A GAME OF THRONES: The Kings lifted Lord Stanley last year, but that won't prove to be much help as they defend their title in 2013. Photo courtesy the Assocaited Press

A GAME OF THRONES: The Kings lifted Lord Stanley last year, but that won’t prove to be much help as they defend their title in 2013. Photo courtesy the Assocaited Press

Last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs were a testament to the parity that exists in the National Hockey League. Not only did a #8 seed eventually lift Lord Stanley, but they dismissed supposed juggernaut after supposed juggernaut along the way.

Of course, after a mind-numbing labor stoppage and a sprint of a regular season, that postseason feels as though it couldn’t have hardly been just a year ago. Yes, with everything that’s gone on, it’s hard to remember 2012. But there is one lesson from the Kings’ run that remains true today: anything can and will happen.

Nevertheless, here is my best shot at predicting how these Stanley Cup playoffs will unfold.

Conference Quarterfinals

 

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Photo courtesy Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Eastern Conference

#8 New York Islanders vs. #1  Pittsburgh Penguins
I’ll say this: if a #8 seed is going to knock off a #1 seed this year, it’s going to be the Islanders over the Penguins. However, it has nothing to do with either team. No, the Blackhawks are just too good to lose to the Wild. So, if it is going to happen, it’s going to happen here. And for New York, that means an almost impossibly uphill battle. Even with the status of Sidney Crosby in limbo, this Penguins team has shown strong resolve and took 4 of 5 from the Islanders. As it so happens, four wins will also be enough to eliminate them now. WINNER: Pittsburgh Penguins

#7 Ottawa Senators vs. #2 Montreal Canadiens
Seeded 5 seeds apart, this series is going to be a lot closer than the average fan thinks. For one thing, half of these teams’ regular season clashes went into overtime, with each squad taking one. The Senators needed the final day of the regular season to determine their place in the bracket and, for Montreal, I’m going to say it was an unlucky draw. As these two teams do battle north of the border, the Stanley Cup playoffs sees its first upset and Ottawa eliminates Montreal IN Montreal IN Game 7. WINNER: Ottawa Senators

#6 New York Rangers vs. #3 Washington Capitals
This is THE series to watch in the first round. If you thought the Capitals had a rough season, how about New York? They were supposed to dominate the Eastern Conference and coast to the Stanley Cup Finals. Instead, the team struggled, Tortorella came under fire, and now some wonder if an early postseason departure could ultimately lead to his firing. That’d be bad news for him, because no one — NO ONE — is playing better hockey than the Capitals right now and they get rid of the Rangers in six. WINNER: Washington Capitals

#5 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. #4 Boston Bruins
Despite their proximity in seeding, these two teams are somewhat far apart. There are a handful of good-but-not-great teams that finished in the 55-57-point region. The Leafs are one of them. Boston is not. No one needs to point out the new fire that has been instilled in this Bruins team in the wake of the Marathon bombings and, as if that weren’t enough, Boston thoroughly dominated Toronto during the regular season. It’s I see a scenario where the Bruins win so much as I can’t see any way the Maple Leafs do. Boston disposes of Toronto rather surprisingly in 5 games. WINNER: Boston Bruins

 

Photo courtesy Ann Heisenfelt

Photo courtesy Ann Heisenfelt

Western Conference

#8 Minnesota Wild vs. #1 Chicago Blackhawks
Minnesota was effectively the last team into the postseason while Chicago virtually guaranteed their birth with the torrid run they went on at the start of the season. Suffice it to say, these two teams are even farther apart than the 22-point difference between them would indicate. Some will point to, a, the Kings’ run last year and, b, the Wild’s one victory over Chicago as a glimmer of hope that the impossible upset can be accomplished. Let me set the record straight: Chicago definitely can lose in these Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it won’t be to the Wild. They eliminate Minnesota in 5 or 6. I’ll go with 5, just to accentuate how favored Chicago should be. WINNER: Chicago Blackhawks

#7 Detroit Red Wings vs. #2 Anaheim Ducks
I’m at a bit of an impasse with this one. On one hand, I REALLY like what I’ve seen out of the Ducks this year. On the other, I know better than to count Detroit out of Stanley Cup Playoff Series and am wary of postseason seedlings, or teams that are relatively new to their high level of success. That combination would seem to bode well for Detroit, who took 2 of 3 from Anaheim during the regular season. But, again, it’s ANAHEIM. Only one of three teams to reach the 30-win threshold this season and the only one really in jeopardy of being eliminated in the first round. It’s going to Game 7, I’m sure, but who wins? Flip a coin. Mine came up Detroit. WINNER: Detroit Red Wings

#6 San Jose Sharks vs. #3 Vancouver Canucks
If I were Alain Vigneault, I’d be telling my Canucks that they are the lower-seeded team here. Why? Because, aside from the numbers, they really are. Vancouver was the first stepping stone for Los Angeles last season and, like the Capitals, they’ve developed a nasty habit of leaving the postseason prematurely. As if that weren’t bad enough, they did NOT beat the Sharks in three tries during the regular season. You can go through all X’s and O’s, but that to me says ‘mismatch’ more than anything else. The “underdog” Sharks pull off the “upset” and send Vancouver home in the first round for the second time in as many years, this time in 6 games. WINNER: San Jose Sharks

#5 Los Angeles Kings vs. #4 St. Louis Blues
I have so many reasons the Kings win this one that I don’t know where to begin. For one, like  San Jose, they swept the team their pitted against in the first round during the regular season. Second, they’re the defending champs and, if you ask me, they’re better than they were a year ago. Third, I don’t put that much stock into the Blues’ end-of-season run because all it showed me is that they can win at home. The Kings will undoubtedly steal at least one in St. Louis and I’m not sure the Blues can return the favor. WINNER: Los Angeles Kings

Conference Semifinals

 

Photo courtesy Nick Wass

Photo courtesy Nick Wass

Eastern Conference

#4 Boston Bruins vs. #1 Pittsburgh Penguins
Will Sid the Kid be back or won’t he? When it really comes down to it, the Penguins, even as favorites, haven’t been able to do in the postseason without him. And if he IS back by the start of this round, what kind of condition will he be in? It doesn’t take “the great one” to figure out a hardnosed Bruins squad will be gunning for him. And, quite frankly, they don’t even have to physically injure him. A few rough hits, Crosby gets a little trigger-shy out there, and before you know it a Boston team on a mission is up a couple games over the top seed in the East. That’s where they’ll stay as they eliminate Pittsburgh in six. WINNER: Boston Bruins

#7 Ottawa Senators vs. #3 Washington Capitals
As soon as the Senators eliminate the Habs, the comparisons by a lazy sports media to last year’s Kings team will begin. Don’t buy it. The beauty of the Kings run last year was that things like that don’t happen very often let alone in back-to-back years. Their upset of Montreal won’t buy them any advantage against a red-hot (pun intended) Caps team. Yes, Ottawa took all three regular season meetings against them. But, in this matchup, in this round,  that won’t make much of a difference. Washington rolls over the Senators in six games. WINNER: Washington Capitals

Western Conference

#5 Los Angeles Kings vs. #1 Chicago Blackhawks
This Kings team, the defending CHAMPION Kings team, won’t be afraid to go up against a #1 seed, but maybe they should be. This Blackhawks team isn’t just great, they’re otherworldly. Had they had a full season, I’m sure more than a couple records would’ve been broken. As it is, though, they’ll have to settle for being more than Los Angeles can handle in the second round. It took three tries in the regular season before the Kings could get to the Blackhawks and, if that happens here this Spring, it will be the only victory Los Angeles gets in the series. Chicago rolls in five. WINNER: Chicago Blackhawks

#7 Detroit Red Wings vs. #6 San Jose Sharks
Whoever wins this series is virtually assured of becoming the talk of the Stanley Cup playoffs once Ottawa is eliminated. If it’s Detroit, there may not be much of an underdog story to sell. San Jose, though? With as hot as they’ve gotten at times? That’s not just a story, that’s a dangerous spring hockey team. One of the reasons I penciled San Jose over Vancouver in as a no-brainer is what they did to the Canucks during the regular season. Well, the Red Wings were much more competitive against them and this second-round series will be as well. Still, the Sharks advance in seven as the Bay Area continues to get spoiled with postseason winners. WINNER: San Jose Sharks

Conference Finals

 

Photo courtesy AP

Photo courtesy AP

Eastern Conference

#4 Boston Bruins vs. #3 Washington Capitals
Hockey fans will be salivating if this playoff matchup comes to fruition. The arguably greatest playoff series in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs gets a rematch, and it happens with each team having a tremendous story behind them. The question for this Washington team is when, if ever, will their late-season spark be extinguished. Here, in the conference finals, they’ll have gotten as far as they ever have with this core group of guys and that may lead them to subconsciously take their foot off the pedal. Nothing will be stopping Boston’s resolve, though, and they get a little payback for what Washington did to them a season ago. The Bruins win in Game 7 on an overtime goal. WINNER: Boston Bruins

Western Conference

#6 San Jose Sharks vs. #1 Chicago Blackhawks
I cannot stress to you enough how good this Blackhawks team is. They didn’t just sweep San Jose in the regular season, they won by a combined six goals. At home, on the road, it doesn’t matter. These Blackhawks are clearly the team to beat and San Jose is not the squad that can get that done. The only way that happens is if San Jose plays the way they did in late March and early April and Chicago plays some of their worst hockey of the season. Then — only then — will San Jose advance. But that won’t happen, and they’ll be sent packing in six. WINNER: Chicago Blackhawks

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STANLEY CUP FINALS

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Boston Bruins vs. Chicago Blackhawks
The fitting ending to the sad events in Boston and Watertown would be the New England championship the city deserves. Maybe this prediction is a bit of me analyzing via my heart and not my brain, but, hey, almost nobody’s brain was going with the Kings a year ago. In what is spun as a David vs. Goliath fight, Boston jumps out on top of Chicago early, the Blackhawks rebound, but Boston wins, at home, in TD Garden,  with just about everyone outside of Illinois pulling for them.

STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS

Boston Bruins

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