It’s the 2011 NHL Playoffs, you guys!

NHL

It’s a glorious time of year! (Unless you’re a Leafs fan or Cory Clouston.) It’s time for our quick and dirty preview of the first round of the NHL Playoffs. Here are the matchups that begin Wednesday:

Tampa Bay Lightning at Pittsburgh Penguins

It's time for the playoffs, Mr. Stamkos.

Already, this series is not about who is in the lineup so much as who isn’t. Sidney Crosby hasn’t played a game in three months as he has been recovering from post-concussion symptoms. The Lightning are preparing as though he will return for the first round. The Pens don’t appear to be in a rush to bring him back. Regardless, the Crosby factor is not affecting my prediction that Tampa will take this first round.

Phoenix Coyotes at Detroit Red Wings

Detroit Red Wings

Hmm, it seems Nick has been here before... (AP Photo)

Is it just me or do the Red Wings just seem so…old? I mean, hurray for Nick Lidstrom having a solid 60+ point season, but…Modano? Bertuzzi? And their best goal scorer is slumping? I’m calling the Coyotes for the upset: they seem to thrive when ownership headaches loom large.

New York Rangers at Washington Capitals

Capitals

The playoffs are SERIOUS BUSINESS! (Getty Images)

This one is pretty obvious: Caps all the way. They have an early exit from last year’s postseason to avenge (Remember last year how they broke Raven’s heart and screwed up my Stanley Cup winner prediction?) And…they’re playing the Rangers, who are without one of their leading scorers and now have Bryan McCabe in their defensive corps. I remember when McCabe was a Leaf. This will not end well.

Chicago Blackhawks at Vancouver Canucks

Canucks

It's a Canuck captain sandwich! (AP Photo)

I don’t care about Patrick Kane’s stupid mullet. The Blackhawks backed into a playoff spot and will not be repeating as Cup champs. There. I said it. And this has nothing to do with my Canadian bias or my crush on Ryan Kesler. The Canucks have two 40-goal scorers and Roberto Luongo. Like the Caps/Rangers series, this is a no-brainer.

Nashville Predators at Anaheim Ducks

Predators

Isn't this a terrific shot? I award it bonus points for catching David Legwand's tongue sticking out. (Getty Images)

Two of three teams to finish the season with 99 points (*in the West), it’s a tough call. Again this season, I am going with the Preds. They are due to win a playoff series, and this time they don’t have to face last year’s Chicago team.

We’ll take a look at Thursday’s matchups Tuesday.

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