|(1) Montreal Canadiens vs. (8) Boston Bruins|
|Regular-season series: Habs won 8-0|
10/22: Habs 6-1
11/8: Habs 2-1
11/17: Habs 7-4
12/6: Habs 4-2
1/10: Habs 5-2
1/22: Habs 8-2
3/20: Habs 4-2
3/22: Habs 3-2 (S0)
1st in N'east
The Skinny: Good news for the Bruins? First playoff berth since 2003-04. Bad news? Their foes used them like a chew toy this season, and derailed their dreams in 23 of 30 previous playoff meetings. The Habs' speed and creativity vexed the B's all season. Even with the returns of Patrice Bergeron and Marc Savard, it's hard to imagine Boston's 28th ranked PK keeping up with Montreal's top-rated PP. Alexei Kovalev is the catalyst: 7 goals, 11 points vs. B's. Boston fans can only hope that the intense playoff-style approach their team employs will yield an edge, or that unorthodox but entertaining goalie Tim Thomas steals one early and swings the momentum. Otherwise, this will be the first series to end.
The Spotlight Is On: Carey Price. After becoming the de facto starter, Price, 20, had Montreal fans dreaming of a successor to Dryden and Roy. He's yet to experience playoff intensity, but he's got a stout resume, including AHL and World Juniors titles, won his last seven games and owned Boston in all five of his starts (2.17 GAA, .932 save percentage).
X-Factor for Habs: Chris Higgins. The 27-goal scorer tends to run hot and cold, but the heat seems to be on (five goals in his last six games) and he looks primed to be a difference-maker.
X-Factor for Bruins: Phil Kessel. Sophomore wing has physical tools to be a gamebreaker, including a wicked release and tremendous imagination. What he hasn't shown much of is the courage to engage in battle down low. If he shows the will, the B's may have their way.
The Pick: Canadiens in five.
3rd in N'east
|(2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (7) Ottawa Senators|
|Regular-season series: Senators won 3-1|
11/22: Penguins 6-5 (SO)
12/13: Senators 4-1
2/23: Senators 4-3 (OT)
3/1: Senators 5-4
1st in Atlantic
The Skinny: Sens coach Bryan Murray added spice, accusing the Pens of losing their last game to get a series with Ottawa. Can you blame them? Injury-riddled Ottawa barely held on after a 15-2 start. Without captain Daniel Alfredsson and gritty forwards Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly, they'll struggle to compete. Martin Gerber (1-1 lifetime playoff record) starts in net in lieu of Ray Emery, who lost his teammates' faith with me-first antics. The Pens' offense makes headlines, but Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney led a surprisingly effective defense (10th overall, 3rd in East). Marc-Andre Fleury is 10-2-1 after return from IR in March, giving up more than two goals only once. That unit will be the difference.
The Spotlight Is On: Sidney Crosby. A high ankle sprain in January cost him 21 games. He returned for three, then missed seven. This injury is notorious for lingering. The Pens have proved they can win without him, but their Cup hopes are squarely on a vim, vigorous Crosby.
X-Factor for Pens: Marian Hossa.The bold move to acquire the sniper signaled it was damn the torpedoes time. He's scored just three goals, conjuring his old playoff choker label. Don't forget: he's playing for a very large free agent deal. With motivation like that, he'll come through.
X-Factor for Sens: Cory Stillman. A player can't get much colder (one goal in last 18 games). All will be forgiven if he finds the touch he had for the Canes' Cup team of '06 (26 points, 25 games). He had four points in four games against the Pens.
The Pick: Penguins in five.
2nd in N'east
|(3) Washington Capitals vs. (6) Philadelphia Flyers|
|Regular-season series: split 2-2|
11/2: Flyers 3-2
11/23: Caps 4-3 (OT)
1/13: Flyers 6-4
2/6: Caps 4-3
1st in S'east
The Skinny: This could get very nasty. Each finished scorching hot (Caps 15-4, Flyers 7-1-1) and presents daunting challenges. Electrifying Alex Ovechkin is capable of carrying his club (NHL-high 47 percent of his team's goals). With seven 20-goal scorers, the Flyers can swarm the young Caps' blue line with three lines that do physical damage. The Caps have an edge in net (Cristobal Huet), but with up to three regular defensemen out, they'll be hard-pressed. Philly's Martin Biron is on a two-game shutout streak, but struggled against the Caps (3.98 GAA, .872 save pct), whose momentum and confidence is key.
The Spotlight Is On: Alex Ovechkin. The Great 8 capped off his Art Ross and Richard season as hockey's hottest player in the stretch (17 goals, 30 points in 18 games). He thrives on physical play, but this is his first swim in playoff hockey. How he reacts to considerably tougher sledding will dictate the Caps' ability to advance.
X-Factor for Caps: Sergei Fedorov. The team's most battle-tested vet (162 playoff games, three Cups) will be leaned on heavily by the young Caps for on-ice leadership. He may be the key to secondary scoring (8 points in last nine games, dominating the face-off circle).
X-Factor for Flyers: Scott Hartnell. He ranks fifth on the squad with 24 goals, but his punishing physical game will make his mark. He'll take particular delight in targeting blueline greenhorns.
The Pick: Capitals in seven.
4th in Atlantic
|(4) New Jersey Devils vs. (5) New York Rangers|
|Regular-season series: Rangers won 7-1|
10/25: Rangers 2-0
11/3: Rangers 2-1 (SO)
11/14: Rangers 4-2
12/9: Rangers 1-0 (OT)
2/1: Rangers 3-1
3/19: Rangers 2-1 (SO)
3/27: Rangers 3-2
4/6: Devils 3-2 (SO)
2nd in Atlantic
The Skinny: An aficionado of the tight-checking, low-scoring game of a decade ago may have his limits tested by this spectacle of offensive ineptitude add defensive acumen. Led by Henrik Lundqvist (1.11 GAA, 2 shutouts vs. NJ), and a 96.3 pct. PK, New York played like Devils 2.0. but boasts a little more firepower up front. Jaromir Jagr and Chris Drury are at their best (14 postseason game-winners apiece). Brendan Shanahan and Sean Avery have a history of stepping up in the playoffs. Only Patrik Elias and Zach Parise pose threats. Shutting them down hasn't been a problem for the Rangers.
The Spotlight Is On: Scott Gomez. The two-time Cup-winner lit up his ex-mates for seven points in eight games and they can expect more. Gomez had perhaps his best game against them on March 27 (two key assists with bruised ribs in a 3-2 win). He's the steady contributor the Rangers can rely on in a close match (14 points in 11 playoff games in '07.
X-Factor for Devils: David Clarkson. This kid is snakebitten (two goals in last 29 games), but the Devils always find unlikely playoff scoring heroes. The big-bodied, hard-driving rookie fits the bil. His team-leading 150 hits suggest he'll make his presence felt.
X-Factor for Rangers: Nigel Dawes. The shootout master won't have much alone time with netminders now, but his creativity, confidence and success against Brodeur make him one to watch. Just 5-9, his fearless willingness to go hard to the net may be the key to the ugly goals that will tilt the balance.
The Pick: Rangers in six.
3rd in Atlantic
|Western Conference Breakdown|