PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 1: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins moves the puck against the Boston Bruins in Game One of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on June 1, 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)
(1) BRUINS (54-19-9) vs. (4) RED WINGS (39-28-15)
Regular season: Red Wings 3-1-0.
Detroit had to overcome injuries to Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen to earn its 23rd consecutive playoff berth. The Wings’ reward? A first-round date against the juggernaut Bruins, who went 15-0-1 to close out March before cruising into the playoffs. Boston has one of the league’s top two-way centers in Patrice Bergeron, one of the top defensemen in Zdeno Chara and one of the top goalies in Tuukka Rask. But the Wings have been bolstered by young stars such as Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar and will give the Bruins a fight.
Prediction: Bruins in 6.
(2) LIGHTNING (46-27-9) vs. (3) CANADIENS (46-28-8)
Regular season: Lightning 3-0-1.
What should have been a great series between two teams that went to overtime three times might not materialize, as Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop — one of the season’s biggest surprises — was injured last week and won’t be available at the start of the series, maybe longer. That puts the spotlight on backup Anders Lindback, who had an .891 save percentage, against Carey Price, who won the gold medal in Sochi. Steven Stamkos is going to have to do an awful lot of scoring to keep up with Thomas Vanek and the Canadiens.
Prediction: Canadiens in 6.
(1) PENGUINS (51-24-7) vs. (4) BLUE JACKETS (43-32-7)
Regular season: Penguins 5-0-0.
The numbers say this will be a one-sided affair, and it very well might be. The Penguins won all five meetings, outscoring the Blue Jackets 16-7 in the process. Pittsburgh is loaded offensively with Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Lee Stempniak forming one of the league’s best lines. If Columbus is going to win this series, it’s going to have to come down to goaltending. Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky certainly is capable of stealing games, and Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury has melted down in two straight postseasons, allowing 43 goals in 11 games over that span.
Prediction: Penguins in 5.
(2) RANGERS (45-31-6) vs. (3) FLYERS (42-30-10)
Regular season: Series tied 2-2.
This, along with Blues-Blackhawks, is what the NHL had in mind when it went back to divisional playoffs. It’s an old-school Patrick Division rivalry between teams and fan bases that simply hate each other. Flyers center Claude Giroux, who has been spectacular since a slow start, can expect a heavy dose of New York’s top defensive tandem of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi. The Rangers have a big edge in goal, however, where a tried and tested Henrik Lundqvist outclasses Steve Mason. Ex- Hawk Ray Emery backs up Mason, who’s coming off an injury.
Prediction: Rangers in 7.
(1) AVALANCHE (52-22-8) vs. (4) WILD (43-27-12)
Regular season: Avalanche 4-0-1.
When they started the season 12-1, everyone assumed the Avs (29th last year) were a fluke. But Colorado — with first-year coach Patrick Roy and a host of young, speedy offensive talents — turned it on late, rocketing past the Blues for the division title with an 8-0-1 stretch. The advanced stats and possession numbers say Colorado — which has a high shooting percentage and has gotten many great efforts from goalie Semyon Varlamov — can’t keep this up forever. But when the regression to the mean happens is anyone’s guess.
Prediction: Avalanche in 5.
(1) DUCKS (54-20-8) vs. (4) STARS (40-31-11)
Regular season: Stars 2-1-0.
The Ducks boast a top-line duo that few teams can match in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. They have a seemingly endless well of goaltenders. And they once again were one of the league’s best teams, winning the West. But until Anaheim does something in the postseason, it won’t be considered a true contender. A deep run in the brutal West finally could change the perception of Bruce Boudreau and the Ducks.
Prediction: Ducks in 6.
(2) SHARKS (51-22-9) vs. (3) KINGS (46-28-8)
Regular season: Kings 3-1-1.
NBC might not agree, but this is the marquee matchup of the first round. San Jose is loaded with offensive talent and gets a boost from the return of dynamic rookie Tomas Hertl, but goalie Antti Niemi has stumbled badly down the stretch. L.A., meanwhile, has a superstar goalie in Jonathan Quick but is the lowest-scoring team in the playoffs.
Prediction: Sharks in 7.