Act 1, Scene 1...
1. New York Rangers vs. 8. Ottawa Senators
Favouring: The Sens
One of the most improved teams from last year, if Ottawa can spread the puck and take away from the 1,338 shots the Rangers have blocked they may be able to sneak a couple by Henrik. It'll be offense vs. defense as the Sens are high scorers with 249 goals this year while the Rangers have only allowed 187, good for third best in the league.
The Bruins are defending champions, but for the first time the Capitals aren't favoured to make a strong run. This may just be the year the Caps come through, considering how poorly they did during the regular season. After squeaking into the playoffs with only days left, the Caps face a balanced unit of strength, goaltending and scoring. The Bruins are still losers of the season series having only 1 win in 4 tries, including a loss sans Alex Ovechkin. Ovie by the way, hasn't had a spectacular season with 38 goals, and will need to be the go-to for Washington in case they find themselves down a few, which seems likely. The Caps are hurting between the pipes as Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth are both out with injuries, leaving it to Braden Holtby who's only played 7 games this year.
Favouring: The Bruins
With 6 Bruins exceeding 20 goals this year and 4 marking new career highs, the dynamics in Boston are too much for a Capitals team that just aren't the same as they once were. With the uncertainty of players like Alexander Semin, Mike Green and whoever will be in net, it's hard to find a positive other than Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich and Dennis Wideman.
3. Florida Panthers vs. 6. New Jersey Devils
The Panthers are inexperienced when it comes to the post season, it's just their 4th trip in franchise history. They take on a team that have been a model of consistency having missed the playoffs only once in 15 years not including the year of the lockout. NJ coach Pete DeBoer is looking for revenge against the team that fired him 2 years ago, while Stephen Weiss plays the first playoff game of his career after a decade's worth of service in Sunrise. Devils Ilya Kovalchuck and Zach Parise come in hot with over 30 goals a piece while goalie Martin Brodeur is in search of post season win 100. They finished the year strong with 6 straight wins while the Panthers barely hung on to the division lead in the end. With the season series split at two a piece, some say experience makes all the difference.
Favouring: The Panthers
These cats are my underdog pick of the playoffs. Having gone through a major overhaul of the roster last summer, the Panthers have revitalized the careers of players lacking homes. Not only do they boast an All-Star calibre team, it's the hunger category that gives Florida the edge over their competitors. The Devils play a defensive game but Florida's D-men aren't too shabby themselves - Brian Campbell and Jason Garrison man the fort on the power play while Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleishman get it done full strength. Goalie Scott Clemmensen gets a chance to sting Brodeur, the man he used to back in Jersey.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 5. Philadelphia Flyers
The Pens had 14 more points (the equivalent of 7 wins) than the Florida Panthers but remain with the 4th seed due to the NHL's format, a clear sign there are discrepancies in the game. Either way they face the Flyers, one of their most heated rivals. Everything from on-ice brawls to off-ice sound-offs in the season series (which Philly took 4-2), this opening round will showcase twice that and more. With the surge of the Penguins and the steadiness of the Flyers, it will come down to the superstars these franchises have designated. With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading the way against Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell, the battle continues but the war is far from over.
Favouring: The Flyers
Both of these teams are tough, but Philly is downright tougher. Despite the authoritative play of the Penguins without Sid the Kid, this series demands a certain level of physicality that he may be limited to. Yes, Pittsburgh is very hot right now having ended the regular season 18-4-1, but goalie Marc Andre Fleury has to maintain his cool against a bunch of rowdy rough-housers. With Flyers goalie Ilya Brygalov's playoff performance as unpredictable as Tiger Woods' golf swing, there's a chance he'll blow it... but I'm not counting on it as he too has had some stellar numbers to end the year.