Finally, the good stuff is here. Time for the best 1st round any playoff has to offer. It's the sports equivalent of  a nightly duel. In 16 NHL cities, the fans are planning out how they can get to the finals and win the hardest trophy in sports to win- the Stanley Cup! Tonight we get the tournament started (finally!). Here are my picks for round 1 and beyond.

Starting in the West: I don't like St Louis. Not the city, mind you, but the team. I sooooo badly want them to lose. Their style is horrible. Takes us back to the trap, Devils. Coach Ken Hitchcock demands his players show NO creativity from the start- isn't it nice when you have millionaire players who have to play like zombies? Watching the Blues is akin to watching a wound scab over. It takes forever and is sleep-inducing. Meanwhile, the San Jose Sharks find themselves in a very unfamiliar position- the 7th seed. Expectations seem to be lower for the Sharks. I say this is when they are dangerous. I say Sharks and HOPE the Sharks pull this out. Blues not playing well down the stretch at all, losing 4 of the last 5 games. The pick? Sharks in 7.

Top seed and President's Cup winner Vancouver tangles with 8th seed Los Angeles. The Kings have played marginally better since dealing for Jeff Carter, but their offense has still been stagnant for too long of a period. Led by talented goalie Jonathan Quick, LA presents little problem for the 'Nucks, whose biggest problem seems to be of their own making. As always, the mental condition of Roberto Luongo always comes into play. Vancouver can beat you in so many ways, though. They can play any style and hold their own. The key is LA getting off to a fast start and putting the pressure on the 'Nucks. It seems their window of opportunity is closing. Good news for Vancouver is that Daniel Sedin should return after missing the last 9 games with a concussion. Is he 100% or are they rushing him? I expect LA to challenge him early and test him. I will take Vancouver in 6.

Next (and this is tough stuff),  the Blackhawks, who lost 10 straight early this year, are playing well again. The health of  their top-notch center, Jonathan Toews, bares watching. The Hawks have done a nice job of incorporating some young talent with their solid core. Chicago faces first-time Pacific division winner Phoenix. Full disclosure, I love the Coyotes. They're my favorite PHX sports franchise after having spent almost 20 years in the Valley of the Sun doing talk radio. However, putting that aside, I think the 'Yotes would have done themselves better by losing that last game to Minnesota and not winning the division, thus playing the boring Blues. Also working against Phoenix is history. They have never gotten out of round 1, losing the last 2 years to Detroit. I think the Coyotes are better positioned this time. They have upgraded their netminding with big goalie Mike Smith instead of whiner and excuse-maker Ilya Bryzgalov. The Hawks will win this tight series in 7. I hope I am wrong.

Lastly, from the West, we have the big and bad Red Wings taking on the Country Crooners from Nashville. In my opinion, the Preds have the second-best goalie this year in the NHL playing their last line of defense in Pekkaa Rinne. His 2.39 goals against is solid. His defense, mostly unknown, is solid and can move the puck. If he played in most cities, Shane Webber would get a lot more respect. Nashville got the 1st round monkey off their back last year. They are my pick to go to the finals. I am taking the Preds to defeat the aging and banged-up Wings in 7. I am taking Nashville to get all the way to the finals!

To the east and the battle of Pennsylvania and what a matchup this is, further heated by the nasty contest at the end of the year when Sid Crosby was hacked and the fists were flying. This could be an instant classic- high scoring and lots of hate. I have said it since they bestowed him with that absurd contract-the Flyers will now learn how much of a choke Ilya Bryzgalov is, and when he does tank, he will do what Ilya does- blame everyone but himself. Get him early and he will crumble. I expect the Flyers to go hard after Sid the Kid but he seems feisty and ready. I am taking the Penguins in 7.

The Bruins will roll the Caps. Of all the teams in the playoffs, the Caps have the most quit in them, and will do so against the defending champ Bruins. Tim Thomas is shadowing his best  Billy Smith, decent regular season, finish strong and kicking tail in the post season. I want to pick the Bruins in 2. The Caps have goalie issues. I am taking Boston in 5.

The series that no one wants to televise and few will watch. The Devils tangle with the Florida Panthers, back in the playoffs for the first time in 12 years! The Devs coach Peter De Boer was the coach of Florida for 4 years before getting fired after last season. These Devs are scary. They have won 7 straight. Unlike previous teams, they play an appealing style. They have championship mettle still left and a 39-year-old goalie in Marty Brodeur. Florida hasn't decided who will tend net between Theodore and Clemmenson. I would use the ex-Devil if the decision is that close. I am going Devils in 6.

Finally, the beloved Rangers tangle with the tough Ottawa Senators. I wanted the Caps. I got the Sens. They have skill, speed,  and will be hard to beat. They took the season series 2-1 over NY. But they won't take this series. The top seeded Rangers are primed, ready and eager to show the regular season was no fluke. It wasn't. Led by the soon to be Vezina winner Henrik Lundqvist, a mobile defense, a power play that slumped much of the year but clicked late the Rangers will over come this tough challenge in round 1 in 6 games.

I am taking Rangers vs Nashville for the Cup finals. Broadway vs Country. A fascinating finals on tap. The Cup makes its way down the Canyon Of heroes in due time. Now it's battle time, every night, for 2 months. Game On!