Eastern Conference playoff preview | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaEastern Conference playoff preview

Posted: Monday, April 14, 2014 | 08:00 AM

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Justin Abdelkader, left, and the Red Wings went 3-1-0 this season against goalie Tuukka Rask's top-seeded Bruins. (Leon Halip/Getty Images) Justin Abdelkader, left, and the Red Wings went 3-1-0 this season against goalie Tuukka Rask's top-seeded Bruins. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

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With the NHL's Stanley Cup playoffs set to begin Wednesday night, here's a look at the first-round matchups in the Eastern Conference, along with predictions for each series.
With the NHL's Stanley Cup playoffs set to begin Wednesday night, here's a look at the first-round matchups in the Eastern Conference, along with predictions for each series.

(Click here for our Western Conference preview)

Boston vs. Detroit

Bruins: 54-19-9, 117 points, won Atlantic Division and East's No. 1 seed.

Red Wings: 39-28-15, 93 points, earned East's 2nd wild-card position.

3 storylines

1. Boston and Detroit will meet for the first time in the Stanley Cup playoffs since the Bruins beat the Red Wings in five games in the 1957 semifinals. Boston then lost to the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 in the final. This Boston-Detroit matchup 57 years later pits Canadian Olympic head coach Mike Babcock against one of his assistant coaches in Claude Julien. Does Babcock have an advantage because Julien's primary responsibility with the Canadian Olympic team was special teams? Or does Julien have the advantage because he knows the kind of overall system Babcock likes to play? Another important development to watch will be whether the Presidents' Trophy-winning Bruins can handle Detroit's speed with its influx of youth down the stretch?

2. The availability of Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg will be a constant story as this series progresses. He was knocked out of action playing for Sweden at the Sochi Olympics and underwent back surgery in late February. His initial recovery time was estimated at eight weeks, which puts him less than two weeks away. But although he began skating on his own last week, he has yet to join his teammates for practice.

3. Often, old teammates have to go up against one another in the playoffs. This will be the case for Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and Red Wings forward Daniel Alfredsson. But rare have been the occasions when brothers face each other, like when Scott and Rob Niedermayer played against each other in the 2003 Stanley Cup final. With Detroit and Boston, Brendan and Reilly Smith of Mimico, Ont., will butt heads. Brendan, a 25-year-old Red Wings defenceman, and the 23-year-old Reilly, a Bruins forward who scored 20 times in his first season with Boston, have clashed six times in the regular season over the past two years. But this time there will be more than their usual side bet on the line, and it certainly will not be easy on their parents, Diedre and Lester, as well as older brother Rory, who plays professional lacrosse with the Buffalo Bandits.

Season series: Red Wings 3-1-0.

Oct. 5: Bruins 4-1 at Boston.

Oct. 14: Red Wings 3-2 at Boston.

Nov. 27: Red Wings 6-1 at Detroit.

April 2: Red Wings 3-2 at Detroit.

Prediction: Bruins in 7.

Pittsburgh vs. Columbus

Penguins: 51-24-7, 109 points, won Metropolitan Division and East's No. 2 seed.

Blue Jackets: 43-32-7, 93 points, earned East's 1st wild-card position.

3 storylines

1. The Penguins always have pressure to perform in the playoffs, especially after the way they were swept by the Bruins in the East final last spring. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury will have most of the attention because, since winning the 2008-09 Stanley Cup, he's gone 14-16 with a dismal .880 save percentage in the playoffs. But defenceman Kris Letang, who looked strong in his three games back since suffering a stroke two months ago, also needs to be at his best. Finally, the Penguins need secondary scoring to support Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz. The Penguins list Malkin, who has missed three weeks with a foot injury, as questionable for the series opener. 

2. The Blue Jackets are making only their second foray into the playoffs, and how much will they miss their most experienced playoff performer, Nathan Horton, who is out six weeks after abdominal surgery? But this team is not as inexperienced as you may think. Sure, a few key players, like Ryan Johansen, Ryan Murray and Boone Jenner, will participate in their first NHL post-season. But Brandon Dubinsky (31 playoff games), Fedor Tyutin (28), Artem Anisimov (26) and Nick Schultz (24) each have played more than 20 playoff games.

3. For two years, Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards was the bench boss of the Penguins' AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. His assistant coach back then just happens to be current Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma. When Richards departed to join the San Jose Sharks' staff, Bylsma replaced him with the Baby Penguins and later was promoted to the NHL team and won the 2008-09 Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh. Bylsma and Richards teamed up once again on the United States Olympic team coaching staff in Sochi.

Season series: Penguins 5-0-0.

Nov. 1: Penguins 4-2 at Pittsburgh.

Nov. 2: Penguins 3-0 at Columbus.

Dec. 9: Penguins 2-1 at Pittsburgh.

Dec. 29: Penguins 5-3 at Columbus.

March 28: Penguins 2-1 at Columbus.

Prediction: Penguins in 6.

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Tampa Bay vs. Montreal

Lightning: 46-27-9, 101 points, 2nd in Atlantic Division.

Canadiens: 46-28-8, 100 points, 3rd in Atlantic Division.

3 storylines

1. Montreal goalkeeper Carey Price is 26 years old and in his seventh NHL season. He's won a world junior championship, an AHL Calder Cup and Olympic gold. Yet, he will be on the hot seat in the Canadiens' post-season because of his dismal performance against Ottawa last year. Price has been on the right track. He posted a career best .927 save percentage this season under the guidance of new Canadiens goalie coach Stephane Waite, and after his post-Olympic lower-body injury that kept him out for 2½ weeks he went 8-3-0.

2. The Lightning have overcome plenty of adversity this year. There was the broken leg that kept Steven Stamkos out for 45 games. There was the Martin St. Louis trade request that was acquiesced to by general manager Steve Yzerman. Now it appears Tampa Bay will be without No. 1 goalie Ben Bishop, who has an elbow injury, and fourth-liner Ryan Malone, who was charged for driving under the influence and cocaine possession early Saturday morning. Will the Lightning be able to overcome these latest setbacks?

3. In the Canadiens' unexpected run to the 2010 East final, they were able to hold in check Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby to upset Washington and Pittsburgh, respectively. Can Montreal centre Tomas Plekanec do it again against Stamkos, who scored 25 goals in 37 games this season and was solid three years ago in the Lightning's run to the East final with six goals and 13 points in 18 games?

Season series: Lightning 3-0-1.

Nov. 12: Lightning 2-1 at Montreal (SO).

Dec. 28: Canadiens 2-1 at Tampa Bay (SO).

Feb. 1: Lightning 2-1 at Montreal (OT).

April 1: Lightning 3-1 at Tampa Bay.

Prediction: Lightning in 7.

New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia

Rangers: 45-31-6, 96 points, 2nd in Metropolitan Division.

Flyers: 42-30-10, 94 points, 3rd in Metropolitan Division.

3 storylines

1. The Flyers haven't won at Madison Square Garden in their last eight outings. It doesn't help matters that the first two games of this series will be contested in Manhattan. If the Flyers can't register a win in the first two games in New York in this series they will be in serious trouble. 

2. This series looks like a mismatch in goal, especially because of how well Henrik Lundqvist played down the stretch for the Rangers. Meanwhile, Flyers netminder Steve Mason was injured in a collision in a game against the Penguins on Friday. He's been listed as day-to-day, but Philadelphia head coach Craig Berube expects Mason to be healthy for the series opener on Thursday. The 25-year-old Mason hasn't performed in a Stanley Cup playoff game since 2009, when as a member of the Blue Jackets he yielded 16 goals in a four-game sweep by the Detroit Red Wings.

3. A decade ago, Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis celebrated a Stanley Cup championship together with the Lightning. Ten years later, St. Louis and Richards will battle their old teammate in the first round. While St. Louis was coming off an Art Ross Trophy season, both Lecavalier and Richards at 33 were hoping to bounce back from a funk with the Flyers and Rangers, respectively. Richards was able to score 20 goals, and while Lecavalier struggled in his new home he did check in with five goals in his final 10 games to hit the 20-goal mark, too. It will be interesting to see how they perform in this series.

Season series: Tied 2-2-0.

Oct. 24: Flyers 2-1 at Philadelphia 

Jan. 12: Rangers 4-1 at New York

Mar. 1: Flyers 4-2 at Philadelphia

Mar. 26: Rangers 3-1 at New York

Prediction: Rangers in 6.

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