And so the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin after a shortened season. There’s really not a clear cut favorite, in my eyes anyway, to win it all. Many people would say the Chicago Blackhawks and the Pittsburgh Penguins have the inside track, which I agree with to some extent, and as usual there is no love or respect for the Anaheim Ducks. Let’s get right to it.

1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 8 NY Islanders

Season Series: 4-1 Penguins
Playoff Series History: 3-0 Islanders, last meeting was in 1993
What We Learned: With their new additions, the Penguins are a force even without Sidney Crosby and John Tavares is pretty good.
Star to Watch: Jarome Iginla has 49 points in 54 playoff games and after a rough start with the Penguins, he’s been on a roll lately. Even thought he doesn’t need to carry the load, he will probably end up doing so. This is the first time in four years he will be in the playoffs.
X-Factor: New faces in new places. Chemistry will be the most important thing for the Penguins. It seems like they found the right combination in the regular season but this is the postseason and Sidney Crosby figures to get back into the mix.
Goalie Problem: I could have easily put Mac-Andre Fleury as the Star to watch and X-factor but I figured I’d just discuss him here. He is the most pivotal player on the Penguins by far. The last few early exits haven’t been all Fleury’s fault, as injuries and poor defense played a part, but a lot of the blame can be placed on him as he hasn’t played well in the postseason since he won the Stanley Cup. How he plays now is the key the Penguins cup run. He needs to get off to a good start but if he falters the Penguins do have Tomas Vokoun. Evgeni Nabokov has had a long strange career in the NHL but he’s back in the playoffs after an average season. Not coincidentally Nabokov was released from the Sharks because of his poor playoff performance. Now he gets a chance to redeem himself.
Fun Fact: The Islanders have the highest GAA (2.79) of any of the playoffs teams
Prediction: This will be the final part of the John Tavares breakout season where he gets to show off his skills on a more national level. This should be the first of many trips to the postseason for the Islanders and the games will be a lot closer than most people think. However, the Penguins just have too much fire power and the Islanders are just happy to be there. Penguins in 5.

2 Montreal Canadiens vs. 7 Ottawa Senators

Season Series: 2-2
Playoff Series History: Never, in their current incarnations anyway
What We Learned: You can play as bad as Montreal did down the stretch and still win a division that is sending 4 teams to the playoffs.
Star to Watch: With Jason Spezza still out, Kyle Turris remains the number one center. While he continues to play well, and led the Senators in points, he will need to elevate his game to the next level for the Senators to have a chance at an upset. Generally if the goals aren’t coming from him and Daniel Alfredsson, they aren’t coming.
X-Factor: The Canadiens have arguably the deepest team in the playoffs as they are the only team to have at least 10 players with 20 or more points. Ottawa counters with only 4 players. Although to be fair they have three players at 19 points.
Goalie Problem: Carey Price sort of regressed this season and he had a really bad month of April. Not the way you want to head into the playoffs. On top of that Montreal won’t be a forgiving place as they want a Stanley Cup. The last person you want to be right now is him. Here’s hoping he gets off to a good start or it could get real ugly real fast. Craig Anderson looks healed and should revert back to his top of the league goalie form. He will steal a few games for the Senators like he did against the Sharks when he was with the Avalanche.
Fun Fact: The Senators had the most shots on goal as a team but they also had the worst shooting percentage
Prediction: This is one of the toughest series to predict. I really want to pick the Senators here but they just don’t score enough. Craig Anderson is a much better goalie than Carey Price so it’s possible he could carry the Senators like Jaroslav Halak carried the Canadiens a few years ago but I’m going to with the Canadiens in 7.

3 Washington Capitals vs. 6 New York Rangers

Season Series: 2-1 Rangers
Playoff Series History: 4-3 Capitals
What We Learned: The Capitals and Rangers both played hot down the stretch and really wanted to be in the playoffs
Star to Watch: Brad Richards comes in on a 6 game point streak after playing poorly for most of the season. He will need to sty hot to give the Rangers some scoring depth especially with Ryan Clowe injured.
X-Factor: Which team was hotter? These two teams have the most wins combined (15) in their respective last 10 games than any of the other matchups. Whoever wins the first couple of games in the series will have a huge advantage.
Goalie Problem: This is probably where the series will be won, between two top goalies that haven’t played all the way to their potential this season. They both played brilliantly in last years playoff matchup but the Rangers got the overtime wins which helped propel them. Henrik Lundquist and Braden Holtby both have the ability to steal a game whoever plays better will lead their team.
Fun Fact: In his last 21 games, Alex Ovechkin only didn’t score a goal in 5 of them
Prediction: The Capitals have really found a groove lately and Ovechkin is hot. Last year was the first playoffs where he did not average over a point per game. I think he will continue to be hot in the postseason. Rick Nash makes only his 2nd playoff appearance in his career, having been swept in 2009. He’s played really well this year but I just don’t see the Rangers, with their strange year, getting to the 2nd round. Capitals in 6.

4 Boston Bruins vs. 5 Toronto Maple Leafs

Season Series: 3-1 Boston
Playoff Series History: 8-5 Maple Leafs, last meeting was in 1974
What We Learned: The Bruins played really badly down the stretch, some of that could be because of the bombings. The Maple Leafs actually made the playoffs.
Star to Watch: Phil Kessel, you were expecting somebody else? The amount of pressure on him is immense. If he doesn’t outplay Tyler Seguin nobody will here the end of it. Kessel hasn’t played in the playoffs since he left Boston but he played well when he was there.
X-Factor: Between the Maple Leafs making the playoffs for the first time since 2004, the Kessel trade, two original six teams going at it and the Boston Bombings; whoever can ride the wave of emotion better will have the advantage.
Goalie Problem: Tuukka Rask played the most amount of games he’s ever played in a season taking over for Tim Thomas. He also had his best season. James Reimer also had his best season and he secured being the number one goalie in the process. Rask only has one season of playoff experience but that’s way more than Reimer has.
Fun Fact: The Bruins had the 3rd worst powerplay in the league and the Maple Leafs had the 2nd best penalty kill; which should make for a not very exciting Bruins powerplay. On the other hand the Bruins have won a playoff series without scoring a powerplay goal, so they probably don’t care much.
Prediction: It’s hard to know what to make of this series. I can’t wait to see how Nazem Kadri plays. He and James van Riemsdyk are the future of the Maple Leafs. I’d go with the Maple Leafs but teams making their first postseason appearance in a long time usually don’t fare well. That coupled with the emotion of this series, I think the Bruins are better equipped to handle it mentally. Bruins in 7 in a dandy.

1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. 8 Minnesota Wild

Season Series: 2-1 Blackhawks
Playoff Series History: None
What We Learned: The Blackhawks are for real, the Wild not so much
Star to Watch: Cory Crawford had a brilliant first round series against the Canucks in which he almost willed them to an upset. Last season he wasn’t so great and he had some really bad moments in the first round against the Coyotes. I’m assuming he will get the majority of the workload and, like he did this season, he should bounce back well in the playoffs.
X-Factor: Zach Parise and Dany Heatley have the most postseason experience on the Wild and they’ve both played pretty well during those games. They will need to continue to play well, lead the team and hope it rubs off on everyone else.
Goalie Problem: Corey Crawford and Ray Emery are not problems they are a luxury many teams wish they would have, plus I talked about Crawford above. Nicklas Backstrom didn’t have his best season but more importantly he played in all but 6 of the Wild’s games this season. That’s a huge workload and much more than what he would get percentage wise in a full season. With all the snippers the Blackhawks have Backstrom is just going to be exhausted.
Fun Fact: Minnesota is the only team with a negative goal differential in the playoffs. Chicago has the best differential at +53.
Prediction: The Wild are lucky to be in the playoffs and you have to wonder what went wrong when they got creamed by the Oilers in a must win a few nights ago at home no less. the Blackhawks are too loaded and they are also healthy. The games probably won’t be that close and the Blackhawks should take it in 4 or 5.

2 Anaheim Ducks vs. 7 Detroit Red Wings

Season Series: 2-1 Red Wings
Playoff Series History: 3-2 Red Wings
What We Learned: Sometimes there is no advantage in being a high seed as the Ducks realize with drawing the Red Wings.
Star to Watch: This might be the last postseason for Teemu Selanne and his amazing career. Selanne started out pretty good but he had only 4 points in the month of April. Father time is catching up with him but he will need to find the fountain of youth to help give the Ducks some needed scoring depth.
X-Factor: This is an interesting matchup because of all the previous playoff history and the fact the Ducks dominated the first game this season but got steamrolled the next two. Momentum is in favor of the Red Wings.
Goalie Problem: Jimmy Howard has been getting better as the team around him regresses and carrying a heavy workload. The Duck counter with Jonas Hiller and a hidden gem they uncovered in Viktor Fasth. I’m assuming Hiller will get the majority of the workload but I would go with Fasth. This matchup will be pretty even.
Fun Fact: This is the lowest seeding the Red Wings have had during their current 22 year post season run.
Prediction: I strongly feel that the Ducks could lose in the first round or they could go all the way. I’d hate to think the Ducks got off to a great start and had a really well balanced and deep team just to lose in the first round. The Red Wings just aren’t what they used to be and are the 2nd oldest playoff team behind the Penguins. It should be a thrilling series with lots of animosity but I’m going to go with the Ducks in 6.

3 Vancouver Canucks vs. 6 San Jose Sharks

Season Series: 3-0 Sharks
Playoff Series History: 1-0 Canucks
What We Learned: Roberto Luongo doesn’t play as well when he isn’t wanted.
Star to Watch: Logan Couture is the future of the Sharks and led the team in goals. Couture and Joe Pavelski led the team in game winning goals and they have a knack for doing that in the postseason too.
X-Factor: Both of these teams have had heavy expectations to win it all recently, neither have done so. They’ve also both lost in the first round and now one of them will get to do it again. Whoever wants to be labeled a failure least will win.
Goalie Problem: The Sharks have Antti Niemi, who has won a Stanley Cup, but he hasn’t played all that great in the playoffs since then. Cory Schneider has earned the number one spot in Vancouver but he may not play because of his injury. I fear for Roberto Luongo in the playoffs.
Fun Fact: The Sharks have the worst road record of any of the playoff teams.
Prediction: This series could really go either way and it should be a great matchup. I’m just not feeling the Vancouver Canucks that much this year. Despite the Sharks atrocious road record I’m going to go with them since they have swept the Canucks this year and it seems like Luongo will be starting for now. If Schneider ends up playing the whole series and the Sedins are hot they Canucks will win. Sharks in 7.

4 St. Louis Blues vs. 5 Los Angeles Kings

Season Series: 3-0 Kings
Playoff Series History: 2-1 Blues
What We Learned: The Blues are not dead and managed the 6th best point total of the NHL season very quietly and the Kings got over their Stanley Cup hangover rather quickly.
Star to Watch: Chris Stewart reverted back to his 2009-2010 form and led the Blues in points and goals. Although they Blues have a deep team they will need Stewart to step up his playoff game. Stewart has only 5 points in 13 games.
X-Factor: The Blues were the 2nd seed but unproven last year the Kings were the 8th see and also unproven but coming off a big win against the Canucks. Now the Blues are still unproven but the 4th seed and the Kings won the cup and are now the 5th seed. Psychologically the Kings have the edge having beaten them last year and accomplished more overall.
Goalie Problem: Luckily for the Blues Brian Elliott has re-found his mojo and has been red hot in April sans that game against the Avalanche. Jaroslav Halak should be coming back from injury soon. Who will get the majority of the workload remains to be seen. Jonathan Quick had one of his worst seasons in his career and only one shutout but he is coming off his Conn Smythe winning performance. It will be interesting to see how he bounces back in the postseason.
Fun Fact: Drew Doughty had five goals in April after having just one in the previous three months.
Prediction: This is one of the toughest series to predict between two deep, hard hitting teams with good goaltending. The Kings could have grabbed the 4th seed but they didn’t play all that great down the stretch, just like last season when they could have grabbed the division, but they seem to be about where they were last season and they know how to raise their game in the playoffs. I’m going with the Kings in 6.

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And so the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin after a shortened season. There's really not a clear cut favorite, in my eyes anyway, to win it all. Many people would say the Chicago Blackhawks and the Pittsburgh Penguins have the inside track, which I agree with to some extent,...