Who'll hoist the Cup come June? Expect Pittsburgh, New York, Vancouver and St. Louis to battle it out.
Records: Canucks 51-22-9, 111 points; Kings 40-27-15, 95 points • Season series: Tied 2-2
The skinny: Every significant piece of last year's Western Conference champion, except Christian Ehrhoff, returned for Vancouver. As long as the Roberto Luongo-Cory Schneider goalie drama isn't overwhelming the series, the Canucks should be able to take this series easy. Jeff Carter will return from a foot injury, but for some reason, the Kings haven't been able to score all season. Jonathan Quick usually gets little goal support and it hasn't disabled him yet.
Russo's pick: Canucks in six.
Records: Blues 49-22-11, 109 points; Sharks 43-29-10, 96 points • Season series: Blues won 4-0
The skinny: The question for the Blues is who will start in goal -- Jaroslav Halak or Brian Elliott. Look for Halak, because Elliott has been dinged up a bit. It doesn't matter who has been in net, the Blues have found a way to win ever since coach Ken Hitchcock took the helm in November. They are deep up front, deep on the back end and deep in goal. The Sharks had to scratch and claw all season to make the playoffs. They've been erratic in virtually area and, although with weapons such as Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau up front and Dan Boyle and Brent Burns on the blue line, the Blues are one tough foe.
Russo's pick: Blues in seven.
Records: Coyotes 42-27-13, 97 points; Blackhawks 45-26-11, 101 points • Season series: Coyotes won 3-1
The skinny: Phoenix might get the higher seeding and home ice by virtue of winning its division, but the Blackhawks are a dangerous, dangerous team. They have the star power in Jonathan Toews (if he returns from a concussion), Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp; they have terrific blue liners in Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith; and they have depth. Nick Leddy and Johnny Oduya might have been their best defense pair down the stretch. The one question is in goal, with Corey Crawford. That hasn't been a problem for Phoenix, which has gotten tremendous goaltending all season from Mike Smith. The only way the Coyotes win is if they bore the game down, so to speak.
Russo's pick: Blackhawks in six.
Records: Predators 48-26-8, 104 points; Red Wings 48-28-6, 102 points • Season series: Tied 3-3
The skinny: How do you pick against Detroit and Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Nicklas Lidstrom? Just watch the Predators play. They're as structured a team as there is in this league, beyond deep up front. They come at you in waves. And you win in the playoffs with defense, and they have the two best blueliners in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter --and a superstar goalie in Pekka Rinne.
Russo's pick: Predators in six.
Records: Rangers 51-24-7, 109 points; Senators 41-31-10, 92 points • Season series: Senators won 3-1
The skinny: The Senators have stars with Jason Spezza up front and Erik Karlsson on the back end, but the Rangers are built for the postseason by playing the hard-nosed style their coach, John Tortorella, demands -- tight, blocking shots, physical. They also have sniper Marian Gaborik, playmaker Brad Richards and depth with guys such as Derek Stepan -- if he can get healthy -- Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky. They also have the best goalie in the conference in Henrik Lundqvist.
Russo's pick: Rangers in five.
Records: Bruins 49-29-4, 102 points; Capitals 42-32-8, 92 points • Season series: Capitals won 3-1
The skinny: The defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins have "been there, done that," and it would be a shock if they don't have a relatively easy time with the Caps. Yes, Washington has Alex Ovechkin, but it has significant injury problems in goal. Led by Zdeno Chara on the back end and Tim Thomas in goal, the Bruins skate, they're physical and they can shoot the lights out.
Russo's pick: Bruins in four.
Records: Panthers 38-26-18, 94 points; Devils 48-28-6, 102 points • Season series: Panthers won 2-1-1
The skinny: The Panthers have been the feel-good story of the season by making the playoffs for the first time since 2000. But that's where the story ends. Florida limped into the postseason in dramatic fashion (2-3-5). The Devils have been playing terrific hockey in the New Year. Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, Florida's nemesis, has been great; Ilya Kovalchuk and Panther killer Patrik Elias have had outstanding seasons; and Zach Parise turned it on the past two months. Plus, Wild castoff Marek Zidlicky has provided a solid dimension on the back end playing with pals Elias and Petr Sykora.
Russo's pick: Devils in six.
Records: Penguins 51-25-6, 108 points; Flyers 47-26-9, 103 points • Season series: Flyers won 4-2
The skinny: One thing is certain: The winner of this series will be beaten up. These two teams hate each other, but it's hard to pick against the Penguins, who have the two best players in the world, leading scorer and likely MVP Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Toss in James Neal, a red-hot Pascal Dupuis, Kris Letang on the blue line and Marc-Andre Fleury in goal, it'll be difficult for Philadelphia to overcome such power, despite the presence of the always-clutch Claude Giroux.
Russo's pick: Penguins in six.
Western Conference final: Vancouver over St. Louis in six games.
Eastern Conference final: Pittsburgh over the N.Y. Rangers in six games.
Stanley Cup Final: Pittsburgh over Vancouver in six games.
|Pittsburgh - WP: B. Morris||8||FINAL|
|Cincinnati - LP: S. LeCure||7|
|Washington - LP: S. Strasburg||2||FINAL|
|Miami - WP: T. Koehler||11|
|Pittsburgh - LP: G. Cole||5||FINAL|
|Cincinnati - WP: M. Leake||7|
|Seattle - LP: B. Beavan||0||FINAL|
|Texas - WP: R. Ross Jr.||5|
|St. Louis - WP: S. Miller||6||FINAL|
|Milwaukee - LP: M. Estrada||1|
|Boston - LP: B. Badenhop||1||FINAL|
|Chicago WSox - WP: D. Webb||2|
|Kansas City - WP: Y. Ventura||4||FINAL|
|Houston - LP: L. Harrell||2|
|Toronto - WP: A. Loup||9||FINAL|
|Minnesota - LP: P. Hughes||3|
|NY Mets - WP: J. Mejia||9||FINAL|
|Arizona - LP: B. Arroyo||0|
|Oakland - WP: J. Johnson||10||FINAL|
|LA Angels - LP: Y. Herrera||9|
|Colorado - WP: J. Nicasio||3||FINAL|
|San Diego - LP: R. Erlin||2|
|Los Angeles - LP: B. League||2||FINAL|
|San Francisco - WP: Y. Petit||3|