It’s the best part of the sporting calendar once again. Where night after night you can watch warriors go balls-out in games that aren’t rigged by refs or beholden to a shameless star system and literally jumping out of your seat is a nightly occurrence. NHL Playoff time.

The race for the Wales is littered with familiarity (and we know what that breeds), whereas introductions are very much in order out west in the chase for the Campbell in what it is a docket of intriguing match-ups. Here’s a rundown of all series except the Bruins/Sabres (tomorrow) with a pick, followed by who I’m laying the lumber on in the first round. Follow at your own peril.

Montreal vs. Washington. Jose Theodore takes on the city where he was once the prodigal son. All he has to do is be decent to get his high-flyin’ squad past the Habs. Caps have too much for Montreal to handle. Caps in five.

Philadelphia vs. New Jersey. Or New Jersey’s Civil War since the erstwhile Colorado Hockey Rockies headed east and carved out whatever fan base it could in Bada Bing-land. Two teams with history. Even if all of the players don’t remember much of it. Jersey’s looking to get out of the first round after two straight one-and-dones. But this is likely this biggest difference in goalies that you’ll find these playoffs. If Martin Brodeur is Heather Locklear, then Brian Boucher is Christine Baranski—an unglamorous journeywoman who’ll steal the odd scene and fill a role for you, but you’re not putting asses in the seats with her nor can she carry a series. Also, these aren’t the Bobby Holik Devils. Kovalchuk, Parise, Elias, and Zajac can all score, as can leader and captain Jamie Langenbrunner. Philly has some offense and their own special brand of grit but the disparity at the main position is too much to overlook. Advantage, Jersey. In a huge way. That said, the dirtbag Flyers always seem to make things interesting one way or the other. Even if somebody ends up in a meatwagon.  Devils in five.

Pittsburgh vs. Ottawa. The Cup champs, who have played a shitload of hockey the last two years, take on a Senators team that just lost playoff performer Alex Kovalev for the rest of the year. Can Brian Elliott hold off what was a somewhat inconsistent Pens team this year? I say no. Spezza and Alfredsson won’t be enough. Pens in six.

Colorado vs. San Jose. After a blazing start, Joe Sacco’s charges have tumbled downhill like, well, an avalanche. San Jose looks to get over its annual playoff hiccup. The guess here is that the kids in Denver are just about outta gas after coming out of nowhere. Sharks in six.

Nashville vs. Chicago. The ‘Hawks are going for all the marbles this season before they end up in salary cap hell. Nashville is still looking for its first series victory in this battle of Finnish goaltenders. The Preds have likely the lowest profile of any playoff team, led by an unheralded by tough D. They’re also very disciplined. As stacked as Chicago is, I see them as ripe for an upset. Preds in seven.

Los Angeles vs. Vancouver. The last time these two met, Gretzky carried the Kings to the ’93 Cup Finals (with a little help from Kerry Fraser) before losing to the Habs (with a lot of help from Barry Melrose and Marty McSorley). They have an interesting blend of youth and talent. But not enough to get past a tougher goalie and better line-up. Canucks in six.

Phoenix vs. Detroit. The unlikeliest of playoff teams, the Coyotes, who have been wandering the desert almost as long as the Jews, look to ‘upset’ the lower-seeded Red Wings. Most pundits have the Wings firing on all cylinders and think Phoenix is nothing more than a nice story. Not me. I say Ilya Bryzgalov vastly outplays Jimmy Howard and the canines move on. Coyotes in six.

Because something like 70% of Game One winners go on to win the series, I always play my series picks in Game One as well. Also, laying more than 2 to 1 isn’t worth it—just lay off the series or find another winner. The picks…for amusement only:

Phoenix for the series, a dime to make 1750.

Nashville for the series, a nickel to make 1600.

Bruins for the series, two large to make three large.

I’ll also contradict some of the above and take small fliers on the Habs, Sens, and Avs because of the potential return.

Best of luck and remember, there’s nothing worse than a whiny gambler. So no bitching if you follow me off the cliff.

May your team do well until they meet mine. Go Bs.

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