NHL Stanley Cup playoff primer

Vancouver Canucks' Roberto Luongo makes a save against

Vancouver Canucks' Roberto Luongo makes a save against the Minnesota Wild during the second period in Vancouver, British Columbia. (April 7, 2011) (Credit: AP)

A quick-capsule breakdown of the NHL's first-round playoff games


No. 2 Philadelphia Flyers vs. No. 7 Buffalo Sabres

The Flyers are stumbling into the postseason on a 4-5-4 slide. They will likely get Chris Pronger (broken hand) back, which should help an overworked defense. There’s no help coming for Philly’s goaltending, though, with shaky rookie Sergei Bobrovsky set to start Game 1.

Buffalo does have Olympic hero Ryan Miller back in net after he missed two crucial weeks and the Sabres, who were a remarkable 16-4-4 over their last 24, are playing tight, sound hockey. So, naturally, it’s the Flyers in this one; they have the best group of forwards outside of Vancouver, and Mike Richards and Jeff Carter are too good for the Sabres’ defense.

The pick: Flyers in 6.

No. 3 Boston Bruins vs. No. 6 Montreal Canadiens

There’s so much history here -- this will be the 33rd time they’ll face each other in the postseason -- that the Zdeno Chara-Max Pacioretty incident should be all but forgotten when the puck drops in Boston.

The Bruins have a dynamic group of forwards and perhaps the best goaltending combo in the league in Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask; the Habs have a Swiss cheese defense, decimated by injury, but they do have Carey Price, who has been their MVP. The Canadiens need to score plenty to win; can’t see that happening against likely Vezina Trophy-winner Thomas.

The pick: Bruins in 6.

No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 5 Tampa Bay Lightning

The whole hockey world is wondering if Sidney Crosby can return for this series, but it seems unlikely, even though he’s been skating symptom-free for two weeks. With no Crosby and no Evgeni Malkin (torn ACL), the Pens have relied on a strong two-way system and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

The Lightning, under rookie coach Guy Boucher, tries to kill opponents with its incredible speed up front. Former Islander Dwayne Roloson could be key in goal for Tampa, which gives up a lot of chances. Despite how well Dan Bylsma has his Pens playing without their two stars, the Lightning’s stars, playoff-tested Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier, plus the old man Roloson, get the edge here.

The pick: Lightning in 7.

(Note: We'll do the Rangers more in-depth shortly and post links then.)


No. 1 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 8 Chicago Blackhawks

How to pick against the most dominating regular-season team in the league in Vancouver? Well, the Canucks are facing the defending Stanley Cup champs, who backed in with Dallas’ loss.  Chicago has an array of title-winning stars -- Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook -- but they haven’t been as balanced as they were a year ago.

Vancouver has depth galore, even though the Canucks have been killed by injuries. Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler could emerge as this year’s playoff superstar, and here’s betting he starts with a monster series in the opening round.

The pick: Canucks in 5.

No. 2 San Jose Sharks vs. No. 7 Los Angeles Kings

San Jose, behind Cup-winning goaltender Antti Niemi, has been on fire over the second half of the season, coming from as far back as 11th to grab yet another Pacific Division crown. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau still need to prove their worth in the postseason, though, and facing the Kings, with their solid goaltending and impressive young roster, will be yet another test for the Sharks.

L.A. has lost too much firepower with Anze Kopitar (ankle) out for the year, though, and San Jose is flying with more depth than its had in a while.

The pick: Sharks in 6.

No. 3 Detroit Red Wings vs. No. 6 Phoenix Coyotes

It figures that Phoenix, with all its arena and ownership woes, would have yet another fantastic season under coach Dave Tippett yet need to get by the most battle-tested
team in the league in Detroit. The Wings’ formidable group still includes Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom, Danny Cleary and Brian Rafalski; with young Jimmy Howard in goal, they could be vulnerable.

Phoenix has the edge in net with Ilya Bryzgalov and a balanced, deep lineup that sticks to its system, but the Coyotes, who lost a heartbreaker in seven last season to Detroit, may have to get used to disappointment.

The pick: Red Wings in 6.

No. 4 Anaheim Ducks vs. No. 5 Nashville Predators

Anaheim completed a huge run from outside the top eight just a week ago to home-ice in the opening round despite juggling goaltenders and with a defense that’s not exactly a bunch of household names. The Ducks do have the best line in the league, anchored by Hart Trophy candidate Corey Perry, who only scored 19 goals in the final 15 games.

Nashville, which hasn’t won a playoff series in five previous tries, may have its best shot yet, with Shea Weber anchoring a solid defense and Pekka Rinne perhaps the best goaltender in the league. This could be the Preds’ time.

The pick: Predators in 6.



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