First-round playoff previews

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

EASTERN CONFERENCE

OTTAWA SENATORS (1) VS. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (8)

The 1992 expansion babies meet in the playoffs for the first time, with the Cup champion Lightning in tough against the season-long favourites to take the Eastern crown.

Neither team has been impressive since the Winter Olympics, but the Senators have more than enough reserves to slice through the inconsistent Bolts. However, the same thing often was said in their playoff rounds against the Maple Leafs.

CAROLINA HURRICANES (2) VS. MONTREAL CANADIENS (7)

No Swiss neutrality declared in the nets here, as Martin Gerber of the Hurricanes does battle with David Aebischer (or Cristobal Huet) of the Canadiens.

If the balanced Carolina attack scores at the same clip as the regular season -- 51 more goals than the Habs -- then this will be a quick series, never mind the hidden hand of Canadiens' playoff ghosts.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS (3) VS. NEW YORK RANGERS (6)

Just when it appeared the Devils were dead, they parted the Hudson River, won their final 11 games and set up a winnable series with the rival Rangers.

Cracks began appearing this month in New York's excellent season and a methodical Jersey team with a hot Martin Brodeur needs no introduction at MSG. However, the Rangers have been away from the playoffs since 1997 and with Jaromir Jagr on a tear, they won't go away easily.

BUFFALO SABRES (4) VS. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (5)

The Flyers acquired Peter Forsberg to put them over the top in the spring, but he must shake off some rust. The Sabres' best advantage in this series is goaltending and a near-perfect record at home against Philly.

Philly's youth will be tested by the hard-working Sabres, but the Flyers are an improved team from the one which went to the 2004 conference final.

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WESTERN CONFERENCE

DETROIT RED WINGS (1) VS. EDMONTON OILERS (8)

This is a big-time role reversal from their most recent meeting in the 1980s, when the Oilers' dynasty twice blew the Red Wings out in five games.

Say what you will about Detroit's soft Central Division schedule, they won the Presidents' Trophy and (before last night) were 18-5 after the Olympics, including two wins over Edmonton.

The Oilers are just happy not to be playing Dallas in the first round after going 0-5 against the Stars since 1997.

DALLAS STARS (2) VS. COLORADO AVALANCHE (7)

Many believe the Stars are the true Cup threat in the West, though the Wings shocked goalie Marty Turco with three late goals to win a closely monitored game on Monday.

Colorado, and Joe Sakic in particular, have a proud playoff history, but Jose Theodore better get hot in a hurry. He never made it past the second round with Montreal.

CALGARY FLAMES (3) VS. ANA. MIGHTY DUCKS (6)

Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff has a 1.85 goals-against average in the post-season and is coming off a regular season with a 2.07 mark, as well as 10 shutouts.

Hats off to the upstart Mighty Ducks, but assuming that Calgary sniper Jarome Iginla can engineer a couple of goals, the Flames should have enough power to shut down Anaheim.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS (4) VS. SAN JOSE SHARKS (5)

The Sharks almost made it to the Stanley Cup final in 2004 and now they have one of the hottest scoring trios in the league in Joe Thornton, Jonathan Cheechoo and Patrick Marleau.

The Predators were making all the right moves this year toward a Cup run, but now they will have to do it with Chris Mason doing a better-than-average impression of lost netminder Tomas Vokoun.


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