Detroit Red Wings vs Calgary Flames. Split their four-game regular season series. The Flames have more offensive depth than in years past, making them tougher to defend against, but their defensive game hasn't been as strong this season. The Wings have depth at all areas, with a good mix of experienced veterans and rising young talent, but could be missing some key players (Chelios, Zetterberg, Bertuzzi) to start this series. The Flames will play the Wings hard but ultimately Detroit's depth should carry them through. WINGS IN SIX.
Anaheim Ducks vs Minnesota Wild. Split their four-game regular season series, each game being low-scoring, tight checking affairs. Expect more of the same in this series. The Ducks are a physical team with a strong offensive game and possess two of the best all-round defencemen in Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer. The Wild play their usual strong defensive system but have more scoring depth this season, led by Pavol Demitra and Marian Gaborik. Ultimately, this series could come down to goaltending, where the Wild's netminders had better regular season stats than the Ducks. WILD IN SEVEN.
Vancouver Canucks vs Dallas Stars. Split their four game regular season series, with each game ending in 2-1 scores. These are two teams that have strong goaltending and plenty of blueline depth, but lack offensive punch, as both clubs are the two lowest scoring teams in the Conference to make the playoffs. Expect this series to be a reflection of their regular season tilts. As with the Ducks and Wild, this could come down to the goaltending. Dallas' Marty Turco has playoff experience but none of it good, whilst this is Vancouver's Roberto Luongo's first post-season appearance. Luongo may not feel as much pressure to prove himself as Turco and that could make the difference. CANUCKS IN SIX.
Nashville Predators vs San Jose Sharks. The Preds won three of four during the regular season series. Nashville comes into this series with considerable depth in talent, most notably with experienced leaders like Peter Forsberg, Jason Arnott and Paul Kariya. However, they struggled down the stretch, which cost them locking up first overall in the Conference. The Sharks didn't have as strong a season as anticipated but did play well done the stretch, powered by star forward Joe Thornton. Still, there's concern about their offensive depth beyond the Thornton line, and if the other Sharks forward fail to step up if the top line is shut down, they could be in trouble. PREDATORS IN SIX.
Buffalo Sabres vs. New York Islanders. The Sabres won three of four in the regular season series. The Isles go into this series on an emotional high after qualifying in a shootout in the final game of the season, but one wonders how they'll fare without star goalie Rick DiPietro. They're facing an offensive powerhouse in the Sabres, the NHL's top team as well as one of its fastest teams, who'll be further bolstered by the return of injured players like Tim Connolly. The Isles will give it a good go but lack the depth to pull off an upset. SABRES IN FIVE.
New Jersey Devils vs Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bolts took three of four in the regular season. This will be a battle between the Devils defence, led by goalie Martin Brodeur, and the Lightning's offence, led by Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. Brodeur is capable of stealing a series by himself, while the Lightning's goaltending is shaky and their defence average at best. The Devils top forwards haven't been as strong as last season but are opportunistic, which could prove a problem for the Bolts. The Devils defence will have their hands full containing Lecavalier and company, but in the end Brodeur could make the difference. DEVILS IN SIX.
Atlanta Thrashers vs New York Rangers. The Thrashers won three of four in the regular season series. The Thrashers possess a lethal first line powered by Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa, and were bolstered down the stretch by the acquisition of Keith Tkachuk, but there's not much depth beyond them. The Rangers were red hot down the stretch, and have more offensive depth led by Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan. The bluelines of both teams are average at best, so it'll be up to their respective goaltenders to carry the day defensively. Ultimately, the Rangers experience could be the determining factor in this one. RANGERS IN FIVE.
Ottawa Senators vs Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins took three of four game in the regular season series. This one could be the marquee matchup of the first round, with considerable potential to be nasty given some of the verbal sparring between the two teams. The Penguins are a predominantly young team with an average at best defensive game, whilst the Sens have experience and defensive depth on their side. However, the Pens, led by wunderkind Sidney Crosby, are also an energetic bunch that never quits regardless of the score, whilst the Senators are still haunted by the "playoff choke" tag. Although defence usually wins playoff games, the Pens exuberance and offensive talent could push them over the top. PENGUINS IN SIX.
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