It’s prediction time: Bruins will be strong; Chicago, Rangers will play for Cup

Patrick Kane will key the Blackhawks' run to the Cup/By S. Bradley

With the NHL season set to open tomorrow night, it’s everyone’s favorite time: prediction time.

We already know that the Bruins are pretty determined to repeat. And of all the recent Stanley Cup champions, they might be in the best position to do so.

Here’s a story I wrote for NHL.com about how the Bruins are approaching the challenge of repeating. I for one envision the Bruins making a strong postseason run this year, but too many things have to fall in place for them to hoist the Cup again. Most of all, I can’t imagine them ever being as healthy as they were last spring.

Here are my 2011-12 NHL predictions:

East

1. Washington

2. Boston

3. Pittsburgh

4. Tampa Bay

5. Philadelphia

6. NY Rangers

7. Buffalo

8. Montreal

9. Carolina

10. New Jersey

11. NY Islanders

12. Winnipeg

13. Toronto

14. Florida

15. Ottawa

Playoffs: Washington over Montreal; Boston over Buffalo; NY Rangers over Pittsburgh; Tampa Bay over Philadelphia

NY Rangers over Washington; Boston over Tampa Bay

East champion: NY Rangers over Boston

West

1. San Jose

2. Vancouver

3. Detroit

4. Chicago

5. Los Angeles

6. Anaheim

7. Minnesota

8. Columbus

9. Nashville

10. St. Louis

11. Calgary

12. Phoenix

13. Edmonton

14. Colorado

15. Dallas

Playoffs: San Jose over Columbus; Minnesota over Vancouver; Anaheim over Detroit; Chicago over Los Angeles

San Jose over Minnesota; Chicago over Anaheim

West champion: Chicago over Anaheim.

Stanley Cup champion: Chicago over NY Rangers. The balanced, talented Chicago squad manages to get past the “Cinderella” Rangers led by Henrik Lundqvist at the end of a Tim Thomas-like postseason run.

Hart Trophy

Alexander Ovechkin, Washington

This is the year OV puts it all together at both ends of the rink. He’s challenge for 50 goals and play well defensively. Alas, his supporting cast will once again prove weak in the playoffs and he’ll have a whole new cast around him for 2012-13.

Norris Trophy

Duncan Keith, Chicago

After a one-year absence, Chicago’s young stud blueliner will be on top of his game and make the Blackhawks a feared team that will have plenty left for a long playoff run.

Vezina Trophy

Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota

Everyone’s so focused on the additions of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi. But for the Wild to make their first playoff appearance in several years they’re going to need a career year from Backstrom, who will deliver and force people to take notice of his up-and-coming team.

Calder Trophy

Erik Gudbranson, Florida

The hodgepodge team in South Florida will struggle but one reason to watch the Cats will be the play of this young blueliner.

Click Here