It took the last day of the regular season to finalize, but the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs are officially set, and if the dogfight that ended the regular season was any indication, it should be a terrific postseason.
The biggest story coming into the playoffs is the improbable eighth seed in the East, which went to the unlikely but prevalent New York Islanders, who won their last four games and got some help from the New York Rangers and the Toronto Maple Leafs to clinch the final spot. They will match up against the Presidents' Trophy-winning Buffalo Sabres. It's always difficult to choose winners in the playoffs, particularly as of late. Last year saw the four top seeds in the west lose to underdogs in the first round. However, a few teams manage to stand out with their resilience and have the makings of a long Cup run.
One of those teams is the Sabres. The Islanders are not as easy of an opponent as first glance may indicate, but Buffalo simply has too much depth up front for the less-skilled but hard-working Islanders. The Sabres will oust the Islanders in five games. But they will have the most playoff-experienced team to take on next - the New Jersey Devils, who will have their hands full with Tampa Bay but will come out on top due to the most important aspect of playoff hockey - superior goaltending. This is where the Sabres' incredible run will come to an end; Brodeur is simply a changed goaltender come playoff time, and that's saying a lot considering his success this season. New Jersey will be the team to represent the East in the Cup finals.
Their opponent from the West is difficult to determine, but the most likely candidate is the defensively-sound Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks dominated the West for most of the season, but trailed off while Detroit vaulted into the top spot. But the Ducks have three key playoff cogs in the grizzled veteran Scott Niedermayer, clutch defender Chris Pronger and the Finnish Flash himself, Teemu Selanne. All three are playoff heroes and will bring the Ducks to the finals.
The Devils' softness in the scoring category, along with a probably-fatigued Brodeur, will see them finally bow out to the Ducks, who will win their first ever Stanley Cup championship in seven games.