The first round of the NHL playoffs kicks off Wednesday night with the battle of Pennsylvania when the Philadelphia Flyers take on the Pittsburgh Penguins at 7:30 p.m. on the NBC Sports Network.
Read on to see who will likely win each of the first round series and why.
1. New York Rangers vs. 8. Ottawa Senators
The Senators actually won the season series between these two teams 3-1, but the key to playoff hockey is to have the best goaltender and ride him as far as he will take you. Henrik Lundqvist is the prohibitive favorite for the Veznia Trophy and he will carry the
Prediction: Rangers in 5
2. Boston Bruins vs. 7. Washington Capitals
The defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins faltered over the final half of the season, but their stingy defense and top goaltending will be more than a match for the generally sloppy play the Capitals have displayed this season.
Prediction: Bruins in 6
3. Florida Panthers vs. 6. New Jersey Devils
The Devils won their final six games and were one of five Eastern Conference teams to amass more than 100 points. The Panthers limped into the playoffs as the winners of the Southeast Division, losing eight of their final 10 games. Don't let the seeding fool you, Martin Brodeur and the Devils will easily handle the Panthers.
Prediction: Devils in 4
4. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 5. Philadelphia Flyers
This is easily the most interesting Eastern Conference series. The Pens and Flyers hate each other; their games have featured brawling, big hits and bad blood between coaches. The Flyers won four of their six meetings this year, but Sidney Crosby missed four of the meetings due to injury. He, along with criminally underrated goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, will push the Penguins over the top.
Prediction: Penguins in 7
1. Vancouver Canucks vs. 8. Los Angeles Kings
With all due respect to Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick is probably most deserving of the Veznia Trophy. He led the league with 10 shutouts, had 35 wins and lost 15 games in which he allowed two or fewer goals because the Kings offense was inept for large stretches of the season. But he can't stop the Canucks' deep forwards all on his own, and Vancouver's ability to get scoring from all four lines will prevail.
Prediction: Canucks in 6
2. St. Louis Blues vs. 7. San Jose Sharks
The Blues are a team in every sense of the word. They earned the second overall seed in the West and racked up 109 points without a single star. They play system hockey and are committed to playing air-tight defense. The Sharks are deep on experience, having made back-to-back runs to the Western Conference Finals, but they have regressed from those teams.
Prediction: Blues in 6
3. Phoenix Coyotes vs. 6. Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks are a dangerous team, especially with news that their captain Jonathan Toews could return for the start of this series. The Coyotes have a gritty veteran team in front of unsung goaltender Mike Smith. This series should be a long battle, but in the end, Smith will prevail over the Corey Crawford/Ray Emery tandem in the Chicago net.
Prediction: Coyotes in 7
4. Nashville Predators vs. 5. Detroit Red Wings
This series will be less close than many people think. True the teams split their six regular season meetings and were separated by just two points but the Red Wings were just 4-12 against playoff opponents going back to Valentine's Day. Nashville will shock the hockey world when they knock off the Wings with relative ease.
Prediction: Predators in 5
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