#1 Washington vs. #8 Montreal
Regular season head-to-head: Both teams went 2-1-1; Montreal won 1 OT game, ending Washington's 13-game win streak in February, and Washington won 1 shootout.
Key players: Washington - Alex Ovechkin (50-59-109); Nicklas Backstrom (33-68-101); Alexander Semin (40-44-84); Mike Green (19-57-76); Montreal - Tomas Plekanec (25-45-70); Michael Cammalleri (26-24-50); Brian Gionta (28-18-46); Andrei Markov (6-28-34)
Goalies: For Washington, who knows. Probably Jose Theodore (30-7-7, 2.81 GAA, .911%, 1 shutout) but maybe Semyon Varlamov (15-4-6, 2.55, .909, 2 shutouts); Jaroslav Halak (26-13-5, 2.40, .924, 5 shutouts) most likely for Montreal.
Outlook: Not too many teams showed an ability to defeat Washington, and the Canadiens did it twice. Still, Montreal doesn't have the depth to match the Capitals. Halak needs to stand on his head and the Canadiens' skaters will need to find the holes in whichever goalie Bruce Boudreau uses.
Prediction: Halak will hold the fort only so long and steal a game or two, but Montreal doesn't have the defensive capability to hold the Capitals in check. Washington in six.
#2 New Jersey vs. #7 Philadelphia
Regular season head-to-head: Philadelphia 5-1 (one OT win)
Key players: New Jersey - Zach Parise (38-44-82); Ilya Kovalchuk (41-44-85); Travis Zajac (25-42-67); Andy Greene (6-31-37, 155 blocks); Philadelphia - Mike Richards (31-31-62); Jeff Carter (33-28-61); Chris Pronger (10-45-55, 189 blocks)
Goalies: Martin Brodeur (45-25-6, 2.24, .916, 9 shutouts); Brian Boucher (9-18-3, 2.76, .899, 1 shutout)
Outlook: The Flyers couldn't have picked a much better opponent than who they got. They owned the Devils in the regular season, and New Jersey has faltered in the postseason in recent years. Pronger will have his hands full trying to shut down both Parise and Kovalchuk, who seems to have found his groove in New Jersey. The Flyers underachieved much of the season and needed a shootout on the last day to qualify. They could fall into "at least we made it" mode.
Prediction: Boucher will make Philadelphia fans fears come true, but Brodeur and the Devils will make enough mistakes to keep the Flyers alive. Until the end, when Philadelphia will run out of gas. New Jersey in seven.
#3 Buffalo vs. #6 Boston
Regular season head-to-head: Boston 4-2 (1 OT, 1 SO, both won by Boston)
Key players: Buffalo - Derek Roy (26-43-69); Thomas Vanek (28-25-53); Tyler Myers (11-37-48); Boston - Patrice Bergeron (19-33-52); David Krejci (17-35-52); Zdeno Chara (7-37-44)
Goalies: Ryan Miller (41-18-8, 2.22, .929, 5 shutouts); Tuukka Rask (22-12-5, 1.97, .931, five shutouts.) Rask led the NHL in GAA and save percentage.
Outlook: Thomas Vanek returned just in time, coming back from an injury to score five goals in the final two games of the season, including four in one game. That needs to continue. Tim Connolly's (17-48-65) injury leaves some of Buffalo's offense in question but he may be back for the opener on Thursday. Rask might be a tougher nut to crack than Miller.
Prediction: But Rask will get less support up front. Buffalo in five. The over/under for goals in the series is seven.
#4 Pittsburgh vs. #5 Ottawa
Regular season head-to-head: Both teams went 2-2-0 with wide-ranging results. The Penguins won by scores of 4-1 and 8-2; the Senators earned 4-1 and 6-2 victories.
Key players: Pittsburgh - Sidney Crosby (51-58-109); Evgeni Malkin (28-49-77); Sergei Gonchar (11-39-50); Ottawa - Jason Spezza (23-34-57); Daniel Alfredsson (20-51-71); Anton Volchenkov (172 blocked shots)
Goalies: Marc-Andre Fleury (37-21-6, 2.65, .905, 1 shutout); Brian Elliott (29-18-4, 2.57, .909, 5 shutouts)
Outlook: If history is any indication, this series will be brief. In 2007, Ottawa eliminated Pittsburgh in five games. The following year, the Penguins swept the Senators. The difference is these teams are more evenly matched this time around. Pittsburgh has solid balance, with 13 players having 10 or more goals but no one dangerous outside of Crosby and Malkin, with the latter potentially spending more time in the penalty box than on the ice. Ottawa will be without Alexei Kovalev, though I don't know if that makes them better or not. Spezza and Alfredsson thrive against the Penguins all-time. Which team's role players show up could decide the series.
Prediction: Pittsburgh has been too inconsistent throughout the year, struggles at home, has a woeful power play that will wreck the season and is going against a solid goalie. Ottawa in six.
Western Conference either later tonight or Tuesday, whenever I feel like getting to it.
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