A capsule look at the first round of the NHL playoffs:
BOSTON (54-19-9) vs DETROIT (39-28-15)
SEASON SERIES: Detroit won 3-1. Early in their last meeting on April 2 at Joe Louis Area, the Red Wings didn’t look as if they played in the same league as the Bruins. But the Red Wings rallied with two goals midway through the third period and held on for a 3-2 win that snapped Boston’s franchise-record road winning streak at nine and its point streak at 16 games.
STORY LINE: The Bruins were the NHL’s best team for much of the season and finished with a league-high 117 points to win their first Presidents’ Trophy since 1990. They are expected to get past Detroit, but it probably won’t be easy. The Red Wings extended their post-season streak to 23 seasons, the fifth-longest in league history, despite a slew of injuries that forced them to use prospects from the AHL earlier than planned.
BOSTON’S KEY PLAYER: Jarome Iginla. The 36-year old forward showed he can still be a star, scoring 30 goals to tie Patrice Bergeron for the most on the team, and had 61 points. He has to produce in the playoffs after being held pointless by Boston when the Bruins swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in last year’s Eastern Conference finals.
DETROIT’S KEY PLAYER: Jimmy Howard. The goaltender likely has to play the way he did when he had 33 saves in Detroit’s last game against Boston to give the Red Wings their best chance to advance at least once in the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years. Howard had an uneven season, giving up 2.66 goals a game. He is 20-22 in his playoff career with a 2.57 goals-against average.
PREDICTION: Bruins in 7.
TAMPA BAY (46-27-9) vs. MONTREAL (46-28-8)
SEASON SERIES: Tampa Bay won 3-0-1. The Lightning won three closely contested games, giving up only one goal in each of their three wins, and lost 2-1 in a shootout on Dec. 28, 2013.
STORY LINE: Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop, who was dominant in the four games against Montreal, is expected to miss at last the start of the seven-game series because of an upper-body injury. If the Canadiens can take advantage of Anders Lindback, who has been in net for only one post-season game in his career, they probably will advance in the playoffs for the first time since reaching the Eastern Conference finals in 2010.
TAMPA BAY’S KEY PLAYER: Lindback. He likely was expecting to sit and watch in the playoffs because Bishop had a fantastic season. Lindback won just eight of 22 games, giving up nearly three goals a game during the regular season. His previous playoff experience consists of one game in 2001 with the Nashville Predators.
MONTREAL’S KEY PLAYER: Max Pacioretty. The sixth-year forward scored a career-high 39 goals in the regular season. For Canada’s only NHL franchise in the playoffs, Pacioretty has to keep lighting the lamp. He did not have a goal or an assist in four games last year in his first post-season appearance, leading to a first-round exit against Ottawa.
PREDICTION: Canadiens in 6.
PITTSBURGH (51-24-7) vs. COLUMBUS (43-32-7)
SEASON SERIES: Pittsburgh won 5-0. The Sidney Crosby-led Penguins swept the season series, outscoring Columbus 16-7 with an average of one goal on the power play per game.
STORY LINE: The Penguins probably have the easiest first-round matchup, but any team still playing is good enough to advance. And the 2009 Stanley Cup champions were eliminated in the opening round in 2011 and 2012.
PITTSBURGH’S KEY PLAYER: Crosby. He joined Mario Lemieux (six), Jaromir Jagr (five) and Evgeni Malkin (two) as Penguins who have won multiple Art Ross Trophies after leading the league with 104 points.
COLUMBUS’ KEY PLAYER: Sergei Bobrovsky. The goaltender is a big reason why the Blue Jackets won a franchise-record 43 games and earned a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and just the second time since becoming an NHL franchise during the 2000-01 season. He faced Pittsburgh once this season, giving up three goals on 13 shots in relief of Curtis McElhinney in a 4-2 loss on Nov. 1.
PREDICTION: Penguins in 5.
NEW YORK RANGERS (45-31-6) vs. PHILADELPHIA (42-30-10)
SEASON SERIES: Tied at 2. The Rangers and Flyers alternated winning games in the regular season with only one matchup—Philadelphia’s 2-1 victory on Oct. 24 at home—decided by one goal.
STORY LINE: The Rangers have advanced in each of the last two postseasons, reaching the conference finals in 2012, and are hoping to do it again under first-year coach Alain Vigneault.
NEW YORK’S KEY PLAYER: Martin St. Louis. The Rangers made perhaps the boldest move before the trade deadline, acquiring the high-scoring forward from Tampa Bay for rugged forward Ryan Callahan, and it didn’t pay off in the regular season. Last year’s NHL scoring champion had only one goal in 19 games with the Broadway Blueshirts.
PHILADELPHIA’S KEY PLAYER: Claude Giroux. He was snubbed by Hockey Canada when it assembled a team for the Sochi Games that went on to win consecutive Olympic gold medals, but the Flyers may have benefited because he got some rest and some motivation. Giroux matched a career high with 28 goals and has 55 points in 50 career playoff games.
PREDICTION: Rangers in 7.
COLORADO (52-22-8) vs. MINNESOTA (43-27-12)
SEASON SERIES: Colorado won 4-0-1. The Avalanche did not score on the power play against the Wild during the regular season, yet still averaged three goals a game and added another score that does not officially count in their shootout victory.
STORY LINE: The Avs had a remarkable turnaround, going from 29th overall in the NHL to third under rookie coach and former goaltending great Patrick Roy. The Wild earned a spot in a second straight post-season for just the second time in franchise history and are hoping to advance for the first time since reaching the 2003 conference finals.
COLORADO’S KEY PLAYER: Nathan MacKinnon. Colorado took advantage of last year’s poor record by taking MacKinnon with the No. 1 overall pick. He led first-year players with 63 points and had a 13-game point streak, the longest by an 18-year-old player in the NHL, surpassing Wayne Gretzky’s mark from the 1979-80 season.
MINNESOTA’S KEY PLAYER: Zach Parise. The Wild brought him back home to Minneapolis as free agent, entering the 2012-13 season, and he has done well in each of his two regular seasons. Last year in the playoffs, though, he had only one goal in a five-game series against Chicago.
PREDICTION: Avalanche in 5.
ST. LOUIS (52-23-7) vs. CHICAGO (46-21-15)
SEASON SERIES: St. Louis won 3-2-0. The Blues won the first three games, the first by a goal and the next two in shootouts, before the Blackhawks rolled to 4-0 and 4-2 victories within the last month.
STORY LINE: Both teams expect to be at or near full strength for Game 1 on Thursday night in St. Louis. The banged-up Blues had T.J. Oshie skating for the first time since getting hit in the face last week. St. Louis’ David Backes (foot), Patrik Berglund (upper body) and Vladimir Sobotka (lower body) and Vladimir Tarasenko (broken right thumb) also have been injured. Chicago’s Patrick Kane (left knee) and Jonathan Toews (upper body) have been resting to get ready for the playoffs.
ST. LOUIS’ KEY PLAYER: The Blues made a bid to win their first Stanley Cup by acquiring standout goalie Ryan Miller during the season from Buffalo, but he wasn’t good enough to overcome his team’s injuries. He lost his last five starts, giving up 18 goals. Miller helped the Sabres advance to the conference finals in 2006 and 2007.
CHICAGO’S KEY PLAYER: Patrick Sharp. Kane and Toews get a lot of credit, and rightfully so, for helping Chicago win the Stanley Cup last year and in 2010. Sharp, quietly, scored a combined 38 points in those championship-winning postseasons and led the team with a career-high 78 points this season.
PREDICTION: Blackhawks in 6.
ANAHEIM (54-20-8) vs. DALLAS (40-31-11)
SEASON SERIES: Dallas won 2-1. Corey Perry had two goals and Teemu Selanne scored once when the Ducks overcame a two-goal deficit to beat the Stars 6-3 early in the season. Dallas won the next games 6-3 and 2-0.
STORY LINE: The Ducks had the most points in the Western Conference for the first time since they joined the NHL two decades ago. They want to send 43-year-old Selanne out with a championship in what is expected to be his final season. The Stars accomplished something by just making it to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
ANAHEIM’S KEY PLAYER: Ryan Getzlaf. The 6-4, 221-pound centre had a career-high 31 goals and 87 points, ranking second in the league in scoring and trailing only his 91-point season from five years ago. The Ducks hope Getzlaf’s success in the regular season carries over into the post-season as it did in 2009 when he had 18 points in 13 games.
DALLAS’ KEY PLAYER: Tyler Seguin. The forward has been everything Stars general manager Jim Nill hoped he would be after dealing Loui Eriksson to Boston last summer in a seven-player deal to acquire him. The No. 2 pick overall from the 2010 NHL draft had career highs with 37 goals and 84 points in Dallas.
PREDICTION: Ducks in 6.
SAN JOSE (51-22-9) vs. LOS ANGELES (46-38-8)
SEASON SERIES: Los Angeles won 3-1-1. The Kings took the closely contested series in the regular season, winning only once by more than a goal.
STORY LINE: In perhaps the first-round series with the most intensity, San Jose hopes home ice is an advantage after losing at Los Angeles in Game 7 of the second round last year. The Sharks got past the Kings in six games in their opening-round series four years ago.
SAN JOSE’S KEY PLAYER: Joe Pavelski. The do-it-all forward has had the best year of his eight-year career. He scored 41 goals—10 more than his previous career high—and had 79 points to surpass what he did during the 2010-11 season by 13 points. The Sharks’ leading scorer will have to produce against Jonathan Quick to help them advance.
LA’S KEY PLAYER: Anze Kopitar. The offensively challenged team needs its leading scorer from the past seven seasons to keep the goals coming against Antti Niemi in the series. When the pride of Slovenia was at his best in the playoffs, he had 20 points in 20 games to help the Kings hoist the Stanley Cup in 2012 for the first time in franchise history.
PREDICTION: Kings in 7.
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