Chara & the Bruins should dominate the Caps./By S. Bradley

By now, loyal readers of this blog know to take my predictions with a giant grain of salt.

After all, many of you never fail in the comments section to point out my prediction that Philadelphia would manhandle the Bruins in last year’s second round before Boston went out and not only beat, but swept, the Flyers.

Nonetheless, anyone can just pick mostly higher seeds to win in six or seven games and not insult anyone. I don’t approach my picks that way.

So while I do forecast some long series, I also see some matchups – including the Bruins’ with Washington – that should be done before the end of the second week of the postseason. My pick is Bruins in five. I just don’t see how the seventh-seeded Capitals can muster enough offense, once Zdeno Chara has his way with Alexander Ovechkin, or play strong enough defense, assuming the Bruins are flying in on the forecheck the way we know they can, to make this a long series.

The Capitals’ drive to the playoffs was like a month-long playoff series in itself, as they were playing do-or-die games almost every night. So they should be a bit worn out. In addition, Braden Holtby is a strong, young goaltender. Nonetheless, there’s a reason other than age that he’s No.3 on the depth chart. Even without Nathan Horton, the Bruins – led by Tyler Seguin, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand – should be able create offense on the rush, and on the forecheck. We all know what happens when you pressure the likes of Mike Green, Dennis Wideman and John Carlson.

Second-seeded Boston’s back-enders are also giveaway prone when pressured, but they’re much-improved back there, especially with the way Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk have fared this season. That pair should be even better this season considering the excellent regular seasons both player had and the experience they gained last spring in putting the clamps on Tampa Bay’s and Vancouver’s second lines.

The Bruins might miss Horton deeper in the playoffs, but they should have enough offense to get through the Caps. And they’re power play, a problem spot for more than a year now, might be able to exploit Washington’s penalty kill and gain enough confidence that it’ll stop being a weak spot in Boston’s arsenal.

Yes, the Bruins got a favorable matchup when Washington passed Ottawa in the East standings. And they should be able to finish off this series in five games.

Here’s a thumbnail look at my other series picks:

Eastern Conference

(1) NY Rangers vs. (8) Ottawa

Ottawa in 7

The Rangers led the Eastern Conference for practically the entire season. Their style of play is so demanding, they could run out of gas. Playing with house money as the eighth seed, I can see the new-and-improved Jason Spezza leading Ottawa past the Blueshirts with Craig Anderson stealing a couple games in goal.

(3) Florida vs. (6) New Jersey

New Jersey in 6

If the Panthers, who backed into the playoffs in maybe the worst manner ever, suddenly went on a postseason run, it’d be a travesty. Martin Brodeur has quietly compiled another great season and Ilya Kovalchuk and company just might be one of the Devils’ best offenses in a while.

 (4) Pittsburgh vs. (5) Philadelphia

Philadelphia in 7

We saw at the end of the regular season that the Penguins could be knocked off their game by the Flyers physical ways. The chance to prove he was worth that huge contract will get Ilya Bryzgalov to play lights-out in net and the Flyers will spoil everyone’s plans for a Penguins coronation.

 Western Conference

(1) Vancouver vs. (8) Los Angeles

Vancouver in 5

Jonathan Quick might steal a game in net, but the Kings will miss Jeff Carter more than Vancouver will miss Daniel Sedin, offensively – if either player can’t go at the start of this series. The Canucks are deep again and will get great goaltending from at least one of their netminders.

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

San Jose in 7

The Sharks are in a perfect position to do what they haven’t been able to do for years – exceed expectations. There are no expectations of a long run for San Jose, which means the pressure’s off and if Antti Niemi can find his playoff magic in net, the Sharks just might be able to grind out enough offensive support for him.

 (3) Phoenix vs. (6) Chicago

Phoenix in 6

The Blackhawks’ goaltending situation has been a toss-up all season, the Coyotes are going to take advantage of that. They should be able to prevail based on their timely scoring and some solid goaltending from Mike Smith.

 (4) Nashville vs. (5) Detroit

Nashville in 5

This is the Predators’ year and the Red Wings have finally shown signs of deterioration. This will be the one-step-back year for the Wings, while the Preds – better in every area than Detroit – will be able to get some rest in order to make some more franchise history.