This is how it is for round No. 1

SCOTT MORRISON -- For Sun Media

, Last Updated: 1:17 PM ET

It is most often the best round of the playoffs and, in the opinion of some coaches, the most difficult round.

And it is under way. So, better late than never, some first-round Stanley Cup playoff predictions:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

MONTREAL VS. BOSTON

Given that the Canadiens won all eight meetings with the Bruins this season and have won 11 in row dating back to last season, it would appear this series should be an easy walk. Montreal will win, but Boston will battle. The Habs' speed will be key, Carey Price will be good in goal and their power play will be too much for the Bruins.

Prediction: Canadiens in five.

PITTSBURGH VS. OTTAWA

Ottawa Senators coach Bryan Murray certainly took advantage of the Penguins loss on Sunday, without Sidney Crosby, to steer the attention away from his team and its shortcomings. First, the Penguins didn't tank. Neither they nor the Philadelphia Flyers played well Sunday, but it was a smart move to give Crosby some rest. It is hard to fathom the Senators surviving without Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher. The Penguins have two lines that can score, which is an advantage over most teams in the East.

Prediction: Penguins in five.

WASHINGTON VS. PHIL.

The burning question is whether the six-day break will suck some life out of the Washington Capitals, who were on a remarkable roll down the stretch. They won games under immense pressure, including a head-on meeting with Carolina and the must-win finale against Florida. This should be a physical, long series.

Prediction: Capitals in seven

NEW JERSEY VS. NY RANGERS

As good as Martin Brodeur is, he doesn't provide a huge edge in the goaltending matchup against Henrik Lundqvist. As good as the New Jersey Devils usually are defensively, there isn't a big edge in that department over the Rangers, either. The Rangers have a few more weapons up front and that should provide the difference against a Devils team that was shut out 11 times.

Prediction: Rangers in six

WESTERN CONFERENCE

DETROIT VS. NASHVILLE

The Detroit Red Wings are a little banged up. But they still have too much for the National Predators, who did well to make the playoffs, especially when you consider all the talent that left during the past year. The Predators will need goaltender Dan Ellis to be unconscious to steal this series and that won't happen.

Prediction: Red Wings in five

SAN JOSE VS. CALGARY

This will be a battle, but it is hard to fathom the San Jose Sharks not winning. They are as good or better in goal, have improved themselves on the blue line and have plenty of options up front, including a determined-looking Joe Thornton. Overall, this team has something to prove, which is good motivation. The only way we can see the Flames prevailing is Miikka Kiprusoff outplaying Evgeni Nabokov and Jarome Iginla carrying them on his back.

Prediction: Sharks in six

MINNESOTA VS. COLORADO

The loss of defencemen Kurtis Foster (broken leg) and Nick Schultz (appendectomy) will hurt. Those two played some serious minutes and played well. The Avs have battled injury and inconsistency, but are over the former and appear improved with the addition of Peter Forsberg. The key will be goalie Jose Theodore.

Prediction: Wild in six

ANAHEIM VS. DALLAS

We like the Ducks. They are good in goal, are deeper and better on defence with the addition of Mathieu Schneider, and they have an awesome shut-down line centred by Sammy Pahlsson. They also are tough. They had issues scoring but should have enough to go deep into the spring again.

Prediction: Ducks in six


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