Will Sidney Crosby’s Penguins Repeat as Stanley Cup Champs?

Will Sidney Crosby's Penguins Repeat as Stanley Cup Champs? The puck will drop on Wednesday night to begin the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs. But who will hold Lord Stanley's trophy when it's all said and done? Here are the predictions.

Eastern Conference

Capitals (1) vs. Canadiens (8)
The Capitals are one of the en vogue picks to come out of the Eastern Conference, and obviously with offensive weapons like Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin (and Mike Green chipping in from the blue line), it’s easy to like this free-wheeling team. But as we all know, talent can only take you so far, as you need goaltending and grit to win the Stanley Cup. The Capitals finally have both, as Jose Theodore went 20-1-3 down the stretch and looked like the Theodore that won the Hart and Vezina in 2002, while Mike Knuble has become the gritty crash-and-banger that this club needed. They will get over the hump and win the Stanley Cup this spring.

Prediction: Capitals in 4

Devils (2) vs. Flyers (7)
The Flyers have been a mess this season. Whether it’s been the suspected dressing room issues and captain Mike Richards supposedly leading one faction against that of veteran defenseman Chris Pronger or the battered goaltending situation with Ray Emery, then the suddenly successful journeyman Michael Leighton going down with season-ending injuries to the firing of head coach John Stevens in favor of Peter Laviolette, the Flyers have been a nonstop soap opera. But that’s why they could be the perfect first-round surprise. Of course, the Devils have Martin Broduer and a solid defense. They also bulked up on offense with Ilya Kovalchuk, but the Flyers have played them tough this season and they may just carry the momentum of making it into this first round.

Prediction: Flyers in 6

Sabres (3) vs. Bruins (6)
This series promises to be a throwback to the old Adams Division battles between these two clubs. Just as the Habs-Bruins games have rekindled that rivalry in the last two seasons — thanks to two straight playoff battles — this could do the same for the Bruins and Sabres. The Bruins won the season series 4-2-0 thanks to amazing goaltending from rookie Tuukka Rask, but Ryan Miller has been brilliant in this series as well. Four of the six games between the longtime rivals were decided by one goal, and that will be the way this series goes. In the end though, it will be the calmness of the rookie that prevails over what has to be a tired Miller.

Prediction: Bruins in 6

Penguins (4) vs. Senators (5)
The Senators, behind one of the surprise stories of the season in goalie Brian Elliot, were one of the hottest teams in the second half and roared up the standings to secure the fifth spot in the East. They have some weapons up front in Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, and they have an underrated defense. But they’re going up against the defending Stanley Cup Champions in the Penguins, and Sidney Crosby seems to be on a mission, having another Hart Trophy-caliber season as he tries to help his team defend its title. The Penguins are just too loaded at every position and seem poised for another long playoff run. Marc-Andre Fleury’s playoff experience leads the way over Elliot’s here, but this series will go the distance, despite the odds saying otherwise.

Prediction: Penguins in 7

Western Conference

Sharks (1) vs. Avalanche (8)
Here we go again for the another top-seeded Sharks squad. Will they live up to the hype and finally fulfill their potential, or will this San Jose team crumble under the pressure like before? Well, if they do the latter, it won't be against this inexperienced Avalanche squad. The Sharks' skill and experience will prevail and they will take advantage of what was a great story in goalie Craig Anderson, rookie Matt Duchene and head coach Joe Sacco. That story, however, is about to have its final chapter. Anderson has hit his wall and Duchene just isn’t enough for the Avs to compete with the depth of the Sharks.

Prediction: Sharks in 4

Blackhawks (2) vs. Predators (7)

The Blackhawks, much like the Caps in the East, are the en vogue pick in the West, and while they have had an amazing season and plenty of skill, their goaltending is the question mark. But unlike the Caps who have a former Vezina and Hart Trophy winner being questioned, the Blackhawks goalies — Cristobal Huet and Antii Niemi — don’t have a similar pedigree. From the defense out, the Hawks are a legit Cup contender and Cup favorite. But in the end, the team that no one seemingly pays attention to, the Predators, will upset the big favorite in what could be the biggest surprise of these playoffs. The Preds have goaltending with Pekka Rinne and some rising stars like Patric Hornqvist and Shea Weber, who will be known commodities when this series is done.

Prediction: Predators in 6

Canucks (3) vs. Kings (6)
This series will be the most exciting of them all. Unfortunately for those in the East, they will be tired souls at work if they're able to actually watch it. With one well-known and proven goalie in Roberto Luongo and one rising star in former UMass product Jonathan Quick, we’ll see some great goaltending. But we will also see a team on the rise in the Kings that can boast possible Norris Trophy candidate Drew Doughty and star forward Anze Kopitar against Hart Trophy candidate Henrik Sedin and the ultimate pest in Alexandre Burrows. A rivalry will be built in this series as the Canucks will prevail in a classic. The Canucks will carry that momentum to a date with the Capitals in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Prediction: Canucks in 7

Phoenix Coyotes (4) vs. Detroit Red Wings (5)

Everyone is back on the Red Wings bandwagon as the team that has played for the Stanley Cup the last two seasons (winning it in 2008) has caught fire down the stretch thanks to a finally healthy lineup and superb goaltending from Calder Trophy candidate Jimmy Howard. But don’t overlook they Coyotes, who have played like they were the Charlestown Chiefs from the classic hockey movie Slap Shot. In the face of ownership turmoil and increasing irrelevance in Arizona, the Phoenix Coyotes came out of nowhere and challenged for the best spot in the Western Conference. The Red Wings obviously have the experience, but Vezina Trophy candidate Ilya Bryzagalov has been a wall, and this Coyotes team is better than many realize, if not for the sole reason they’re coached by Jack Adams candidate Dave Tippett. The Coyotes will keep shocking the world in this one and beat the perennial Cup contenders.

Prediction: Coyotes in 7

Eastern Conference semifinals

Capitals (1) vs. Flyers (7)

Prediction: Capitals in 4

Penguins (4) vs. Bruins (6)

Prediction: Penguins in 5

Western Conference semifinals

Sharks (1) vs. Predators (7)

Prediction: Sharks in 5

Canucks (3) vs. Coyotes (4)

Prediction: Canucks in 4

Eastern Conference finals

Capitals vs. Penguins

Prediction: Capitals in 6

Western Conference finals

Sharks vs. Canucks

Prediction: Canucks in 6

Stanley Cup Finals

Capitals vs. Canucks

Prediction: Capitals in 7

Conn Smythe Trophy winner: Jose Theodore

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