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Signs of spring: A quick look at the NHL's first-round playoff matchups

Let the chase for the Stanley Cup begin.

The NHL's final playoff matchups weren't set until the 1,230th—and final—regular season game was completed on Sunday night.

A 5-3 victory by Minnesota over Dallas put an end to the playoff hopes of the Stars, who fell two points short of Chicago in the Western Conference. As a result, the Blackhawks will have the opportunity to win their second straight Stanley Cup.

They are among 16 teams who are still alive. Here's how the first-round matchups stack up:

Eastern Conference

Washington (No. 1) versus N.Y. Rangers (No. 8)

Season series: Rangers went 3-1-0.

Upset in the first round a year ago, the Capitals put all of their focus this season on getting ready for the playoffs. The most notable change was a decision to focus on defence, which saw coach Bruce Boudreau's team allow 36 fewer goals.

On the flip side, they scored at a much lower pace—averaging 1.14 fewer goals per game—a trend that is reflected in Alex Ovechkin's career-worst totals of 32 goals and 85 points.

The Rangers backed their way into the playoffs and are dealing with an ankle injury to heart-and-soul forward Ryan Callahan. However, goalie Henrik Lundqvist led the league with 11 shutouts and offers them the best chance at an upset.


Philadelphia (No. 2) versus Buffalo (No. 7)

Season series: Flyers went 2-1-1.

It's playoff time again so that can only mean one thing in Philly—there's uncertainty in goal.

Rookie Sergei Bobrovsky will start the series as the No. 1 man but could be replaced by Michael Leighton if he stumbles. Leighton, recently recalled from the AHL, helped the Flyers reach the Stanley Cup final a year ago.

Veteran defenceman Chris Pronger has missed 16 games with a hand injury but might be ready to return to Philadelphia's lineup.

Buffalo has been one of the hottest teams in the NHL since the all-star break and had Ryan Miller back in net over the weekend after he missed time with an upper-body injury. The Sabres are looking to advance past the first round for the first time since 2007.


Boston (No. 3) versus Montreal (No. 6)

Season series: Canadiens went 4-2-0.

Somewhat lost in all the focus on bad blood—and make no mistake, there is plenty of it between these teams—is the fact the series will feature two of the NHL's top goalies.

Boston's Tim Thomas is the favourite for the Vezina Trophy after setting a NHL record with a .938 save percentage while Montreal's Carey Price tied for the league lead with 38 victories.

With those two on top of their game and the fallout from the Zdeno Chara-Max Pacioretty incident sure to be felt, this promises to be a physical, low-scoring affair.

"They play with a lot of fire," said Price. "It's just going to be good old-fashioned hockey."


Pittsburgh (No. 4) versus Tampa Bay (No. 5)

Season series: Teams split 2-2-0.

The Penguins managed to hang tough despite playing without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for almost half a season.

They've relied on scoring by committee without their star players and will lean heavily on goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Crosby has yet to be cleared for contact in practice and is unlikely to make an appearance in the series.

Tampa returns to the post-season after missing the last three years and should have the edge offensively. Veteran forward Martin St. Louis finished the season with 99 points and is complimented nicely by Steven Stamkos and a resurgent Vincent Lecavalier.

Dwayne Roloson is a somewhat of a question mark in goal. The 41-year-old hasn't appeared in a playoff game since helping Edmonton reach the Stanley Cup final in 2006.

Western Conference

Vancouver (No. 1) versus Chicago (No. 8)

Season series: The Canucks went 2-1-1.

Nothing short of the Stanley Cup will do for the Canucks, who captured the franchise's first Presidents' Trophy.

They'll have to overcome familiar foe to make it happen. Chicago dispatched Vancouver from the playoffs the last two years but will find itself asan underdog this time around.

On paper, this is the strongest Canucks team ever with three players inside the top-15 in NHL scoring—including Art Ross Trophy winner Daniel Sedin—and goaltender Roberto Luongo coming off one of his strongest seasons. Another piece of good news came over the weekend when defenceman Dan Hamhuis returned from a concussion.

Chicago was fortunate to qualify for the playoffs after failing to beat Detroit on Sunday and will be in tough to win a second straight championship. It will be the first NHL playoff series as a No. 1 goalie for Corey Crawford, who spent last year in the AHL.


San Jose (No. 2) versus Los Angeles (No. 7)

Season series: Sharks went 3-1-2.

Goaltender Antti Niemi leads the Sharks into the playoffs and will be looking to win the Stanley Cup for the second time in as many years.

Niemi, signed away from Chicago last summer, had a strong second half of the season. The Finn won nine of his final 11 starts.

San Jose's big three forwards—Patrick Marleau (73), Joe Thornton (70) and Dany Heatley (64)—each finished with lower point totals than a year ago and will need to step it up for the franchise to finally get over the hump.

Los Angeles enters the series without leading scorer Anze Kopitar, but is hoping to get Justin Williams back from a dislocated shoulder. He's been cleared to return to practice this week.


Detroit (No. 3) versus Phoenix (No. 6)

Season series: The Coyotes went 2-0-2.

A rematch of a first-round series from last year, which was won by the Red Wings in seven games.

Detroit earned 100 points for the 11th straight season and is seeking its fifth Stanley Cup in the last 14 years. However, the Red Wings stumbled down the stretch and forward Henrik Zetterberg remains questionable for the start of the series with an apparent knee injury.

The Coyotes put together another solid year despite only having one player (Shane Doan) reach 20 goals. Ilya Bryzgalov has been a rock in goal and could end up being a key to this series.


Anaheim (No. 4) versus Nashville (No. 5)

Season series: The Predators went 3-1-0.

The Ducks roared into the playoffs thanks in large part to Corey Perry, who scored 19 goals over the final 16 games to put himself in contention for the Hart Trophy as league MVP.

Dan Ellis, Anaheim's third goaltender, could get the call in Game 1 because Ray Emery is battling a lower-body injury and Jonas Hiller continues to struggle with vertigo.

The Predators finished the season on a 9-2-1 run, but failed to clinch home-ice advantage by losing to St. Louis on Saturday night. Goaltender Pekka Rinne has been the team's top performer with a .930 save percentage and 2.12 goals-against average.

Nashville is hoping to advance past the first round for the first time in franchise history.


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