For the Eastern Conference Playoffs, Columbus Blue Jackets television color analyst Danny Gare and play-by-play analyst Jeff Rimer will breakdown the keys to each series, the players to watch and make a selection of who they believe will take one step closer raising Lord Stanley's Cup.
No. 1 Buffalo vs. No. 8 New York Islanders - Jeff Rimer
Keys to the series: Goaltender Ryan Miller stays healthy, because he is as much responsible for the Sabres success and their President's Trophy win as anybody ... Buffalo's mobile blueline, that will be a key to them winning the series.
Players to Watch:
For Buffalo, Daniel Briere, Chris Drury, Maxim Afinogenov. Briere is the leading scoerer and will have provide much of the offense, along with Afinogenov. Drury is the captain, the heart and soul of the team.
For New York, Ryan Smyth and Jason Blake. Both players will have to score and play their best hockey of the year.
Prediction: Buffalo in 4 games.
No. 2 New Jersey vs. No. 7 Tampa Bay - Danny Gare
Keys to the series: Goaltending, which is a key for any Stanley Cup team, but especially in this series with Martin Brodeur and the problems Tampa Bay has had with its goaltending ... Devils must shut down the line with Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, because the Lightning don't have secondary scoring like New Jersey does.
Players to watch:
For New Jersey, Brodeur, Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, and Brian Rafalski. Gionta and Gomez are the leaders up front for this team and scored 45 and 60 points this regular season, respectively. Rafalski led the Devils defenseman in scoring with 55 points and will be the key player in front of Brodeur.
For Tampa Bay, Lecavalier and St. Louis were the third and fith best scorers in the entire NHL this season. Only Sidney Crosby and Joe Thornton had more points than Lecavalier, who had 108 points. They must score for Tampa to win.
Prediction: New Jersey in 6 games.
No. 3 Atlanta vs. No. 6 New York Rangers - Danny Gare
Keys to the series: Goaltending on both side, Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers and Kari Lehtonen for the Thrashers ... a lot will depend on the first two games of the series, New York has to steal one early in order to win the series.
Players to watch:
For Atlanta, Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa and Keith Tkachuk. Hossa led the team with 43 goals and 100 points this season, while Kovalchuk had 42 goals. Tkachuk was traded for to help this team win in the playoffs and will have to be a factor as well.
For New York, Jaromir Jagr, Michael Nylander and Sean Avery. Jagr and Nylander led the team in points with 96 and 83, respectively. Avery brings a physical presence and give them an edge.
Prediction: New York Rangers in 6 games.
No. 4 Ottawa vs. No. 5 Pittsburgh - Jeff Rimer
Keys to the series: Goaltenders seeing their first considerable playoff action in Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT) and Ray Emery (OTT) ... offensive fire power on both sides.
Players to watch:
For Ottawa, Emery and his ability to shutdown the young guns for the Penguins. Dany Heatley was one of only two 50 goal scorers this season and had 105 points, fourth best in the league.
For Pittsburgh, the Senators may regret not trading for Gary Roberts because he will have an impact on this series and influence the young Penguins hockey club. Sindey Crosby and his ability to create chances for Pittsburgh.
Prediction: Ottawa in 7 games.
For more information on each series, go to www.nhl.com