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Preseason conference final favorites

By: Kevin Collins

The last piece of confetti fell long ago in the beginning of a hot, long summer in L.A. But ladies and gentlemen, in a few days, the puck will drop and hockey will once again begin. It’s been a long summer, but we’re all ready for some fresh ice.

In a world full of fortune tellers I would be remiss if I did not try to predict the playoff scenarios (in no particular order or seeding) before a single minute of the 82 game season was played. Here are the, predicted, top two seeds from each conference.

Eastern Conference

Boston Bruins

Reilly Smith

Reilly Smith

So talented, so deep, so locked up; the three adjectives that describe the Boston Bruins have their fans salivating. The Bruins are locked up in a sense that their first two offensive lines and first defensive line all have contracts through 2018. As far as their Vezina trophy winning goaltender? Tuuka Rask is also under contract for another four years. Look for the Bruins to be tweaking the system a bit this year, looking to improve upon their past two seasons with much of the same core.

Player to watch: Reilly Smith

Look for Smith to build upon his 20-goal, 31-assist season in his second go around with Boston. Smith is only 23, and has a combination of quickness and aggressiveness that the Bruins hoped to find in Tyler Seguin, but just did not pan out.

Washington Capitals

Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin

Sorry Pittsburgh, but if the back two defenseman cannot stop the rush, it doesn’t matter how many offensive weapons you have. And with the departure of Brooks Orpik, now a member of the Washington Capitals, it’s going to be a tough season for Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

But on to the Caps. With Nicklas Backstrom looking to turn the page away from his drug scandal in the Olympics, and Alex Ovechkin being Alex Ovechkin, and with Brooks Orpik joining defensive powerhouse Mike Green, the Capitals are poised to make a deep run. The only question they have is at goaltender. And it isn’t even that much of a question of skill, Braden Holtby had a Goals Against Average of just over two last season, and with an improved defense look for that number to dip. The problem with Holtby is his stamina. Holtby played in only 48 games last season. Holtby needs to assert himself as the Capitals number one goalie, and play on a consistent basis if the Capitals look to compete this year.

Western Conference

Chicago Blackhawks

Patrick Kane

Patrick Kane

No surprise here, the Hawks look to be primed for a long time to come. It’s impossible to not put a team that skates out Patrick Kane, Sharp, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, etc. Not to mention the defense that is both speedy and punishing, and led by Duncan Keith, Norris Trophy (defensive player of the year) award. The Blackhawks are just too good to not be on the list here.

Colorado Avalanche

Matt Duchene

Matt Duchene

Bit of a surprise here, but the Colorado Avalanche made some phenomenal offseason acquisitions. Joining young stars in the making like Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog, and Rookie of the year Nathan MacKinnon, will be veteran players Jarome Iginla, Daniel Briere, and Maxime Talbot. With Brad Stuart and Erik Johnson holding down the defense, look for Semyon Varlamov to decrease his GAA this upcoming season.

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With the picks in, I would be remiss if I did not make an addendum to this. Because hockey is the best sport to grace North America, although I enjoy being right, I hope that these picks are wrong; that a one seed beats an eight; that a team picked to finish last makes it into the last sixteen. I want to see teeth on the ice, I want to see ankles broken, I want to see goalies like brick walls, and forwards like snipers. I want to see handshakes. I want to see the biggest trophy in sports hoisted. That’s what makes hockey so great. Game on.

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