Montreal (8) vs. Boston (1): After dropping their first five meetings, the Habs went the physical route in their last meeting with the B's. The result was the same, but the penalty-filled contest set this series up to be the East's most passionate. It should be long on stitches, but short in duration. With Andrei Markov out and Matt Schneider ailing, the Habs lack the firepower to keep up with Boston's balanced offense. Montreal's centennial celebration ends with a whimper. Bruins in five.
New York (7) vs. Washington (2): There have been plenty of questions about Jose Theodore's ability to carry the load for the Caps. They won't be answered in this round. The Rangers' 29th-ranked offense showed some life after adding Nik Antropov and Sean Avery, but the Caps would have to be at their puck-fumbling worst for the Blueshirts to keep pace with the league's most dynamic offensive machine. Capitals in five.
Carolina (6) vs. New Jersey (3): I could offer a dozen reasons to support choosing either team to advance. The Devils are deep, aggressive, battle-tested and motivated by recent failures. The Canes bring superior special teams, a surprisingly effective blueline and the momentum of their 14-4-2 finish. Earlier in the season, I picked the Devils to go to the Cup final. They still could, but I think they're up against the wrong team at the wrong time. Hurricanes in seven.
Philadelphia (5) vs. Pittsburgh (4): The rematch of the 2008 conference final finds the Flyers healthier (welcome back, Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn) and the Penguins deeper (take a bow, Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin) than at this time last year. One thing stays the same: goaltending will be the difference. Marc-Andre Fleury gives Pittsburgh the edge. Penguins in seven.
Anaheim (8) vs. San Jose (1): The second all-California playoff series in NHL history stacks up to be a thing of nasty beauty. The Ducks finally found their smash-mouth groove and, led by the line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan, closed the season on a 10-1-2 tear. It's a brutal first-round draw for a team with all the pressures of Cup-or-bust aspirations like San Jose, but the Sharks will take advantage of Anaheim's parade to the penalty box and the inexperience of Jonas Hiller to carry the day. Sharks in seven.
Columbus (7) vs. Detroit (2): The defending champs have missed the playoffs or lost in the first round in each of the last five seasons. The Wings will break that streak, motivated by the addition of Marian Hossa and a focus on team defense that eluded them much of the season. Steve Mason gives the Blue Jackets an edge in goal, but this team can forget about midnight. Cinderella will be home in time to catch the 10 o'clock news. Red Wings in five.
St. Louis (6) vs. Vancouver (3): The lunch-pail Blues come into the series feeling brash and confident. But as strong as they were down the stretch, this is still a young group with a lot to learn. It could get interesting if Paul Kariya returns to the lineup, but the Canucks have a significant edge in goal and on the blueline. Defense will be the difference. Canucks in six.
Calgary (5) vs. Chicago (4): This could be over in a hurry. The core of Calgary's blueline is more likely to be wearing hospital gowns than the flaming C, and overworked Miikka Kiprusoff looked gassed as the team limped to the finish line. Chicago's inexperience has some questioning their ability to amp up their intensity, but they have a fallback. To paraphrase the great Denis Lemieux, who ownz da Flames? That would be Nikolai Khabibulin. The Hawks' stopper has a career mark of 22-5-2 against Calgary. Blackhawks in five.
Carolina (6) vs. Boston (1): Boston swept the season series 4-0 (and outscored the Canes 18-6) for a good reason. The Bruins are a deeper, more talented team at every position. Carolina's playoff experience and the dazzling play of Cam Ward will help extend the series, but Boston's advantages on special teams and in net will carry the day. Bruins in six.
Pittsburgh (4) vs. Washington (2): Which one's Bird and which one's Magic? Doesn't matter -- the playoff meeting that's danced through the dreams of the league's marketers since 2005 will see both Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby raise the level of their game and the profile of the sport. Hey, maybe we'll even see hockey on the cover of the magazine! But as electrifying as their oneupsmanship will be to watch, the series will come down to Fleury and Theodore. The Caps' keeper has never advanced a team past round two. That streak will remain intact. Penguins in seven.
Chicago (4) vs. San Jose (1): The Sharks will be battered from their first-round throwdown with the Ducks, but will still have enough to take out the Hawks. San Jose's superior special teams (especially that third-ranked power play) give them a decided edge, but the real key will be between the dots. The Sharks will dominate Chicago in the face-off circle, allowing them to dictate the flow of play . . .and the series. Sharks in six.
Vancouver (3) vs. Detroit (2): With their faith restored in Chris Osgood after the win over the Jackets, the Wings can turn this one over to their superior arsenal up front. Roberto Luongo will keep the series close, but the Canucks won't have an answer for Detroit's top-ranked power play. Look for Johan Franzen to prove last year's playoffs weren't a fluke with a big series. Red Wings in six.
Pittsburgh (4) vs. Boston (1): This will be Dennis Wideman's time to shine. With Zdeno Chara assigned to shutting down Art Ross-winner Evgeni Malkin, the underrated Wideman will take his turn in the spotlight by limiting Crosby's impact. Boston's third line of Patrice Bergeron, Mark Recchi and Chuck Kobasew will be the difference-makers up front. Bruins in six.
Detroit (2) vs. San Jose (1): The Sharks have never progressed past the third round, but with a new coach, a veteran-enhanced blueline, and the gritty depth provided by Jeremy Roenick, Claude Lemieux and Travis Moen. well, they're still up to the challenge. In the end, it'll come down to the same old failings for San Jose, with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau unable to match the intensity of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datstyuk and the rest of the battle-proven Wings. Another lesson for the Sharks to draw upon. . .next year. Red Wings in seven.
Boston vs. Detroit: The last time these teams met in the finals, the Wings won the Cup in a four-game sweep. But that was 1943 and Boston's key players were more concerned with German gun towers than Detroit goalie Johnny Mowers. This time around, the Bruins will have all hands on deck and the Wings, drained from the Sharks series, won't be able to match their compete level. Tim Thomas, all arms and legs and grim determination, will earn the Conn Smythe after the Bruins skate with their first mug since 1972. Bruins in seven.