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First-round playoffs picks by Canadian Press writer Pierre LeBrun @NHLdotcom

The dark side of parity in the post-lockout NHL rears its ugly head when hockey writers around the league are asked to pick series winners.

The league is that close. After going 12-3 last spring in the 15 playoff series, there's nowhere to go but down. Here's a look at this year's picks for the first round of the NHL playoffs:

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Montreal vs. No. 8 Boston - The Bruins are already hearing how they have no chance after Montreal won all eight season-series meetings. They're used to hearing that.

"Hey, most people picked us to be last in the conference before the season," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told The Canadian Press.

If the Bruins are going to succeed, they must somehow capitalize on Montreal's playoff inexperience and steal Game 1 to see how the Habs respond. Especially rookie goalie Carey Price.

But short of a mental letdown, all the numbers indicate a Habs series win. The scariest matchup is Montreal's NHL-leading power play stacked up against Boston's 28th-ranked penalty killing. If the Bruins don't stay out of the box, this could be a short one.

Prediction - Habs in five.

No. 2 Pittsburgh vs. No. 7 Ottawa - The Senators won three out of four games against Pittsburgh this season and eliminated the Penguins in last spring's first round. But these aren't the same Senators, are they? They backed into the playoffs by winning just three of their final 10 games and begin this series without captain Daniel Alfredsson, No. 2 centre Mike Fisher and two-way forward Chris Kelly.

Just how healthy is Sidney Crosby? Of course the Penguins will say he's fine after sitting him out of Sunday's regular-season finale. High ankle sprains are funny things, though....

But it's the Sens who are without their MVP and Alfie is a major loss for a team that feeds off him, on and off the ice.

Had he been healthy we might have been tempted for the upset, but ...

Prediction - Pens in five.

No. 3 Washington vs. No. 6 Philadelphia - Two teams who missed the playoffs last year hook up here so that should negate the experience factor.

The Caps are sky high right now after going 13-4-0 down the stretch to qualify in their last regular-season game. They feel like nobody can beat them and who can blame them with the way 65-goal man Alex Ovechkin is playing, not to mention his supporting cast.

"Who knows how far this team can go in the playoffs?," wondered Caps owner Ted Leonsis to The Canadian Press.

The Flyers quietly closed things out on a pretty good run as well, going 10-4-4 in March/April including 7-1-1 in the last nine. But star centre Daniel Briere is banged up with a knee injury. He will play in this series but he won't be 100 per cent.

The two teams split the season series, one in which three of the four games were decided by one goal. This could be to be a close one.

Prediction - Caps in seven.

No. 4 New Jersey vs. No. 5 N.Y. Rangers - The Devils finally beat the Rangers in Sunday's regular-season finale to finish their season series 1-4-3 against their rivals (Rangers fans prefer to say they're 7-0-1 against the Devils this season).

It's misleading to suggest the Rangers have dominated their neighbours because they won seven of eight. Four of those went to extra time. Every game was close.

Devils superstar goalie Martin Brodeur is often the difference come playoff time but that is somewhat mitigated with Henrik Lundqvist in the other net.

The Devils get props for their defensive game, as they should, but the Rangers are right there with them. New York ranked fourth in goals against - New Jersey fifth.

A toss-up, but we can't pick a team that was shut out 11 times this season.

Prediction - Rangers in seven.

Western Conference

No. 1 Detroit vs. No. 8 Nashville - People say the Red Wings lucked out by getting an opponent from the "weak" Central Division. But the truth of the matter is that Detroit went only 17-12-3 within its division this season while pounding the Northwest to the tune of 15-2-3 and going 15-5-0 against the Pacific.

It says here that the Predators are the grittiest team to make the playoffs. They have to be. When they lost all the firepower last summer, head coach Barry Trotz moulded this team into a four-line, checking beast. The Red Wings will have to earn every inch of ice they take.

In the end, the gaping hole in skill levels on these two teams will show up, but it won't be as easy as many believe.

Prediction - Wings in seven.

No. 2 San Jose vs. No. 7 Calgary - Pity the Flames. They just happen to draw what many believe is the best team in the NHL right now, the Sharks going 14-2-2 to close out the regular season.

The Flames? They went 5-5-0 in their last 10 games and continued to frustrate fans and media with inconsistent play. Great one night, average the next. That won't cut it against a team of San Jose's calibre.

What could help the Flames is that the Sharks have a ton of pressure. They've been picked by many to win the Cup and that could play on them early in the series if Calgary steals one.

Otherwise, we don't like Calgary's chances.

Prediction - Sharks in five.

No. 3 Minnesota vs. No. 6 Colorado - The Wild are attracting some late-season love as a possible Cup sleeper.

They won the season series with Colorado 5-2-1 and were 4-0-0 at home. But the Avs took on a new look at the trade deadline when they brought in Peter Forsberg, Adam Foote and Ruslan Salei, not to mention star players Joe Sakic, Ryan Smyth and Paul Stastny all missed significant time this season.

The Wild also have a decided edge in special teams, but Forsberg's arrival has ignited the Colorado power play.

We'll go against the grain here, unable to ignore the nostalgic reunion of Forsberg, Sakic and Foote.

Prediction - Avs in seven.

No. 4 Anaheim vs. No. 5 Dallas - Hockey Night In Canada host Ron MacLean picked the Stars to win this one Saturday night.

The Stars have won five of the eight meetings this season although the Ducks took the last two. Keep in mind Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne were still in semi-retirement when Dallas won some of those first few games.

Dallas won only four of its final 14 games (4-8-2), not a good sign.

Stars goalie Marty Turco shook off his playoff demons last spring against Vancouver in a seven-game loss. But it's hard to argue with J.S. Giguere's playoff resume. The Ducks goalie has the best winning percentage among active NHL goalies (.689), going 31-13 in his career. He's won a Cup, gone to the final and to the conference final.

This will be a war, but we disagree with our friend Ron.

Prediction - Ducks in seven.

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