Faves should advance this year

PIERRE LEBRUN

, Last Updated: 3:05 PM ET

The dark side of parity in the post-lockout NHL rears its ugly head when hockey writers around the league are asked to pick series winners.

The league is that close.

After going 12-3 last spring in the 15 playoff series, there's nowhere to go but down. Here's a look at this year's picks for the first round of the NHL playoffs:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 Montreal vs. No. 8 Boston -- The Bruins are already hearing how they have no chance after Montreal won all eight season-series meetings. They're used to hearing that.

If the Bruins are going to succeed, they must somehow capitalize on Montreal's playoff inexperience and steal Game 1 to see how the Habs respond. Especially rookie goalie Carey Price. Prediction: Habs in five.

No. 2 Pittsburgh vs. No. 7 Ottawa -- The Senators won three out of four games against Pittsburgh this season and eliminated the Penguins in last spring's first round. But these aren't the same Senators, are they? They backed into the playoffs by winning just three of their final 10 games and begin this series without captain Daniel Alfredsson, No. 2 centre Mike Fisher and two-way forward Chris Kelly. Prediction: Pens in five.

No. 3 Washington vs. No. 6 Philadelphia -- Two teams who missed the playoffs last year hook up, so that should negate the experience factor.

The Caps are sky high right now after going 13-4-0 down the stretch to qualify in their last regular-season game. They feel like nobody can beat them and who can blame them with the way 65-goal man Alex Ovechkin is playing, not to mention his supporting cast. Prediction: Caps in seven.

No. 4 New Jersey vs. No. 5 N.Y. Rangers -- The Devils finally beat the Rangers in Sunday's regular-season finale to finish their season series 1-4-3 against their rivals (Rangers fans prefer to say they're 7-0-1 against the Devils this season).

It's misleading to suggest the Rangers have dominated their neighbours because they won seven of eight. Four of those went to extra time. Every game was close. Prediction: Rangers in seven.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 Detroit vs. No. 8 Nashville -- People say the Red Wings lucked out by getting an opponent from the "weak" Central Division. But the truth of the matter is that Detroit went only 17-12-3 within its division this season while pounding the Northwest to the tune of 15-2-3 and going 15-5-0 against the Pacific.

It says here that the Predators are the grittiest team to make the playoffs. They have to be. When they lost all the firepower last summer, head coach Barry Trotz moulded this team into a four-line, checking beast. The Red Wings will have to earn every inch of ice they take.

In the end, the gaping hole in skill levels on these two teams will show up, but it won't be as easy as many believe. Prediction: Wings in seven.

No. 2 San Jose vs. No. 7 Calgary -- For more, see Eric Francis' prediction column.Prediction: Sharks in five.

No. 3 Minnesota vs. No. 6 Colorado -- The Wild are attracting some late-season love as a possible Cup sleeper.

They won the season series with Colorado 5-2-1 and were 4-0-0 at home. But the Avs took on a new look at the trade deadline when they brought in Peter Forsberg, Adam Foote and Ruslan Salei, not to mention star players Joe Sakic, Ryan Smyth and Paul Stastny all missed significant time this season. The Wild also have a decided edge in special teams, but Forsberg's arrival has ignited the powerplay.

We'll go against the grain here, unable to ignore the nostalgic reunion of Forsberg, Sakic and Foote. Prediction: Avs in seven.

No. 4 Anaheim vs. No. 5 Dallas -- The Stars have won five of the eight meetings this season although the Ducks took the last two. Keep in mind Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne were still in semi-retirement when Dallas won some of those first few games. Dallas won only four of its final 14 games (4-8-2), not a good sign.

Stars goalie Marty Turco shook off his playoff demons last spring against Vancouver in a seven-game loss. But it's hard to argue with J.S. Giguere's playoff resume. The Ducks goalie has the best winning percentage among active NHL goalies, going 31-13 in his career. He's won a Cup, gone to the final and to the conference final.

This will be a war. Prediction: Ducks in seven.


Videos

Photos