Sports

The chase for the cup

The Gauntlet previews the NHL playoffs

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The east

This is either the most predictable first round of the playoffs ever, or everyone is underestimating the bottom four teams in the east. I prefer to think along the lines of the former, because with the exception of Philadelphia, I have no faith in Ottawa, Montreal or Boston.

[1] Washington vs. [8] Montreal

Maybe Montreal can catch a cocky Capitals team off guard. Maybe the goalies, the supposed weak link of the Capitals, struggle early. Or Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green and Semin outscore a slow defensive core of Montreal and this series is a laugher. I don't really think the Canadiens stand a chance here unless Jaroslav Halak turns into a brick wall.

Pick: Capitals in five

[2] New Jersey vs. [7] Philadelphia

Upset alert, upset alert! Philly took it to New Jersey all season, and is coming in at the bottom of the conference because of team chemistry issues and goaltender injuries. They needed until the last day of the season to get in, but the Flyers have one of the most diffusely talented forward group in the NHL. New Jersey is good defensively, but they are leaning on a fairly top-heavy offensive equation and I don't trust Ilya Kovalchuk to produce when it matters unless he's wearing Russia's colours. It's going to be a long series, but the Flyers have what it takes.

Pick: Flyers in seven

[3] Buffalo vs. [6] Boston

The Buffalo Sabres are my favourite team in the entire playoffs. Great goaltender, lots of scoring options (if they're healthy), and there are a lot of pieces from those back-to-back eastern conference finalist teams in 2006 and 2007. They've done it before. As for Boston, who scores on that team? If you're looking for a lot of offence from Milan Lucic (overrated), Marco Sturm (getting old), Mark Recchi (definitely old) and Patrice Bergeron (not a top level scorer), then you're in trouble. That being said, Rask has been great this season and great against the Sabres, but they're in for the long haul.

Pick: Sabres in six

[4] Pittsburgh vs. [5] Ottawa

I don't think the Penguins are making it back to the Stanley Cup Finals, but I like them here. They have the best one-two-three centre combination in the NHL and the Senators have been doing things mostly by smoke and mirrors. They separated themselves from the bottom three playoff teams in the east, mostly because they got hot for a stretch of the season, but they've been mediocre for the rest of the year. Kovalev is gone, not that he was much help during the year, and so is Filip Kuba, a key cog on the powerplay. Look for the Pens to win and move on.

Pick: Penguins in six

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