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Is this the year Alex Ovechkin(notes) and the Washington Capitals fulfill the promise of their regular season and avoid another postseason humbling? Can the Philadelphia Flyers continue to succeed with patchwork goaltending and Chris Pronger's(notes) snarl? Can Sidney Crosby(notes) and the Pittsburgh Penguins make it 3-out-of-4 years in the Stanley Cup Finals?

Will the Boston Bruins be the team that was second in the NHL in goals two years ago or last in the NHL in 2009-10? Will the New York Rangers pop the playoff bubble this year?

Can Ryan Miller(notes) backstop the Buffalo Sabres to the postseason? Will Carey Price(notes) survive the burdens placed on him in Montreal to thrive with the Habs? Will the Toronto Maple Leafs do something more than beating up foes to the delight of their gregarious general manager?

Will a second team from the Southeast Division make the cut?

So many questions ... and now, a few answers via the Puck Daddy Staff Prognostications for the 2010-11 Eastern Conference season. Check out yours truly, Leahy, Lambert, Chesnokov, Bourne and Nicks as we make bold predictions that will undoubtedly expose our boorish hubris by season's end.

So ... who wins the Wales?

The standings, according to a panel Andy Sutton(notes) believes is an expert panel (he's seen the replay):







Greg Wyshynski, Editor

1. Washington
2. New Jersey
3. Boston
4. Pittsburgh
5. Montreal
6. Philadelphia
7. Carolina
8. Buffalo

East Champ: Washington

This is the year the Washington Capitals stop being a bunch of underwhelming chokers in the postseason and play for the Stanley Cup. The New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins could easily flip-flop at the top of the Atlantic, but we'll give the Devils the edge because of their offensive depth. A healthy Carolina team with a back-to-form Cam Ward(notes) returns to the postseason; Ottawa and Tampa Bay just miss the cut. And Montreal surprises some by not completely falling apart without Jaroslav Halak(notes) between the pipes, as Carey Price is solid but unspectacular.

Sean Leahy, Associate Editor

1. Washington
2. New Jersey
3. Boston
4. Pittsburgh
5. Philadelphia
6. Carolina
7. Ottawa
8. Buffalo

East Champ: New Jersey.

Not once in the past three seasons have the New Jersey Devils gotten out of the first round. In 17 games, they've won seven of them and allowed 48 goals in that time. These were not your older brother's New Jersey Devils.

Now, with Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) in tow for the next 15 seasons and Martin Brodeur(notes) and Lou Lamoriello on the back nines of their careers, the chips are all in for the Devils. Time and time again they have no problem succeeding during the regular season (haven't finished lower than second in Atlantic since 2001-02 and just once since 1995-96). Recent playoff troubles aside, Lamoriello and Co. are pushing to recapture the Stanley Cup in the short-term -- why else would they have pursued Kovalchuk? And don't forget about Brodeur. There's one last run in that stallion.

Ryan Lambert, Columnist

1. Washington
2. Pittsburgh
3. Boston
4. New Jersey
5. Tampa Bay
6. Carolina
7. Montreal
8. New York Rangers

East Champ: Boston

I know what you're thinking: Boston and Vancouver? Yeah, I know. But Boston was formidable last year when healthy, and they almost have to be better in that regard this year, just mathematically. But even when everyone was hurt, they ended up second in the league in team defense.

Dmitry Chesnokov, Senior Writer

1. Washington
2. New Jersey
3. Ottawa
4. Pittsburgh
5. Philadelphia
6. Buffalo
7. Montreal
8. New York Rangers

East Champ: Pittsburgh

Ilya Kovalchuk will adapt well in New Jersey and will finally have his first deep run in the playoffs. But Pittsburgh is the team that has done just enough to win the East this year.

Justin Bourne, Columnist

1. Washington
2. Boston
3. Pittsburgh
4. Philadelphia
5. New Jersey
6. Tampa Bay
7. Buffalo
8. Ottawa

East Champ: Washington

In the Atlantic, you could possibly have the three best teams in the Eastern Conference. It seems like it's been a decade of the Flyers having what could possibly be the best roster in the NHL, combined with their refusal to admit they have a goaltending issue. Then New Jersey went ahead and picked up that Ilya cat, guaranteeing they'll be in the mix for another season. If everyone on those three teams is healthy, I happen to like the Penguins d-corps best. They should be able to move the puck up to guys like Crosby and Malkin, who are really, really good.

Oh, and the Isles would have to be healthy before I could even contemplate picking them ahead of the Rangers. Or anyone. Sorry friends.

Only other battle I really flip-flopped on was between Atlanta and Carolina -- since Atlanta just picked up a sack of Stanley Cup champs, I had to go with them.

Erin Nicks, Columnist

1. Washington
2. New Jersey
3. Boston
4. Pittsburgh
5. Buffalo
6. Philadelphia
7. Tampa Bay
8. Montreal

East Champ: Washington

If Pittsburgh doesn't start out full-throttle (the Jordan Staal(notes) injury still remains in the storylines), New Jersey will get the jump on it in the standings. The acquisition of elite shot-blocker Anton Volchenkov(notes) was huge. If he stays healthy, look for Martin Brodeur to develop a man-crush.

Spots seven through 10 could be thrown into a Yahtzee cup, with the difference maker occurring at the blue line and behind it. Ottawa may silently be hoping for either Pascal Leclaire(notes) or Brian Elliott(notes) to become injured, thereby allowing flavor-of-the-month Robin Lehner(notes) to be called up, but their defense has become too soft for it to make a difference.

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