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A look at the first round of the playoffs

Sunday, 04.12.2009 / 1:20 AM / NHL Insider

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

The final day of the regular season begins with all 16 playoff participants determined -- but not all of the first-round pairings decided.

In the East, all four pairings are set. But Philadelphia has a big game Sunday against the Rangers -- a win or an overtime/shootout loss will give the Flyers fourth place and the home-ice edge for their series against in-state rival Pittsburgh.

Only one of the four pairings in the West is set: Chicago and Calgary will square off for the first time in 13 years. The other three pairings will be determined by the outcome of one game -- St. Louis at Colorado.

Here's a look at the first-round pairings we know about and how the undecided ones could end up:

Eastern Conference:

No 1. Boston (52-19-10, 1 game remaining vs. No. 8 Montreal (41-30-11)
Season series: Boston 5-0-1 (3-0-0 at Boston, 2-0-1 at Montreal)
Montreal 1-4-1 (1-2-0 at Montreal, 0-2-1 at Boston)
Playoff history: Montreal leads 24-7
Last meeting: 2008, Montreal won conference quarterfinal 4-3

Bruins outlook: Boston went from eighth in the East last season to first, flipping with the Canadiens, who went from first to eighth. Tim Thomas is the front-runner for the Vezina Trophy, Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman lead a solid, physical defense and Marc Savard makes the offense go. The Bruins had a week to get themselves together after clinching the East and had little trouble with the Canadiens this season.

Canadiens outlook: Montreal lost its last four games and barely squeaked into the playoffs; the Canadiens couldn't even win its season finale at home to avoid the Bruins. Starting goaltender Carey Price has struggled for the past two months, the defense will miss injured Andrei Markov and the offense is potent but inconsistent. Perhaps the Canadiens' best weapon is history: They have dominated the Bruins in the playoffs over the years.

No. 2 Washington (50-24-8) vs. No. 7 New York Rangers (42-30-9, 1 game remaining)
Season series: Washington 3-0-1 (2-0-0 at Washington, 1-0-1 at New York)
Rangers 1-2-1 (1-0-1 at New York, 0-2-0 at Washington)
Playoff history: Tied 2-2
Last meeting: 1994, Rangers won semifinal 4-1

Capitals outlook: Few teams, and certainly not the Rangers, can match Washington's firepower. Alex Ovechkin led the NHL with 56 goals, and Mike Green (31) became the first defenseman since 1992-93 to reach the 30-goal mark. Alexander Semin can score, and Nicklas Backstrom is one of the NHL's best playmakers. Jose Theodore has gotten the job done in goal.

Rangers outlook: New York does not have a 60-point scorer (Washington has four players with 70+ points). The Rangers have ridden a League-best penalty-killing unit, a fast start, shootout success and the goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist to their playoff berth. But they've struggled against the Caps -- especially at Washington, where they've won just once in the last four seasons and not at all in the last two.

No. 3 New Jersey (51-27-4) vs. No. 6 Carolina (45-30-7)
Season series: Carolina 3-1-0 (2-0-0 at Carolina, 1-1-0 at New Jersey)
New Jersey 1-3-0 (1-1-0 at New Jersey, 0-2-0 at Carolina)
Playoff history: Carolina leads 2-1
Last meeting: 2006, Carolina won conference quarterfinal 4-2

Devils outlook: New Jersey appears to have regrouped, finishing 4-1-0 after an 0-5-1 slump that cost the Devils a chance at a higher finish. Martin Brodeur hasn't been as sharp as he was before breaking the all-time record for victories on March 17. The no-name defense can move the puck and play physically, and 45-goal scorer Zach Parise heads an underappreciated offense.

Hurricanes outlook: Before losing their last two games, the Hurricanes were the NHL's hottest team, winning nine in a row overall and 12 straight at the RBC Center. Cam Ward played 28 in a row before taking Saturday off and played like the goaltender who led the 'Canes to the 2006 Stanley Cup. Eric Staal, a 40-goal scorer again, leads a deep and talented group of forwards; Anton Babchuk (16 goals) has given Carolina a jolt of offense from the blue line.

No. 4/5 Philadelphia (44-26-11, 1 game remaining) vs. No. 4/5 Pittsburgh (45-28-9)
(Philadelphia needs one point to finish fourth; if the Flyers lose in regulation, Pittsburgh finishes fourth)
Season series: Pittsburgh 4-2-0 (2-1-0 at Pittsburgh, 2-1-0 at Philadelphia)
Philadelphia 2-2-2 (1-2-0 at Philadelphia, 1-0-2 at Pittsburgh)
Playoff history: Philadelphia leads 3-1
Last meeting: 2008, Pittsburgh won conference final 4-1

Flyers outlook: With six 25-goal scorers, led by 45-goal man Jeff Carter, the Flyers have the deepest attack in the NHL. Philadelphia has a potent power play and dangerous penalty killers (a League-high 16 shorthanded goals, seven by Mike Richards). The key will be Martin Biron, who had his ups and downs this season but excelled last spring -- winning two rounds before losing to the Penguins in the conference finals.

Penguins outlook: No team in the League can match the 1-2 punch of NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin (113 points) and Sidney Crosby (103). The addition of wingers Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz has given Malkin and Crosby some help up front and brought a pair of Cup-winners to the locker room. The Pens have been a different team since GM Ray Shero made a coaching change in mid-February -- Dan Bylsma's up-tempo style has been a much better fit than Michel Therrien's more patient game.


Western Conference:
No. 1 San Jose (53-18-11) vs. No. 8 St. Louis (40-31-10, 1 game remaining) or Anaheim (42-33-7)
How everything shakes out: The Sharks won the Presidents' Trophy despite a shaky last week that included a 4-3 season-ending loss at Los Angeles. St. Louis is eighth but can grab sixth and bump Anaheim to eighth with a road win at Colorado on Sunday. If the Blues don't win, they end up eighth and Columbus is sixth.

No. 2 Detroit (51-20-10, 1 game remaining) vs. No. 7 Anaheim (42-33-7) or Columbus (41-31-10)
How everything shakes out: The Ducks missed their chance to finish no lower than seventh by losing 5-4 in a shootout at Phoenix on Saturday, a little more than an hour after the Blue Jackets lost to the Wild. Both teams' placement will depend on St. Louis' game at Colorado; if the Blues finish sixth, they bump Columbus to seventh and the Ducks to eighth.

No. 3 Vancouver (45-27-10) vs. No. 6 Columbus (41-31-10) or St. Louis (40-31-10, 1 game remaining)
How everything shakes out: The Blues' run from last place in the West to a playoff berth has been nothing short of amazing. St. Louis would like to cap it by winning at Colorado on Sunday, moving the Blues all the way to sixth. If the Blues don’t win, the Blue Jackets will begin their first-ever trip to the playoffs by meeting the Canucks and St. Louis will end up eighth -- behind Anaheim, which has one more point and two more victories.

No. 4 Chicago (45-24-12, 1 game remaining) vs. No. 5 Calgary (46-30-6)
Season series: Chicago 4-0-0 (2-0-0 at Chicago, 2-0-0 at Calgary
Calgary 0-3-1 (0-2-0 at Chicago, 0-1-1 at Calgary)
Playoff history: Calgary leads 2-1
Last meeting: 1996, Chicago won conference quarterfinal 4-0

Hawks outlook: There's playoff fever in Chicago, where the Hawks are in the postseason for the first time since 2002 and will open with two games at the United Center, which will be roaring from the opening faceoff. The Hawks went through a lengthy slump but have rebounded by going 7-2-1 heading into their season final against Detroit (NBC, 2 p.m. ET) to clinch fourth place. Chicago routed Calgary three times and won once in a shootout.

Flames outlook: Calgary appeared to be running away with the Northwest Division title at midseason, but slumped badly in the final six weeks due to injuries and defensive struggles. The Flames need big series from their stars -- Jarome Iginla, Dion Phaneuf and Miikka Kiprusoff, who've struggled down the stretch and paid for it by losing the division and the home-ice edge in the opening round.









Quote of the Day

I'm hoping Bob [Murray] didn't go out and get Dany Heatley just to get someone. I'm sure he's excited and motivated.

— Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau on general manager Bob Murray's decision to sign Dany Heatley