(1) Montreal vs. (8) Boston:
The season series was tragically lopsided in favor of the Habs, and the Bruins showed very little to indicate that the trend will change over the course of their eight regular season meetings. Boston will look to keep this one slow and boring, as it's really their only shot. Montreal boasts the league's most potent offense and a creative, movement-oriented power play that the Bruins have struggled with in a big way. The story line in this series is a two-parter: Carey Price's debut on hockey's biggest stage, and the potential return of Patrice Bergeron. If Price falters and Bergeron provides an emotional and offensive lift at the right time, it could be the greatest upset of the first round. Common sense, however, says Canadiens in five.
(2) Pittsburgh vs. (7) Ottawa
When 5'10 Mike Comrie ran 6'4 Evgeni Malkin in to the ground on the first shift of game one in last year's Eastern Conference quarterfinals it was cleary who the better hockey team was. It's just as clear this year, though the better team is captained by Sid the Kid this time around. As if the Penguins needed more incentive to beat on the downtrodden Senators, who have completely fallen from grace after a season of injury, inconstency and locker room turmoil, Ottawa head coach Bryan Murray decided to accuse the Penguins of throwing their final regular season game for a more favorable first-round match-up. While the move was clearly made to inspire Murray's own troops, he caught the ire of both Crosby and coach Michelle Therrien, while even getting a few skeptical remarks from his own players. Watching the Pens and Sens duel last year was like watching the 1981 Edmonton Oilers play the New York Islanders. The Isles won that series handily, and in the process laid the foundation for hockey's next playoff dynasty. Penguins in four.
(3) Washington vs. (6) Philadelphia:
With recent playoff history seemingly dominated by Cinderella success, it's hard not to keep an eye on the Washington Capitals. Wouldn't it be perfect to see hockey's comeback story of the year put a beating on the NHL's biggest bullies? The Flyers haven't made many friends with their style of play this year, and perhaps the sideshow of early suspensions and ugly incidents contributed to their being a fairly inconsistent and mediocre squad (considering their talent) for the majority of the season. But now that they've squeaked in to the playoff picture, one gets the impression that the new Broadstreet Bullies have the guts and make up to do some serious damage if they can get a bit of goaltending. Will Washington on a roll be too much for this Philly team, or will the bigger, more experienced Flyers put a harsh end to Alex Ovechkin's dream season? The optimist in me says Capitals in 6.
(4) New Jersey vs. (5) New York:
The seedings in this match-up mean next to nothing. These teams were battling for home ice on the very last day of the regular season, and there is so much to love about this series that it's difficult to cover it all. Scott Gomez will attempt to eliminate the very team that is responsible for his two Stanley Cup rings as the cross-river rivals duke it out in this oft revisited playoff battle. Both teams are built for success, with proven winners up front, a steady group effort on the back end, and Vezina worthy goaltending. The Rangers, though they've struggled at putting the puck in the net consistently this season, clearly have the upper hand when it comes to offensive talent. If the Rangers can get their big guns rolling, it could be a quick series for the Devils without some serious magic from Martin Brodeur. Though it won't be much of an "upset," it's tough not to pick Jagr, Drury, Shanahan and Gomez when the chips are down. Rangers in 7 tough ones.
(1) Detroit vs. (8) Nashville
Nashville, and no offense to Barry Trotz who did as much as he could with a team that had been literally gutted, has no business being in the playoffs. Lucky for the Preds, they're facing a strong Detroit team that has struggled against its divisional opponents for much of the year. If there is a team in the bottom four that can give Detroit more trouble than is really fair, it's Nashville. A healthy Red Wings team, however, will be too much. This one will be over in six, but that's probably two games longer than the Red Wings would like.
(2) San Jose vs. (7) Calgary
It is hard for Sharks fans, faced with three straight years of upset and heartbreak, to be optimistic about such a tough first-round series, even after their incredible 18-2-2 run that closed out their improbable 2007-08 season. Calgary is the type of team that has, in the past, run rampant over a seemingly uninspired, unemotional San Jose team. However, if the Sharks are going to take the next step, it truly doesn't matter whether they face the tough clubs early or late, because anything less than a Stanley Cup will sting for the entire organization and everyone affiliated. If the absolute best version of both teams show up to this series, the Sharks should emerge victorious, though likely not unscathed. Jarome Iginla is a big x-factor, and Evgeni Nabokov has been often bested by his former backup, Mikka Kipprusoff. Still, it's hard to bet against 18-2-2. Sharks in six, but not a single one will be easy.
(3) Minnesota vs. (6) Colorado
Though Minnesota has long been known for its defense-first style, there is just far too much talent in this series to avoid some high-scoring affairs. It's a real toss-up in terms of who takes this series, because it's tough to know which version of the Colorado Avalanche might show up. In the end, the nod must be given to consistency, which always seems to win out when all is said and done. Minnesota in seven.
(4) Anaheim vs. (5) Dallas.
Though Dallas has slipped of late, this series should still be an epic battle. The Stars will no doubt be relishing the opportunity to not only knock of one of their most hated division rivals, but the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Meanwhile, the Ducks will be doing everything in their power to ensure that Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne did not un-retire for nothing. The Ducks will be physical and punishing, and the Stars will have to rely on their potent power play to make Anaheim's rough and tumble group pay for any foolish penalties they might take. It will also be interesting to see how an eight game "vacation" affected Chris Pronger. Either he'll be a bit rusty, which could mean an opening for Dallas to upset, or he'll be rested and chomping at the bit for some post-season action. Surely Pronger would like nothing more in the wake of what he feels was an unjust suspension than to hoist Lord Stanley's cup once again this Spring. Whoever comes out of this series will be lucky to have all their bits and pieces. Ducks in six.
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