Tonight marks the beginning of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and even though the Sabres won’t be playing, there will be plenty of excitement to go around.

With or without the Sabres, this is one of my favorite times of the year. Playoff hockey is nothing like the regular season. The excitement and intensity of the games are increased exponentially. Players put everything on the line to win that shiny cup at the end of it all. I could make a few more cliche comments, but I think you get what I am trying to say.

The tournament is wide open, as it usually is, and there are really any number of teams who could go the distance. I’ll make my first round predictions for the more familiar Eastern Conference:

#1 New York Rangers vs. #8 Ottawa Senators

The Rangers have been on top of the conference for most of year, and for good reason. They are excellent defensively, and have on the best goaltenders in the world in Henrik Lundquist. Ottawa is good, but not good enough to pull off the first round upset. I do see the series extending to six games however, as the Senators a young team who can score goals in bunches.

Prediction: Rangers in 6

#2 Boston Bruins vs. #7 Washington Capitals

Ah, who do you root for a Sabres fan? Many people think that the Bruins’ Milan Lucic ruined Buffalo’s season when he bulldozed Ryan Miller. Washington, on the other hand, narrowly edged in the standings to make the playoffs. I like the Capitals in an upset here, they have been playing well since getting healthy, while the Bruins have been on cruise control for most of the year. The team who wins the Stanley Cup rarely can make the same push the next year.

Prediction: Capitals in 6

#3 Florida Panthers vs. #6 New Jersey Devils

This is a tough one. Most ‘experts’ are picking the Devils in an upset, though it really wouldn't be a shocking one. New Jersey is probably the better team, though Florida won their division to earn the higher seed. I’ll pick Florida here, as most of the pressure will be on New Jersey to win a series they are “expected” to.

Prediction: Panthers in 7

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs #5 Philadelphia Flyers

This will be a fun series to watch. If you pay attention to any one series in particular, make it this one. These cross state rivals have bad blood between them, as seen in the brawl that occurred a few weeks ago in a regular season matchup. Both teams are strong, though it is hard to pick against Sidney Crosby, Malkin, and Neal of the Penguins. I will.

Prediction: Flyers in 6

Enjoy the opening night of the playoffs, I know I will. This is a video that always gets me in the right mood for this time of year.