Well, I guess I was correct in my impossible prediction that Tiger Woods would win the Masters. The National Hockey League playoffs are a different story though ? unless of course Tiger decides to suit up in goal for the Canucks.

Instead of a single weekend of competition, each team will compete in a best of seven series over the course of nearly two weeks to decide which eight teams will continue to the next round. This process will continue for three additional rounds until the Stanley Cup is raised. But just because a team is a low seed doesn’t mean they don’t have a chance to win a series or two ? even eighth seeded teams have advanced in recent years. The winner of the President’s Trophy ? the team with the most regular season points ? more often than not fails to qualify for the Finals.

Historically, the main factor in a team making a playoff run is goaltending. From Terry Sawchuck in the 1950s, to Ken Dryden of the 1970s, to Patrick Roy of the 1980s and ’90s, teams tend to rally behind their hot goalies and exceed expectations.

In 1996, John Vanbiesbrouck carried the upstart Florida Panthers to the Finals in just their third season. Three years later, Dominik Hasek’s MVP season took the Buffalo Sabres to overtime of the sixth game of the Stanley Cup Finals as the seventh seed in the East.

Hasek gets his chance again this year, this time as a Red Wing. Although Detroit is expected to walk through the postseason and lift up the Stanley Cup, there will definitely be some surprises along the way.

The Islanders, Blackhawks, and Canadiens ended playoff droughts, and some teams with high expectations ? and high payrolls ? will head to the golf course a little early.

The Dallas Stars fired their coach during the season to try and get the team on track but still missed the eighth spot by four points.

Trading for Jaromir Jagr didn’t get the Washington Capitals into the playoffs even though they were expected to win the Southeast Division.

The New York Rangers, following a rollercoaster season, missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year ?despite consistently having one of the highest payrolls in the league.

But before those teams can attempt to redeem themselves next year, the following teams will compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

No. 1 Boston Bruins

Strong goaltending from Byron Dafoe, in addition to a 1-2 scoring punch from Bill Guerin and Joe Thornton has vaulted the Boston Bruins to the top of the Eastern Conference. They could represent the East in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since the Ray Bourque Era.

No. 8 Montreal Canadiens

Saku Koivu’s return to hockey last week from a successful battle with stomach cancer has motivated goalie Jose Theodore and the Canadiens, and in the wide open Eastern Conference, even the eighth seeded Habs could head to the Finals, if only they can get past Boston.

Prediction: Even with Koivu back and Theodore on fire, the Bruins are too much ? Bruins in 5.

No. 2 Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers ended the Eric Lindros fiasco by trading him last offseason, and the resurgence of John LeClair has kept them near the top of the conference for most of the year. But goalies Roman Cechmanek and Brian Boucher have struggled lately. Even if they get past Ottawa, don’t look for the Flyers to make it past the second round.

No. 7 Ottawa Senators

Acquiring 6’9″ defenseman Zdeno Chara in the Alexei Yashin trade was great for the Senators. Strong play from Martin Havlat, Marion Hossa, Radek Bonk, and goalie Patrick Lalime gives Ottawa the potential to overcome past playoff woes and make a run for the Cup.

Prediction: Philly’s recent struggles will be overcome by their overall size advantage in a grueling seven game series ? Flyers in 7

No. 3 Carolina Hurricanes

The weakest of the playoff teams, the Canes hold the third spot as winners of the Southeast Division. Ron Francis is one of the most underrated players in hockey history, and Arturs Irbe is an excellent goalie, but the team lacks the firepower to advance against possibly the toughest opponent in the conference.

No. 6 New Jersey Devils

The Devils have fallen short of expectations this season coming off a Finals appearance last season, causing them to replace former easygoing coach Larry Robinson with drill sergeant Kevin Constantine. If goalie Martin Brodeur plays to his potential, this team has the ability to challenge for the Cup.

Prediction: The Hurricanes are only the third seed because they won an awful division, and the defending conference champs are not a normal sixth seed ? Devils in 5

No. 4 Toronto Maple Leafs

The Leafs’ playoff hopes will ride on the success of Curtis Joseph’s return from a broken hand. If he can play like the CuJo of old, the Leafs can potentially make the Finals. But if they are forced to rely on veteran backup Corey Schwab, an early-round exit is likely.

No. 5 New York Islanders

Owners Charles Wang and Sanjay Kumar are the reasons the Islanders’ eight year playoff drought has finally ended. With some cash, General Manager Mike Milbury traded for Michael Peca, Adrian Aucoin and Alexei Yashin and signed Chris Osgood, taking the Isles from a league-worst 52 points last season to 11 wins in their first 14 games this year. If the Islanders catch fire in the playoffs the same way they began the regular season, the Stanley Cup could return to Long Island sooner than anyone anticipated.

Prediction: CuJo has never won the Cup; Osgood has two rings ? Islanders in 7

No. 1 Detroit Red Wings

When the season began in October, there was little doubt that the Wings would be the top team in the league, and they have surely met expectations. Even though they finished the regular season with the most points in the league, anything short of a Stanley Cup victory would make the entire season a letdown.

No. 8 Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks boast one of the top ? and most underrated ? lines in the league, led by Markus Naslund. They quietly led the league in goals scored, and will need to continue to do so if they are to proceed to the next round.

Prediction: With many Wings nearing the ends of their Hall of Fame careers, they’re eager to go out on top ? Red Wings in 5

No. 2 Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche struggled to score goals without Peter Forsberg, but the ageless Patrick Roy has kept them at the top of the Western Conference. The Avs are the only team with a realistic chance to beat Detroit, and Forsberg is back after recovering from a broken foot.

No. 7 Los Angeles Kings

In last year’s playoffs, the Kings upset heavily favored Detroit, and they look to do the same to Colorado this time around. If they are to win even a single series, they will need strong goaltending from Felix Potvin and timely goals from snipers Jason Allison and Ziggy Palffy.

Prediction: The greatest goalie in hockey history will put the Avs on top no matter what it takes ? Avalance in 5

No. 3 San Jose Sharks

Even as the third seed in the West, the dominance of the Red Wings and reputation of the Avalanche have kept the Sharks in relative obscurity this season. Goalie Evgeni Nabokov was prevented by the International Olympic Committee from representing Russia, so he’s eager to substitute a bronze medal with a silver Cup.

No. 6 Phoenix Coyotes

Expected to suffer through a rebuilding year after key offseason losses, the Coyotes have played surprisingly well. Goalie Sean Burke narrowly missed being picked as Team Canada’s third goalie after not even being a preseason consideration. If Burke stays hot the Coyotes are a tough first round matchup for any team.

Prediction: The Sharks have more depth, which will be a deciding factor in the playoffs ? Sharks in 7

No. 4 St. Louis Blues

For the 23rd consecutive season, the Blues are in the playoffs, but they have a lot of question marks. Captain Chris Pronger showed horrible judgment when he got suspended last week for a vicious crosscheck, goalie Brent Johnson is unproven in the playoffs and playmaker Doug Weight is still battling injuries.

No. 5 Chicago Blackhawks

In his first year as coach, Brian Sutter led the Hawks to the fifth seed in the Western Conference after the Hawks missed the playoffs last year. Goalie Jocelyn Thibault is a workhorse and will need to be at the top of his game if the Hawks are to advance.

Prediction: Of these very evenly matched teams, St. Louis has more potential to implode ? Blackhawks in 7

Swidler can be reached at dswidler@campustimes.org.

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