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Can Sidney Crosby(notes) and the Pittsburgh Penguins make the Cup final for the third straight season and join Mario's Pens as the franchise's back-to-back champs? Do the additions of Chris Pronger(notes) (Flyers) and Marian Gaborik(notes) (Rangers) change the game in the Atlantic? Will the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning go from laughingstocks to playoff teams?

Is the window still open for the Boston Bruins?

Is it Ovechkin's turn now?

Thankfully, after an endless summer of off-the-ice frustrations and distractions, it's time to start attempting to answer these questions in Puck Daddy's 2009-10 Eastern Conference staff prognostications; featuring Wyshynski, Leahy, Two-Line, Dmitry and Dobber. Check back here this afternoon for the Western Conference predictions.

So who wins the Wales?

The standings, according to the so-called experts:

Greg Wyshynski, editor

1. Washington Capitals
2. Boston Bruins
3. Philadelphia Flyers
4. Pittsburgh Penguins 
5. Carolina Hurricanes
6. New Jersey Devils
7. Montreal Canadiens
8. Buffalo Sabres

Conference Champion: Philadelphia Flyers

The Capitals winning the conference regular season is more a function of the Bruins coming back to the pack; I just don't see Boston posting 270 goals again. The Penguins edge the Flyers in a tight race, with the Devils Lemaire'ing their way into the postseason for the 19th time in 20 seasons. The Hurricanes are the clear No. 2 in the Southeast. The immature Habs of last season put on their big-boy pants and make the cut; a healthy Ryan Miller(notes), Olympics-willing, backstops a team held together by scotch tape and Lindy Ruff's spit.

The Flyers pick is simple: That a team loaded up front that has at least two shutdown defensive pairings can overcome average goaltending. (See Red Wings, Detroit). 

About those on the outside: The Rangers could get in if Marian Gaborik plays 70 games and the kids are ahead of schedule. The Senators could get in if the players that were awful and underwhelming last year return to form. The Leafs ... well, putting aside testosterone-filled fantasies of bludgeoning the conference into submission, it's like this: The defense and Gustavsson (one assumes) could be good enough to make the cut. But it says here that Burke needs another summer and a few more pieces up front before they can.

Sean Leahy, associate editor

1. Washington Capitals
2. Boston Bruins
3. Pittsburgh Penguins
4. Philadelphia Flyers
5. New Jersey Devils
6. Buffalo Sabres
7. Carolina Hurricanes
8. Montreal Canadiens

Conference Champion: Boston Bruins

The Capitals could be the NHL's equivalent of the New Orleans Saints, with Alex Ovechkin their Drew Brees. Points are going to be accumulated at an astounding rate between Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom(notes) and Alexander Semin(notes); and with Washington playing in the easiest division in the NHL, so too will the points in the standings.

As far as Buffalo and Montreal go, I think Ryan Miller can carry the Sabres back into the playoffs as he comes off a deep Olympic run by Team USA. With the Canadiens, the 100th year celebrations are coming to a close and once the Habs stop parading out their old legends every home game, the pressure will subside just a little bit on Carey Price(notes) to deliver (it is Montreal don't forget).

Ryan "The Two-Line Pass" Lambert, "What We Learned" columnist

1. Pittsburgh Penguins
2. Boston Bruins
3. Washington Capitals
4. New Jersey Devils
5. Philadelphia Flyers
6. New York Rangers
7. Carolina Hurricanes
8. Toronto Maple Leafs

Conference Champion: Boston Bruins

The Penguins are my favorites to win the East considering they fired their coach late last season and still, y'know, won a Stanley Cup (plus Crosby and Malkin are really, really good!). Boston and Washington will be a close 2-3 but Boston's got defense and the Caps really, really don't. New Jersey finishes fourth because it seems like they always finish right around there if they don't win the division, and certainly they're better than the rest of the field.

After Philly, there's a big, big dropoff and not much to choose between the Rangers, Flyers and Leafs, or any other team for that matter; any three of six teams could finish in this spot and I wouldn't be terribly shocked.

Dobber, Fantasy Hockey Columnist

1. Pittsburgh Penguins
2. Washington Capitals
3. Boston Bruins
4. Philadelphia Flyers
5. Carolina Hurricanes
6. Montreal Canadiens
7. New Jersey Devils
8. New York Rangers

Conference Champion: Pittsburgh Penguins

Leafs, Rangers and Panthers will battle it out on the final weekend. Tortorella won't let the Rangers miss the postseason. Price will flourish under Martin's coaching and thrust the Habs into the playoffs. The Top 4 teams will be surprisingly tight.

Dmitry Chesnokov, writer and interviewer extraordinaire

1. Washington Capitals
2. Philadelphia Flyers
3. Boston Bruins
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
5. New York Rangers
6. New Jersey Devils
7. Montreal Canadiens
8. Toronto Maple Leafs

Conference Champion: Washington Capitals

Brian Burke's magic will start showing this season already, but it won't be enough to win in the first round. The Rangers will get the chemistry back with Anisimov and Gaborik leading the way. Philadelphia will be as intimidating as ever, and we will keep wondering how on earth the low-scoring Devils get so high in the standings. The Pens, following last year's success, will apply the same method -- start winning consistently close to the Olympic break. Caps win the East.

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