It’s the most wonderful time of the year for hockey fans, and Cold as Ice co-authors Jay and Stephen had a sit down to discuss their picks for the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. There was surprising agreement in all but one match-up.

Jay: Cool! So let’s start off with a few thoughts about the regular season, which just concluded Saturday. What are your impressions?

Stephen: I thought overall it was a pretty exciting one. You had some big goal scorers, like Stamkos’ race to 60, as well as some exciting goalies, like the resurgence of Lundqvist, the rise of Quick, and the goalie hyrdra of Elliot and Halak. Even if the final week or two seemed a bit sour, especially with the coaches in the Atlantic Division   And it’s great to have some new guys in the running, like St. Louis, Florida, and Phoenix

Jay: Yeah, it was an interesting year. My Maple Leafs looked like they were going to make the playoffs for the first time since ’04 and then just, as Brian Burke put it, crashed like a tractor trailer off a cliff. Just a brutal couple of months for me. Lots of concussion discussion, talk of new divisions and conferences, and what looks like a hell of a playoff season ahead of us.

Stephen: I was pulling for the Leafs, too. Hopefully the off season sees some good changes. Shall we talk round one match-ups?

(1)    Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings

Stephen: I picked the Canucks to win it all at the start of the season, so I can’t really change my mind now, can I? But seriously, I think Vancouver takes this one in 5. I would love to see the Kings pull through, but outside their goalie Quick, I just think their forward lines are too anemic to keep pace. That said, if Luongo gets the playoff yips again. I could see Kings pulling an upset in 7. But unlikely.

Jay: Yeah, I’m taking the Canucks in 6. Quick could steal a game or two for them, but the ‘Nucks are just too good. Especially if Daniel Sedin returns to the lineup and Wonder Twin powers activate.

(2)    St. Louis Blues vs. (7) San Jose Sharks

Stephen: Halak and Elliot have a combined 16 shutouts, their defense is the league’s best in goals against, and the Sharks are perennial playoff chokers. I think Blues in 4. It’s not going to be pretty.

Jay: The Blues have been the biggest surprise in the league (the Senators notwithstanding) but their one weakness is a lack of playoff experience, something the Sharks have in abundance…even if much of it was bad experiences. I still think the Blues take it, but it won’t be as easy as they might think. Blues in 6.

(3)    Phoenix Coyotes vs. (6) Chicago Blackhawks

Stephen: This is the one I’m most up in the air about. Chicago has the experience and is just two years out from their last Cup. They’ve got a sizzling offense, but their goal and D situation has been pretty iffy (one of the worst GA in the West). Phoenix meanwhile rides on a strong D and the good play of Smith. I think this one will go to 7, but in the end, I like Chicago based on drive and grit after last year’s disappointing flop of a Cup defense run.

Jay: I agree. Hawks in 7. The Coyotes have overachieved all season and Mike Smith has been a monster in net for them, but I think the Hawks have too much offense. If Toews doesn’t return strong, Phoenix could take the series, though.

(4)    Nashville Predators vs. (5) Detroit Redwings

Stephen: This should be another good one. Detroit is a perennial powerhouse, but I think Nashville’s been a club on the rise for some time. They made an exciting push last year into round two (their first trip ever), and I think that taste will inspire them this year. Rinne’s numbers have been good, but he knows how to win first and foremost, and I think this is a rebuilding year for Detroit playoff wise. I say Preds in 6

Jay: I’m really excited for this series. Nashville made some bold moves at the trade deadline, getting faceoff specialist Paul Gaustad from Buffalo and stay-at-home defenseman Hal Gill from Montreal. And they were already an excellent. They’re built for the playoffs and I think they could go all the way. This series won’t be easy, but I say Preds in 6. Let’s move on to the East!

(1)    New York Rangers vs. (8) Ottawa Senators

Stephen: I like Ottawa, if only because they’ve been such a surprise, and I dislike the Rangers so my personal bias leans me towards an upset by the Sens. That said, I think that Lundqvist is going to be too tough a puzzle to solve. However, I could see arrogance becoming a factor as well. Rangers have had the East locked for quite some time, and if they get too wrapped up in gamesmanship and laurels, Ottawa may pull the surprise. But my smart bet is Rangers in 5.

Jay: Ottawa, as much as I hate them (Battle of Ontario and all that) were picked by many to bring up the bottom of the Eastern conference and shocked many with their strong year. They actually have a 3-1 record against the Rangers this season and I think they’ll take a game or two if goalie Craig Anderson stays healthy, but New York is too strong. Henrik Lundqvist wants the Cup bad. Rangers in 5.

(2)    Boston Bruins vs. (7) Washington Capitols

Stephen: This one’s going to run me foul against my Boston fans, but I think the powerhouse we saw during last year’s playoffs and at the beginning of this season aren’t quite there this time around. The roster’s still riddled with injuries, Thomas has been good but not dominant, and they’ve struggled to string wins together in the later part of the season. The Caps, meanwhile, have been playing must win hockey for some time. It’ll be a close one, but I think the Caps pull the upset in 7.

Jay: Wow! Gotta disagree with you here. The Bruins are missing Nathan Horton and some other key pieces, but the core is intact: Thomas, Chara, Bergeron, Lucic, Seguin, Marchand, Seidenberg. Just a deep, deep team, even with the injuries. And like Nashville, built for the playoffs. Strong defensively, not flashy (no scorers with more than 60-something points) but consistent. The Caps have been erratic all season and they’re down to their third-string goalie, the unproven Braden Holtby. B’s in 5.

(3)    Florida Panthers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils

Stephen: This is the match-up that makes the best case for reconsidering how the playoff seeding works. Devils are by far the stronger team, but because the Atlantic was so stacked this year, landed at #6. Florida’s been surprising, but were also in the extremely weak SE division. Jersey’s played strong hockey all year, and Brodeur has bounced back and is looking strong. I think Devils in 4, maybe 5.

Jay: Yeah, good for the Panthers for having a strong season, but they just don’t match up with the Devils. Marty Brodeur’s 40, but he still gets the edge over Jose Theodore for Florida. And Kovalchuk has been deadly for the NJ attack. Devils in 5.

(4)    Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers

Stephen: I’m not even going to try to be unbiased here, but it’s going to be a tough one to pick. On paper, Pens should take this series easily. Explosive offense and more reliable goal tending. But hockey isn’t just a stats sheet, and there are some wild cards that could play to Philly’s favor. First is their ability to win at Consol, where four of the games are going to play (they have lost once there in two seasons). Second is “coin-flip” Bryzgalov. If he shows his plus side, Pens may see an early exit. But if he falters early, the wheels fall off for Philly, I think. Either way, I think Pens take it in 7, but not without some heavy casualties in the process. There’s bad blood between these two clubs. For the Pens, though, Dupuis could be the surprise hero. He ended the season with a 17 game point streak, but never got much due as Malkin was racing for the Art Ross.

Jay: It’ll be a bloodbath. The Pens have Crosby and Malkin going strong, and Fleury between the pipes. As well as a strong supporting cast. But the Flyers have a good, gritty squad: Hartnell, Jagr, Briere, Giroux, Simmonds, Read. Goaltending is a question mark for the Flyers, as it has been for decades, but Bryzgalov or Bobrovsky could get hot and make things interesting. Pens in 7.

 Agree? Disagree? Think we’re full of it? Let us know your picks in the comment section below, and check back next week as we do a rundown of the first week of games.

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