VAN - CHI
I reckon the Blackhawks are the strongest 8th seed that the league has seen since the current playoff format was adopted in 1994 (runner up: 1995 New York Rangers). Very tough matchup for Vancouver, especially considering that they could have easily drawn a substantially inferior club in the Stars. All of that said, I'm going with Vancouver here. While the Canucks probably aren't as strong as their regular season numbers would suggest, they still appear to be the league's best team.
VAN in 7.
As I mentioned a few days ago, San Jose has been simply outstanding since the halfway mark. While the Kings are respectable, they're in tough here given their injuries to key players and the quality of the opponent. I expect San Jose to advance.
S.J in 5.
I like both of these teams so I'm disappointed that one of them will be out when the dust settles. The evidence suggests that Phoenix will be that team. Detroit is better territorially at EV and considerably better on special teams. The Coyotes will require more than a few things to go right for them in order to win.
DET in 5.
Of the four Western series, this one captures my interest the most. I think that Anaheim is far and away the worst team to qualify this year. While their special teams seem to be above average, they were dead last in the entire league in terms of corsi ratio. The Predators, on the other hand, are competent on special teams and an average to above average club at evens. Not a difficult pick.
NSH in 6
WSH – NYR
Like in the case of VAN-CHI, these two teams are closer in ability to one another than is typical in a #1-#8 matchup. I find that the Rangers are a hard team to get a read on. Even though they're decidedly below average territorially at EV, I really like their team on paper - the forward group, in particular. Their regular season scoring chance numbers are also very good.
All things considered, I'm going to trust my model and go with the Caps.
WSH in 6.
PHI – BUF
This series doesn't really appeal to me all that much. Despite their recent struggles, and Buffalo's improved play over the course of the year, Philadelphia strikes me as the better team. I see them narrowly edging the Sabres here.
PHI in 7.
BOS – MTL
Results notwithstanding, the Canadiens might be the league's most improved team this year, given the way that they were manhandled last year in terms of shots and scoring chances. They're actually better than Boston with respect to outshooting at even strength, which I find surprising in light of last year's numbers.
The Bruins are my pick, though. I think they have the better team on paper, not to mention the fact that my model also has them as the better team.
BOS in 7.
PIT – T.B
Given Pittsburgh's injuries to two of its best players, I figure this series is pretty close to a coin flip. I prefer Pittsburgh on the basis of Crosby's potential return to the lineup and the fact that their underlying numbers remained very strong down the stretch
PIT in 7.