NHL Playoff Schedule 2012: 8 Most Intriguing Matchups in 1st Round
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The regular season is officially over, and the 16 teams that will battle for the Stanley Cup have been determined. It's time to take a closer look at some of the intriguing first-round matchups.
The first round can surprise you with upsets, and it also is the first step for teams to come together and gel.
We'll find out really soon which teams are for real and which teams are not. Regular-season success doesn’t always translate to winning in the playoffs.
In almost every series, there's a major question mark surrounding a star's health making this year’s first round more compelling than years past.
Both conferences have interesting matchups.
Here's a list of eight matchups that are worth watching.
Florida Panthers vs. New Jersey Devils
Can Martin Brodeur step it up one more time?
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Devils coach tries to defeat his former team.
The Florida Panthers won the Southeast division for the first time in franchise history. This is also just the fourth time the Panthers have made the playoffs in 18 seasons.
Florida won the division and secured the third seed in the first round despite being sixth in points in the Eastern Conference. The Panthers are matched up against the New Jersey Devils and their head coach Peter DeBoer.
DeBoer is reunited with the Panthers after being fired as their head coach last April.
While the Panthers are a good team, they struggled down the stretch and had a negative goal differential for the year. Florida has a lot to prove, and in spite of having talented offensive players, they have the worst offense out of the eight Eastern Conference playoff teams.
The Devils return to the playoffs after a disappointing 2010-11 season. They are loaded with offensive talent and still have Martin Brodeur in net.
This may be Brodeur’s last chance at a championship, and Florida has the opportunity to silence their critics and show them they are for real.
Prediction: Devils win 4-2
Vancouver Canucks Offense vs. L.A. Kings Defense
Can Jonathan Quick lead the Kings to upset the Canucks?
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Can the Canucks rebound after last year’s difficult playoff loss?
The Canucks secured the best record in the NHL and the Presidents’ Trophy for the second straight season. After losing a long seven-game series to the Bruins in the finals last year, they need to win their first-round matchup and erase the memory of last year’s loss.
The Kings are one of the best defensive teams in the league and will have a chance at upsetting the Canucks if their stellar goaltender Jonathan Quick continues to put together Vezina-worthy performances.
Both teams enter the playoffs with health concerns. Daniel Sedin is recovering from a concussion he suffered after being elbowed by Duncan Keith on March 21.
The Kings are hoping Jeff Carter, who they traded for in February, to spark a struggling offense can return to form after suffering an ankle injury.
If the Kings can stifle the Canucks' potent offense and manage to score against Roberto Luongo, they will have a chance. Otherwise, the Canucks will cruise into the second round. For people who think defense wins championships (2010-11 Bruins), this will be a fun series to watch.
Prediction: Canucks 4-1
Pittsburg Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Sidney Crosby's health will determine Penguins-Flyers series.
Bitter rivals with similar playing styles battle for the title of Pennsylvania’s best team.
Going into the playoffs, the Flyers and Penguins rivalry heated up with two intense meetings in the last week of the regular season. This series is full of offensive firepower as they are the top two scoring teams in the league.
This is an interesting matchup as they are very similar teams. They both can score, have talented goaltenders and are very physical. We could be in for a long, hard-fought seven-game series.
Evgeni Malkin is having his best year since they won the cup in '08-'09, and unlike Crosby, plays hard on top of being an offensive weapon. As great as Malkin has been, unless Crosby can be effective, the Penguins will have a hard time defeating the Flyers in a seven-game series.
Aside from the questions about Crosby and the other talented offensive players on both teams, this series will be decided by goaltending. Both teams have talented netminders, and the series will come down to who steps it up in net. Will it be the Flyers' Ilya Bryzgalov or the Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury.
Prediction: Penguins 4-3
Nashville Predators vs. Detroit Red Wings
Can Shea Weber lead the Predators past the Red Wings?
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Balanced division rivals battle for a spot in the second round.
The Red Wings have been a measuring stick for their division-rival Predators over the years, and they have reached the point where they can overtake them in the playoffs.
Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg anchor a veteran group that has the talent to make a run at the cup in what might be Lidstrom’s last season.
However, the Predators have the best defensive combination in the NHL in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. The Predators may lack an elite goal-scorer, but they are a balanced team, finishing eighth in both goals scored and goals allowed.
After making moves at the trading deadline and re-signing Alexander Radulov when the KHL season concluded, the Predators are in position to overtake their division rival.
The teams split the season series, and this should be a tight first-round matchup.
Prediction: Predators 4-2
Boston Bruins vs. Washington Capitals
Will Alexander Ovechkin turn it on and lead the Capitals past the Bruins?
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Can Tim Thomas and the Bruins stifle the offensively talented and underachieving Capitals?
The defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins won the Northeast Division and secured the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, they got one of the worst matchups they could have in the first round.
The Capitals behind Alexander Ovechkin have the offensive firepower that can overcome Tim Thomas and the Bruins defense.
This series will come down to a matchup of each team’s best player. This is Thomas versus Ovechkin.
The Capitals have underachieved after three straight 100-point seasons, yet they're a dangerous team loaded with offensive talent and should not be taken for granted by the Bruins.
Thomas has regained his form after stumbling for almost two months and must continue to be dazzling in net if the Bruins want to move fast Ovechkin and the Capitals.
Prediction: Bruins 4-1
St. Louis Blues vs. San Jose Sharks
Will jumbo Joe Thornton ever win a Cup?
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Will the Blues score enough to support their outstanding goal-tender tandem?
After cruising through the regular season behind one of the best goal-tending tandem of all time, the Blues stumbled down the stretch.
Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott are an impressive combination, but neither goalie played 50 games, leaving me wondering if either is good enough to lead a team through a playoff run.
The Blues won their last regular-season game, ending a four-game losing streak, but have they turned it around?
The Sharks have the talent to upset the Blues. They have three 30-goal scorers in Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski, and they have a great setup man in Joe Thornton.
If the Blues' goaltending stumbles or if the Sharks offense catches fire, we will see an upset.
Prediction: Sharks 4-2
New York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators
Can John Tortorella and the Rangers avoid a first round upset?
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Can the top line of the Senators score enough to upset the top-seeded Rangers?
Going into the playoffs, the Rangers look like the class of the Eastern Conference. They are a balanced team with plenty of offensive weapons and one of the best goalies in the NHL in Henrik Lundqvist.
In four seasons, John Tortorella has turned the Rangers into a hard-nosed hockey team that's built for the playoffs. The Rangers have a balance of talented and experienced players. They brought in Brad Richards to add postseason experience to go along with 40-goal scorer Marian Gaborik.
As great as the Rangers are, they can’t take the Senators for granted. Their top line of Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson combined to score 96 goals and amassed 203 points.
The Senators may lack the depth needed to make a deep run in the playoffs, however, they certainly have the talent on the first line to upset the Rangers in the first round.
If the Rangers play physical hockey and keep their foot on the gas, they will have no problem beating the Senators, but if they ease up, even a little, they could be upset.
Prediction: Rangers 4-1
Phoenix Coyotes vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Will Jonathan Toews return and lead the Blackhawks past the Blues?
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Will the Blackhawks regain their championship form, or are the Coyotes for real?
The Coyotes won their first division title, and their reward is facing the uber-talented Blackhawks.
The Coyotes, led by veterans Shane Doan and Ray Whitney and the emergence of goalie Mike Smith, play the type of physical hockey that could limit the Blackhawks offense.
If Jonathan Toews returns to form and Corey Crawford can replicate his performance from last year’s playoffs, the Blackhawks will have no problem defeating the Pacific Division champs.
The Blackhawks suffered from the dreaded Stanley Cup hangover last year and didn’t thrive during the regular season this year, but with their most talented player returning from injury and their goalie returning to form, they are in perfect position to win another cup.
Prediction: Blackhawks 4-2