WILMINGTON, Mass. The time has finally come. Its Stanley Cup prediction time at the Morning Skate, and -- before its all said and done -- Ill leave all of the playoff picks as well as conference finals and Stanley Cup winner. What the heck. Ill throw the Conn Smythe winner in there as well.There may not be many upsets in the first round given the matchups, but I dont really see the No. 1 seed in either the East or the West making it through to the finals. How do you like them apples?Without further ado, heres the Stanley Cup playoff picks along with the links from the afternoon before the greatest tournament in pro sports gets started tonight.
EASTERN CONFERENCEWashington Capitals (No. 1) vs. New York Rangers (No. 8) The Caps are rolling and the Rangers dont even belong in the playoff after backing in. Losing Ryan Callahan was the final straw for the Blueshirts, who will be lucky to push it past four or five games with Washington. Pick: WashingtonPhiladelphia Flyers (No. 2) vs. Buffalo Sabres (No. 7) I love the way the Sabres played down the stretch, and I have serious questions about Philly rookie goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Couple that with the way the Flyers limped down the stretch and question marks surrounding Chris Pronger, and I smell a Buffalo upset in seven games. Pick: BuffaloBoston Bruins (No. 3) vs. Montreal Canadiens (No. 6) The most anticipated playoff match in either conference, and one that could really weaken the Bs in an extended postseason run if it gets too gnarly. Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara are too big and strong for the Habs at the end of the day, but it wont be easy. Bruins in six games with a sweet celebration on the Bell Centre ice. Pick: Boston Pittsburgh Penguins (No. 4) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (No. 5) The most difficult series to handicap given so many variables. No Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin for the Pens and some pretty soft defensemenplayoff inexperience for the Bolts in their first postseason look since 2007. Pittsburgh will have a hard time mustering any offense, and that will doom them at the end of the day in a competitive seven-game series. Pick: Tampa Bay
WESTERN CONFERENCEVancouver Canucks (No. 1) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (No. 8) This is the one team that Vancouver didnt want to play, and this has all the makings of the Blackhawks finally pulling it all together. Does anybody doubt that Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa and Co. will shift into another gear now that the postseason has arrived? Itll go seven games, but the Canucks are going to be bitterly disappointed. Pick: ChicagoSan Jose Sharks (No. 2) vs. Los Angeles Kings (No. 7) The Jumbo Joe Thornton factor wont come into play in the first round against a Kings team crippled without Anze Kopitar. The Sharks have so much talent and firepower, and will overwhelm the Kings in five games. Pick: San JoseDetroit Red Wings (No. 3) vs. Phoenix Coyotes (No. 6) The Wings will be without Henrik Zetterberg to start with a knee injury, but something tells me theyll be able to blind the Desert Dogs with the shine from their previous Stanley Cup bling. It shouldnt take more than five games. Pick: DetroitAnaheim Ducks (No. 4) vs. Nashville Predators (No. 5) Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne against the gritty, gutty Predators that just keep on trucking in the non-traditional hockey market. Nashville is a great story, but Carrie Underwood wont be singing any Stanley Cup tunes this time around provided Anaheim gets something resembling decent goaltending. Pick: AnaheimEastern Conference Final: Capitals vs. BruinsWestern Conference Final: Red Wings vs. Sharks.Stanley Cup Final: Red Wings defeat the Bruins in six games.Conn Smythe winner: Jimmy Howard And now on to the links: Dandy Don Cherry talked about his keys to the HabsBruins series, and you wont be surprised who he likes.A good look at Philadelphia Flyers and noted Finnish flash Ville Leino by Philly.com. Leino really burst onto the scene during last years run to the Cup Finals.NHL draft maven Kirk Luedeke goes over the dizzying number of options for the Bs at the No. 9 spot in the first round after locking the selection into place.Marc Crawford takes the high road after getting whacked by the Dallas Stars when his team didnt show up in a do-or-die final game of the season.Carey Price and Scott Gomez are they keys to a series win over the Bruins, according to NHL.com writer Arpon Basu.The USA Today marvels at all three California hockey teams making it into this years Western Conference field of eight.The defense never rests in the NHL, and the Toronto Globe and Mail is determined to prove it.Brian Burke opens up to the Globe and Mail about some of the extreme difficulty hes experiencing watching another Leafs team that wasnt good enough for playoff muster.Hockey Prospectus examines what it takes for a hockey team to have success in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and its an interesting read.A hockey family experiences an encounter with Sidney Crosby as he attempts to come back from his concussion, and comes away a heart-warming feeling about Sid the Kid.ESPN.coms Michael Wilbon goes in depth with Alexander Ovechkin as his team tries to change the way they do business headed into this years Stanley Cup playoffs.Last but not least, who doesnt love the Separated at Birth photo gallery with celebs and hockey players SI.com has postedjust in time for the beginning of the Stanley Cup playoffs.Joe Haggerty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs