My predictions for the Eastern Conference First Round of the playoffs will be featured first. Tomorrow, I will feature my picks for the Western Conference First Round. I’ll pick a winner, explain why I selected that winner and will highlight a player to watch for both teams. Discussion is encouraged, of course!
- Series A – #1 Buffalo Sabres vs. #8 New York Islanders
My Pick: Buffalo Sabres will win this series. It’s hard to bet against the best team in the league this season against any other team, but I don’t think the Islanders have the unity or the core players to make it happen much into the post-season. While Ryan Smyth may help them somewhat, the rest of the team is too used to being missing the playoffs than they are to playing deep into the post-season. The Sabres are too fast, too strong and shoot the puck too well for the Islanders to put up much of a fight. Sabres in 5 games.
Players to Watch: For the Sabres, it won’t get much better than Daniel Briere. Keep an eye on the speedy forward throughout the playoffs and be sure to include him in your pools and predictions. He’ll be tough to beat. For the Islanders, Ryan Smyth will be the player to watch for his leadership and his ability to change a game with his attitude. Watch for Smyth to attempt to lead the charge for Long Island.
- Series B – #2 New Jersey Devils vs. #7 Tampa Bay Lightning
My Pick: The New Jersey Devils will take this series. While Tampa may come in firing on all cylinders, the Devils have too much experience and too much of a strong foundation in the record-breaking Martin Brodeur. Brodeur is passionate about winning and Tampa really has no comparison player in their line-up that can steal games. John Tortorella will coach the living daylights out of his team in the playoffs, but his passion won’t override the firm ability of the Devils. New Jersey in 6 games.
Players to Watch: For New Jersey, it has to be Martin Brodeur. Watch for him to make saves he has no business making and to change the play by robbing Tampa’s forwards blind. For the Lightning, Vincent Lecavalier will be the man to beat. He’s Tampa’s team leader in points for the regular season, with 108 and he’s played in all 82 of the Lightning’s season games. Lecavalier will dominate much of the offensive play if he can sneak the puck past Brodeur.
- Series C – #3 Atlanta Thrashers vs. #6 New York Rangers
My Pick: I’m leaning towards Atlanta here. I think with their late additions and the experience of head coach Bob Hartley, the Thrashers could edge out the Rangers. The aging Jagr will try to lead the charge, but I think the Thrashers are faster and *gasp* more talented than the New York Rangers. Thrashers in 6 games.
Players to Watch: For the New York Rangers, it’s Jagr time. With his skill and leadership ability, watch for the team around him to get better and stronger into the post-season. As for the Thrashers, the difference maker will likely be Marian Hossa. Hossa has lit the place up this season, scoring tons of points and becoming the first Thrasher ever to score 100 points in a season. His impact will be felt in the playoffs.
- Series D – #4 Ottawa Senators vs. #5 Pittsburgh Penguins
My Pick: I’ll go with the Senators here. Not meeting Toronto will do them a favor, as will meeting a team that gets most of its scoring from rookie talent and a reliance on old-time enforcers to do the job. Ottawa also has a significant edge in goaltending. While it won’t be easy, I think Ottawa’s skill will eventually trump Pittsburgh’s and the Senators will win the series in 7 games.
Players to Watch: For the Senators, keep your eye on Dany Heatley. He will be an impact player in every sense of the word, using his ripping shot and skill to get to open spaces and fill the net. Pittsburgh’s player to watch couldn’t be more obvious than Sidney Crosby. It will indeed by the first post-season that Crosby has played in and he won’t take his playoff debut lightly. He may well be the most prepared player on the ice throughout the entire first round, so watch for him to try to make a huge impact.