Washington Capitals (1) vs. Montreal Canadiens (8)
On paper this appears a mismatch. The Capitals secured the President's Trophy as the league's top regular-season team, boasting the league-leading offense powered by superstars Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green.
By contrast, the Canadiens struggled in the season's final weeks to make the playoffs, due in large part to an anemic offense which ranked among the NHL's lowest. Their special teams (second-best power play, 11th-best penalty kill) might help the Habs make things interesting in this series.
If there's one area where the Canadiens might have an edge it's between the pipes, as Jaroslav Halak ranked among the top goalies in the league, while Washington veteran Jose Theodore has yet to carry a team deep into the postseason. The Capitals' defensive game remains a concern but against the pop-gun Habs offense might not be a significant problem.
Prediction: Capitals in five
New Jersey Devils (2) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (7)
This series features one of the league's better offensive teams in the Flyers squaring off against one of the top defensive teams in the Devils.
Although the Flyers won the season series they barely squeaked into the playoffs due in part to their revolving-door goaltending, while workhorse goalie Martin Brodeur was a big reason the Devils cruised to a postseason berth. It'll be interesting to see if the aging Brodeur can shake recent criticism his regular season workload leaves him little in the tank for the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Flyers' hopes rest upon backup Brian Boucher, who hasn't played a meaningful postseason game in 10 years. If the Flyers can wear down Brodeur, they might have a chance. The Devils also hope late-season addition Ilya Kovalchuk lights it up in the postseason as he did down the stretch. Ultimately the Devils' stifling defensive game should shut down the struggling Flyers.
Prediction: Devils in six
Buffalo Sabres (3) vs. Boston Bruins (6)
On paper, a healthy Sabres roster would appear to have the edge over the injury-plagued Bruins. Buffalo was 10th overall in goals despite a disappointing season for sniper Thomas Vanek while injuries and slumps pushed Boston into dead last in the league in that category.
The Sabres are backstopped by Ryan Miller, whose performance this season should make him a nominee for the Hart and Vezina trophies. The Bruins, however, still ranked among the league's best defensive clubs and rookie goalie Tuukka Rask led the league in goals-against average and save percentage. This could shape up to be a goaltenders duel between Miller and Rask but the former's postseason experience could prove the decisive factor.
Expect this to be a long one but the Sabres should be able to grind out a series victory.
Prediction: Sabres in seven
Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs. Ottawa Senators (5)
The Penguins, fifth in goals largely due to team captain Sidney Crosby, seem to have the offensive edge over the Senators, who were 15th in scoring and recently lost Alex Kovalev to a knee injury. The Penguins, however, need a struggling Evgeni Malkin to regain his scoring touch and help Crosby carry the load.
The bulk of the Senators' offense comes from Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, who unchecked can do considerable offensive damage.
Goaltending could also be an area of concern for both teams. Penguins starter Marc-Andre Fleury struggled down the stretch while Senators netminder Brian Elliott is a playoff novice.
This series could come down to which club best contains the other's top forwards. Given Crosby's proven offensive postseason play and the Penguins' experience as defending champs the edge should go to Pittsburgh.
Prediction: Penguins in six