Below the jump are my playoff predictions and a general thread for everyone to prognosturbate.
Vancouver defeats Chicago in Six: I know Vancouver's had a bit of a blockage with the Hawks, but this Hawks team is a shadow of its former self. The Canucks' depth will pull this one through, but they'll definitely miss Malhotra.
San Jose defeats Los Angeles in Four: Maybe this goes five if Quick stands on his head and steals one. This San Jose squad is frighteningly good up front and their defense, while not stellar, should have little problem with LA's depleted forward corps.
Phoenix defeats Detroit in Seven: Like Chicago, this isn't the same Detroit team as in the past. Zetterberg is out, Datsyuk is nicked up and Lidstrom has looked downright human this year. I think Bryzgalov will badly outplay either of Detroit's goalies and the Coyotes will sneak away with their first (and possibly last) playoff victory in the desert.
Anaheim defeats Nashville in Six: Sorry Burton, but I don't think the Preds' stud D-men (Suter and Weber) will be able to contain all of Perry, Getzlaf, Ryan, Selanne and Koivu, though they may be able to slow down one line. Rinne will make this series interesting, but as in years past, the Preds won't have enough firepower to make it out of the first round.
Vancouver defeats Phoenix in Five: Phoenix gives it a good run before heading to Winnipeg, but their Cinderella story comes crashing down against the Canucks.
San Jose defeats Anaheim in Seven: Tough, brutal series, but Anaheim just can't handle San Jose's depth at forward as their bottom-pairing defensemen get tooled by Couture, Clowe and Heatley.
San Jose defeats Vancouver in Six: I don't think Vancouver will manage to keep all their defensemen healthy through the playoffs and, once some guys go down to injury, the Sharks will be able to use their depth to control the pace of the game. I also think Luongo will give up one stinker at some point in the series, leading to calls for Schneider and a distracting "goaltending controversy" in the media.
Washington defeats New York in Five: I'm worried about this prediction. The Rangers are the team I least wanted the Caps to draw in the first round. On the other hand, if the Caps play the way they're capable of, they should handle the Rangers fairly easily. Frankly, I think tonight's game will speak volumes about the course of the series. If the Caps come out firing and playing with attention to detail, the Rangers should crumble in five. If the Caps cough up an early goal or two en route to a loss. . . this one's headed to seven.
Philly defeats Buffalo in Six: The Pronger-less Flyers are still a much better team than the Roy-less and Leopold-less Sabres. Buffalo's goaltending advantage will make this one more interesting than it ought to be, but the Flyers will prevail just like the Sharks will out west - on the back of their depth. The Flyers will be able to get good forwards like van Riemsdyk or Briere out against defensemen like Shaone Morrisonn, Mike Weber and Chris Butler.
Boston defeats Montreal in Seven: Montreal's speed and Carey Price will push this series to seven, but ultimately I think the Bruins will win out. If Montreal can earn a split in Boston and their little, pesty players can get under the skin of some Boston guys and draw penalties, they could conceivably pull off an upset here.
Tampa Bay defeats Pittsburgh in Six: No Malkin, no Crosby, no series win. While I admire the work that Bylsma, Fleury, Letang and Staal have done in the absence of their star players, I think much of their continued success post-Crosby was based in part on unsustainable luck in tight games and on the fact that teams probably took the Crosby- and Malkin-less Pens less seriously. Like San Jose and Philly, the Bolts have some strong forward depth, particularly now that Malone is back. Pittsburgh really doesn't have enough forward depth to exploit Tampa's biggest weakness, which is the bottom three of their defensive corps.
Washington defeats Tampa in Six: Unlike Pittsburgh, the Caps have the offensive depth to exploit Tampa's crappy bottom pair defensemen. Marty St Louis' heroics will cause some heartburn in the DMV, but the Caps will come out on top.
Boston defeats Philly in Seven: The B's lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Flyers in seven games last year. They'll get their revenge this year backstopped in stellar fashion by Tim Thomas.
Boston defeats Washington in Seven: Not yet, Caps fans. Not yet. Tim Thomas, Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara combine to shut down Backstrom and Ovechkin and the Caps' second line isn't able to carry the water. Wideman doesn't make it back and nagging injuries wear down the Caps' defensive corps against the physical Bruins forecheck.
Stanley Cup Finals:
San Jose defeats Boston in Six: A motivated Joe Thornton is a scary sight to behold, and nothing motivates Jumbo Joe like playing against the team that treated him like a red-headed step-child.
Conn Smythe: Joe Thornton