No. 1 N.Y. Rangers (51-24-7--109 pts) vs. No. 8 Ottawa Senators (41-31-10--92 pts)
1. For whatever reason, the Senators have had the number of Rangers all-world goalie Henrik Lundqvist in the past two seasons. They beat him in two of his three starts this year, and beat the Swede two more times in 2010-11. Can this success continue in the post-season? Lundqvist also has advanced past the first round only twice in his career.
2. Can the Senators become the latest eighth seed to topple a No. 1? It has happened three times since the 2004-05 lockout and almost a fourth time last spring when the Chicago Blackhawks came within a goal of upsetting the Vancouver Canucks. The three eighth-seed teams to score a first-round upset were the Edmonton Oilers over the Detroit Red Wings in 2006, the Anaheim Ducks over the San Jose Sharks in 2009, and the Montreal Canadiens upending the Washington Capitals in 2010.
3. The way Ottawa 39-year-old captain Daniel Alfredsson played this season with 27 goals in 74 games, he likely will be back for at least another year. But you never know. This may be the final season for the popular Senators forward. He has been a big playoff performer with 45 goals in 107 career Stanley Cup playoff games and Ottawa will need his production if it has designs on an upset.
Season series - Senators 3-1-0.
Prediction - Rangers in six.
No. 2 Boston Bruins (49-29-4--102 pts) vs. No. 7 Washington Capitals (42-32-8--92 pts)
1. It's not easy being a Stanley Cup champion these days. There hasn't been a back-to-back winner since Detroit in 1996-97 and 1997-98, and only scarcely has the titleholder been able to return to the final a year after a Stanley Cup win - Dallas in 1999 and 2000, New Jersey in 2000 and 2001 and Detroit again in 2007-08 and 2008-09.
2. If Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth is unable to recover from his lower-body injury in time for the series opener, Washington will have to use the youngest and most inexperienced goalie eligible for the 2012 playoffs in 22-year-old Braden Holtby. He has never performed in a Stanley Cup playoff game and only has nine games of AHL post-season experience. At the other end of the rink, Bruins goalie Tim Thomas will turn 38 on Apr. 15. He was used down the stretch more than the Bruins wanted to because of the injury to Tuukka Rask.
3. Bruins sniper Nathan Horton missed the final 36 regular season games with a concussion. He has been skating, but Boston head coach Claude Julien remarked that Horton is not close to a return. How much will Horton's absence hurt the Bruins chance of a repeat? They went a mediocre 18-16-2 after he suffered his concussion on Jan. 22.
Season series - Capitals 3-1-0.
Prediction - Bruins in five.
No. 3 Florida Panthers (38-26-18--94 pts) vs. No. 6 New Jersey Devils (48-28-6--102 pts)
1. The Panthers return to the playoffs for the first time since 2000. It was the longest active playoff drought in the NHL.That now belongs to the Toronto Maple Leafs at seven seasons. But just because many Panthers are entering the playoffs for the first time, including rookie head coach Kevin Dineen, they do have some Stanley Cup winners in Kris Versteeg, Brian Campbell, Mikael Samuelsson, Tomas Kopecky and John Madden.
2. Devils head coach Peter DeBoer also will make his first trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs. He was behind the Panthers bench in the past three seasons and now gets to go up against his former club.
3. Will Dineen start Jose Theodore or backup Scott Clemmensen in goal? The reason we ask is because Clemmensen has gone 5-0-0 in his career against his former team.
Season series - Panthers 2-1-1.
Prediction - Devils in five.
No. 4 Pittsburgh (51-15-6--108 pts) vs. No. 5 Philadelphia (47-26-9--103 pts)
1. Both Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette and his assistant Craig Berube directed some strong, critical words at the Penguins in the past week. Laviolette didn't like the fact that Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma had his fourth line out late in a game last Sunday, when centre Joe Vitale rocked Philadelphia veteran Danny Briere with an open ice hit. Berube called Pittsburgh superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin two of the dirtiest players in the league.
2. The Penguins blew a 3-1 series lead to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round without Crosby last year. Now No. 87 has returned with a successful second comeback late this season after a three-month stay on the sidelines with another bout with concussion-like symptoms. He scored eight goals and 37 points in 22 games and the Penguins went 14-6-2 with him in the lineup this season.
3. There will be plenty of heat on Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. After a difficult middle part to the season, the high-priced free agent found his form and delivered some strong goaltending late in the year. He has a Stanley Cup ring as a backup goalie with the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks. He only made five appearances that spring, but won three games for the Ducks in the first round. Still, the 31-year-old Russian has won only one playoff series on his own.
Season series - Flyers 4-2-0.
Prediction - Penguins in seven.
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