first round. The X factor in this series should be Zdeno Chara, who is very
capable of neutralizing Ovechkin.

FLA vs. NJ

Mitchell Tierney predicts: NJ in 6
Brian La Rose predicts: NJ in 6
Alex Létourneau predicts: NJ in 5
Norm Szcyrek predicts: NJ in 7

(Mitchell) Many people don’t even believe that the Panthers deserve to have a
spot in this year’s playoffs. While this is untrue they certainly don’t have the
talent to compete with the Devils. This is an underrated Devils team with
players like Clarkson, Parise, Kovalchuk and possible Calder nominee Adam
Henrique. Not to mention one of the best goaltenders in the history of hockey in
Martin Brodeur. If Brodeur can play anywhere close to the way he can in this
league the Devils have this locked up. The only variable in this series is
Panthers goaltender and former Canadien Jose Theodore. Theodore has stolen
playoff series before and could do it again against the Devils.

(Brian) I’m happy that the Panthers made the playoffs but let’s face it, they’re
not exactly a powerhouse team for a division winner. This is a team that lost
more than they won and made the playoffs solely off the loser point. New Jersey,
meanwhile, managed over 100 points in a division that still saw them finish 4th.
They’re the better team despite what the seeding says. Martin Brodeur likely has
one good run left in him, with the Panthers as the first round matchup, this
could very well be the start of it.

(Alex) Florida has been abysmal down the stretch while the Devils have been
playing excellent hockey. Although the teams split the season series, the Devils
finished with eight more points than Florida in the regular season. The Devils
have been as good on visitor ice as they’ve been at home and you can never count
out Martin Brodeur. I just don’t see Florida doing much against a very good New
Jersey team.

(Norm) New Jersey has been one of the hottest teams to finish the season. By
contrast Florida was luke warm. The Panthers had a slight lead during the
regular season with a 2-1-1 record. Both teams have veterans with playoff
experience and both have good depth, both are relatively healthy. This series
should go the full 7 games, with a slight edge to NJ. The X factor in this
series should be Martin Brodeur, who will have a few tricks left up his old
sleeve to help pull his team into the next round.

Western Conference


Mitchell Tierney predicts: SJ in 7
Brian La Rose predicts: STL in 7
Alex Létourneau predicts: STL in 6
Norm Szcyrek predicts: STL in 6

(Mitchell) San Jose has had an off season. But down the stretch they played some
great hockey to get themselves into a playoff position. San Jose, like Vancouver
have suffered some tough losses in the playoffs. I fully expect them to have
learned from these losses. An inexperienced Blues team will have a tough time
handling Thornton and the boys in this series. Niemi is a playoff goaltender and
has been finding his form recently. If he can turn out a decent series I can see
the Sharks getting the upset. The variable in this series is once again a former
Canadiens goaltender. Jaroslav Halak is expected to start in goal and could
steal the series for the Blues like he did for the Canadiens two years ago. But
the book was out on Halak by the third round of those playoffs. I expect it to
be out far earlier this time around.

(Brian) The Blues had a fantastic regular season (getting a shutout every 5-6
games has a tendency to lead to more wins) but I don’t entirely trust them.
They’re not loaded with talent and lack the game breakers that can shape a
series. The Sharks on the other hand are largely comprised of the same group
that exits the playoffs sooner than most expect on an annual basis and aren’t
exactly flying on all cylinders coming in. A low scoring series will be crucial
for St. Louis and with the way their goalies have performed, I think that’s what
it will be which is why I lean the way of the Blues.

(Alex) The Sharks were unable to beat the Blues on four tries this year, getting
shutout twice. The Blues are virtually unbeatable at home while the Sharks have
a pedestrian road record. Having seen Jaroslav Halak’s heroics first hand a few
years ago, and the fact that he’s not even guaranteed a starting position due to
Brian Elliott’s brilliance this year, means San Jose snipers are in tough. San
Jose may steal one on the road but don’t look any further than that.

(Norm) The Blues turned their season around after veteran coach Ken Hitchcock
arrived early in the season. Under his guidance, he provided the right direction
to the under performing squad, to hang around the top 5 in the NHL. They boast
no top 20 scorers, but do brag about a balanced attack. San Jose has been a
traditional playoff underperformer, but this season they are deemed the
underdog. St. Louis has the edge in goal, with their tandem of Brian Elliott and
Jaroslav Halak. A recent day to day injury to Elliott may provide Halak the
chance to start. Look for David Backes to be X factor in this season, as he’ll
likely be shadowing the likes of Joe Thornton while chipping in on the offence.


Mitchell Tierney predicts: CHI in 6
Brian La Rose predicts: CHI in 6
Alexander Letourneau predicts: PHO in 7
Norm Szcyrek predicts: PHO in 5

(Mitchell) Phoenix is in a similar position to Florida in this series, although
the Devils are a better team than the Hawks. The Coyotes won a weak division and
therefore have the home ice advantage. But the Coyotes, in there limited time in
the NHL playoff have never been a solid team. That Blackhawks on the other hand
have plenty of playoff experience having won it all two years ago. This series
will be closer than the Devils-Panthers series but in the end the 6 seed will
once again defeat the 3. The variable is Shane Doan. The captain of the Coyotes
will play his heart out in this series and could possibly inspire his team just
enough to get passed Chicago. Also expect good things from Coyotes goaltender
Mike Smith.

(Brian) I’d love to see the Coyotes win this, they need something to go right
for them eventually. But Chicago has been there before and knows what it takes
to win. They also have the premier firepower. Mike Smith has had a fantastic
year but this Phoenix team shapes up a lot like last year’s group, one that had
a top goalie and got ousted pretty quickly. I don’t really trust Corey Crawford
but the Hawks’ offence should be able to make up for any shortcomings in the

(Alex) It’s about time the Coyotes make it to the second round of the playoffs.
They finished with less points than Chicago but won the division and hold home
ice advantage. They beat the Blackhawks three out of four during the season and
have been playing excellent hockey down the stretch. Chicago has also been
playing great hockey but with their leader in Jonathan Toews’ participation in
question, I swing a tight series to Phoenix. Goalies are also wildcards here. I
see Mike Smith playing less badly than Corey Crawford.

(Norm) The Coyotes will be looking for their first playoff series win since
1987, when the franchise was known as the Winnipeg Jets, version 1.0. The
Coyotes outperformed the Blackhawks 3-1-0 this season. In this match up, Chicago
has the edge on offence, while Phoenix has it on defence/goals against. Chicago
has a significant handicap, with question marks beside the status of five of
their regulars: forwards, Jonathan Toews, David Bolland, Andrew Brunette, Dan
Carcillo and defenceman Steve Montador. Phoenix has only one defenceman on the
IR, Kurt Sauer. Ray Whitney will be the X factor in this series; the 39 year old
managed 77 points to tie his career best output from 3 seasons ago.