According to the accepted wisdom, the first round always is the most dangerous, the round most likely to produce upsets.
But experience has taught us that trying to predict those upsets is fraught with danger.
For that matter, so is the making of playoff predictions. But we do it anyway.
Ottawa vs. Tampa Bay
Goaltending usually determines a series winner. But what if neither team has it? Any one of three goalies -- Ray Emery, Sean Burke or John Grahame -- could make the difference here. Because Tampa is the defending champion and has under-achieved all season, this one screams of upset potential. But if Martin Havlat can return to form, he'll give the Senators two powerful lines and that's too much to handle.
- Ottawa in seven
Carolina vs. Montreal
Ignore the regular-season blanking that the Canadiens endured at the hands of the Hurricanes. Over the past month, neither of these teams has looked as sharp as it did earlier. If the Canadiens had been able to beat a single team of substance in the final month of the season, there might be reason to think they could hold their own against the Hurricanes, who badly miss the injured Erik Cole. Instead, the Canadiens have struggled.
- Carolina in five
New Jersey vs. N.Y. Rangers
Be distracted by Jaromir Jagr's glitzy number all you want, the key guy on the Rangers going into this series is Darius Kasparaitis. But he missed 12 of 13 games, then came back on Tuesday and appeared to re-injure his groin. If he can play, he'll make Brian Gionta wonder why he didn't take up a non-contact sport. And without Gionta, the Devils won't win. But probably, Kasparaitis won't be around.
- New Jersey in six
Buffalo vs. Philadelphia
The Sabres' big problem is a lack of playoff experience. Chris Drury has appeared in 80 playoffs games. That's more than the combined total of 17 players on the roster. If healthy, the Flyers are a team without serious weaknesses. But Peter Forsberg has been in and out of the lineup, and even if Keith Primeau returns, which is not inconceivable, he hasn't played for two years. Still, there has to be an upset somewhere.
- Philadelphia in six
Detroit vs. Edmonton
Don't rule out the Oilers without a close look. The two teams split their season series and the Wings' lofty totals were inflated by their presence in a patsy division. The Detroit goaltending is an unproven commodity in the playoffs. But on the other hand, Edmonton isn't much better. Therefore, the series probably will be decided by factors like experience and depth. That's all on the Wings' side of the ledger.
- Detroit in six
Dallas vs. Colorado
Despite a lethargic finish and a recent proclivity to blow third-period leads, the Stars may be the best team in hockey. They're certainly as good as any Eastern team. They've got balance, depth, goaltending, playoff experience and good coaching. The Avs have many of the above with the notable exception of goaltending. Jose Theodore has not been able to regain the form he once showed, and Peter Budaj is not the answer.
- Stars in four
Calgary vs. Anaheim
There is a well-established tendency in teams managed by Brian Burke. They don't win in the playoffs. In his managerial history, Burke has won one round -- and that came only after Al MacInnis got injured and the rest of the St. Louis Blues suffered a debilitating "flu attack." There's no reason to expect a change of form here. The Flames' grinding game is absolutely no fun to watch, but it is effective.
- Calgary in five
Nashville vs. San Jose
The loss of goaltender Tomas Vokoun didn't help the Predators' chances, but Chris Mason has certainly not embarrassed himself. In the Sharks, though, the Predators find themselves coming up against the hottest team in the league. Prior to the season, many fans picked the Sharks to win the Stanley Cup and although that prediction appeared to be ill-founded for the longest time, it's not looking so bad now.
- San Jose in five