The NHL playoffs begin Wednesday night, and they are wide open.
They're always pretty wide open, given the recent history of lower seeds knocking off higher seeds. But with 10 of the 16 teams having finished the regular season with over 100 points, it is truly time to throw the seeds out the window, as John Tortorella said Tuesday.
"The seeds tell you who you play, but now that we're here, they certainly don't matter anymore," the Rangers coach said.
Here is a preview of the three playoff series that start Wednesday night, kicking off the two-month quest for the Stanley Cup:
Penguins vs. Flyers
Quite easily the best and the baddest of the eight first-round series, given the teams' proximity, talent level and extreme dislike for one another. The Penguins have the most talent of anyone in the East, and that might have been true even before Sidney Crosby returned; Evgeni Malkin is the likely MVP, Jordan Staal and Pascal Dupuis have had solid years and Marc-Andre Fleury is the underrated anchor of the team.
The Flyers may have just as much talent up front as the Penguins, with Claude Giroux leading the way and Jaromir Jagr back in the postseason. The big questions are about the Flyers' defense and in goal, where Ilya Bryzgalov has to continue his late-season run of good play and not flake out. Tall order, against Crosby, Malkin and company.
Prediction: Penguins in 6
Predators vs. Red Wings
The Wings looked like their usual solid bet to make a deep run, but a 7-11-4 finish to the regular season has the hardest-working team in the biz on shaky ground. Plus, the Predators are as loaded as they've ever been, with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter part of a tremendous defense corps and Pekka Rinne giving Nashville a decided edge in goal. Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom know how to win this time of year, but can the Wings' big three pull off this one? Unlikely.
Prediction: Predators in 6
Canucks vs. Kings
Vancouver locked up its second straight Presidents' Trophy as the top regular-season team, but the Canucks will start this postseason without Daniel Sedin (concussion) and with coach Alain Vigneault ready to pull the plug on Roberto Luongo if the goaltender struggles. L.A. has been playing elimination games for about a month now after squeaking in on the second-to-last day of the season. The Kings have steady Jonathan Quick in goal and a squad that should be able to score more regularly than they did this season (194 goals), but the Canucks are too deep and too experienced to let Quick rattle them.
Prediction: Canucks in 5