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Ottawa-Pittsburgh, Vancouver-Dallas should provide playoff drama


Buffalo (1) vs. NY Islanders (8)

Season series: Buffalo led 3-1.

Records: Buffalo 53-22-7, 113 pts.; Islanders 40-30-12, 92 pts.

The Islanders are back in the playoffs after sitting out a year and the good news is they are 3-0 all-time in the post-season against the Sabres. The bad news is the last time they met was 1980 and their roles have reversed. First-place overall Buffalo is now a league power, with the highest-scoring team in the NHL, a swarming attack, good defence and Ryan Miller in goal. They also have injured forwards Maxim Afinogenov and Tim Connelly back from injuries. Meanwhile, Isles goalie Rick DiPietro missed the end of the season with a head injury. But the late-season acquisition of Ryan Smyth looks to have paid off.


New Jersey (2) vs. Tampa Bay (7)

Season series: Tampa Bay led 3-1.

Records: New Jersey 49-24-9, 106 pts.; Tampa Bay 44-33-5, 93 pts.

Lightning goalie Johan Holmqvist has taken the No. 1 job, but he is in tough against star Martin Brodeur, who had a shutout in Tampa on Jan. 26. A question is how the Devils will react to G.M. Lou Lamoriello taking over behind the bench in the last week of the season because he felt fired coach Claude Julien didn't have the team ready for the playoffs. The Lightning throw a one-two of 100-point men Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis at the defence-first Devils, but it was Brad Richards who had five points, plus a shoot-out winner, against New Jersey this season.


Atlanta (3) vs. NY Rangers (6)

Season series: Atlanta led 3-1.

Records: Atlanta 43-28-11, 97 pts.; New York 42-30-10, 94 pts.

The Thrashers are in the playoffs for the first time in their seven-year history against a Rangers team that finished the season on fire. The acquisition of feisty Sean Avery in February seemed to spark the Rangers, who also have Brendan Shanahan's vast playoff experience in their lineup this season to give star Jaromir Jagr a boost. And Henrik Lundqvist has been sharp in goal of late. Marian Hossa scored four times against New York, but it could be how Ilya Kovalchuk, Kari Lehtonen and Co. react to post-season pressure that makes the difference.


Ottawa (4) vs. Pittsburgh (5)

Season series: Pittsburgh led 3-1.

Records: Ottawa 48-25-9, 105 pts.; Pittsburgh 47-24-11, 105 pts.

Sidney Crosby makes his playoff debut as the 19-year-old league scoring leader and puts his band of young talent that includes rookies Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal against another group of gifted young players like Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. This could be the most entertaining series of all, with goalies Ray Emery of Ottawa and Marc-Andre Fleury of the Penguins likely to see lots of tough shots. The late-season pick-up of veteran Gary Roberts could be key for Pittsburgh, while captain Daniel Alfredsson and point man Wade Redden should give Ottawa an edge. The teams have never met in the playoffs.



Detroit (1) at Calgary (8)

Season series: Tied 2-2.

Records: Detroit 50-19-13, 113 pts.; Calgary 43-28-10, 96 pts. (before Sunday's finale)

Each team won its home games in their head-to-head meetings and while the Red Wings had a better regular season, this could be a tight series decided by goalies Miikka Kiprusoff of Calgary and Dominik Hasek of Detroit. It's also a test of new Wings leaders like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg with Steve Yzerman and Shanahan no longer there. Zetterberg is expected to return from a back injury, while Todd Bertuzzi should return from a mild concussion. A question is whether the Flames can score enough if the top line of Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay and Daymond Langkow is held in check.


Anaheim (2) vs. Minnesota (7)

Season series: Tied 2-2.

Records: Anaheim 48-20-14, 110 pts.; Minnesota 48-26-8, 104 pts.

This is what defence giant Chris Pronger's move from Edmonton to Anaheim was all about - teaming with Scott Niedermayer on the blue-line for a long playoff run. But the Ducks couldn't have found a tougher first-round opponent in the Jacques Lemaire-coached Wild, whose no-name goalie Niklas Backstrom led the league in save percentage and goals-against average. Their four meetings this season were low-scoring, one-goal games. Pierre-Marc Bouchard had four goals against Anaheim. Teemu Selanne, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and crew will need to find a crack in the Minnesota defence.


Vancouver (3) vs. Dallas (6)

Season series: Tied 2-2.

Records: Vancouver 49-25-7, 105 pts. (before Sunday's finale); Dallas 50-25-7, 105 pts.

Few picked the Canucks to make the playoffs, but goalie Roberto Luongo has been on a mission since joining them from Florida and now, in his seventh NHL season, will finally taste playoff action. He goes up against one of his Canadian Olympic team goaltending partners Marty Turco in what promises to be a tight battle. All four games between them were decided by 2-1 scores, with each team winning its games at home. The Stars are missing some toughness with big Eric Lindros nursing a groin injury and Matthews Barnaby out with a concussion.


Nashville (4) vs. San Jose (5)

Season series: Nashville led 3-1.

Records: Nashville 51-23-8, 108 pts; San Jose 51-26-5, 107 pts.

They met in last year's first round and the Sharks won 4-1, but the Predators get stronger every year. They are missing Steve Sullivan with a back injury and Martin Erat is on his way back from a sprained knee, but they've still got scoring from Paul Kariya, Scott Hartnell et al. A key will be shutting down Sharks star centre Joe Thornton, who had seven points in their four meetings this season.



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