Stevenson predicts the first round

Ottawa Senators Ben Bishop looks for the puck during a game against the Boston Bruins in Ottawa on...

Ottawa Senators Ben Bishop looks for the puck during a game against the Boston Bruins in Ottawa on April 5, 2012. (TONY CALDWELL/QMI Agency)

Chris Stevenson, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:24 PM ET

EASTERN CONFERENCE

New York Rangers (1) vs. Ottawa Senators (8)

That sound you heard from the nation's capital was a deep breath after the Senators lost Saturday to the New Jersey Devils and slipped to eighth place, avoiding a matchup with the Boston Bruins and getting a date with the Broadway Blueshirts. The Senators love New York, with an 11-2-1 record at the World's Most Famous Arena since the lockout (the Senators are 3-1 against the Rangers this season, with team speed giving them an edge). There have been three previous upsets by eighth seeds since the lockout and the Senators will make it four this time around. Senators in 7.

Boston Bruins (2) vs. Washington Capitals (7)

I don't think the Bruins are going to have a successful defence of the Stanley Cup championship, but they have enough to beat the Caps over a seven-game series. The matchup of Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara against Washington captain Alex Ovechkin has the potential to be epic. The Caps have Nicklas Backstrom back (he played four games coming back from a concussion), but goals will be tough to come by against the B's (Caps are 21st in offence against Bruins' sixth-ranked defence). Bruins in six.

Florida Panthers (3) vs. New Jersey Devils (6)

Do you think former Panthers coach Pete DeBoer will want to win this one? That's a good story line when it comes to this series, though it comes off as the least compelling of the matchups in the East. Both the Devils (ninth) and Panthers (12th) got where they are on the backs of their defence. The Panthers rode their power play (seventh) for a chunk of their 27th-ranked offence , but here come the Devils with the top penalty-killing unit in the league. Devils in six.

Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (5)

This is the marquee matchup of the first round, with the league's two top offences and and a fierce rivalry that saw both clubs fine-tune their hate for each other down the stretch. The Flyers won the season series 4-2, but the Pens were without Sidney Crosby for most of the season. The wild card in this one is Philly goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. He's won one playoff series in his career (12-13 record overall). If he's the goalie we saw in March (10-2-1, .947 save percentage, 1.43 goals against average), this one will be close, but not close enough for Flyers. Penguins in seven.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Vancouver Canucks (1) vs. Los Angeles Kings (8)

The Canucks have their demons, but it's tough to see the Presidents' Trophy winners finding a way to lose against the league's 29th-ranked offence. The Kings averaged just 2.29 goals a game, ahead of only the Minnesota Wild this season. The Kings, backed by Vezina contender Jonathan Quick, were second in defence, so it's no secret how this needs to go for the Kings to have a chance. The Canucks should have more than enough offence to take care of business. Canucks in five.

St. Louis Blues (2) vs. San Jose Sharks (7)

The Sharks had an inconsistent regular season and the Blues emerged as one of the great stories after installing Ken Hitchcock as head coach. Under Hitchcock, the Blues became maybe the toughest team in the league to play against, contesting every inch of the ice. The Sharks have never had the reputation for being a team that can get down and dirty, so this is not going to be pretty for them. If this was a UFC match, the suffocating Blues would make the Sharks tap out. Blues in six.

Phoenix Coyotes (3) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (6)

The Coyotes (42-27-13, 97 points) get home ice despite having the poorer record (the 'Hawks were 45-26-11, 101 points). The Coyotes, in what could be their swan song in the desert, are the hottest team in the Western Conference going into the playoffs, backed by the goaltending of Mike Smith. The 'Hawks, without captain Jonathan Toews (concussion) since February, have struggled with consistency and defence this season. Coyotes in seven.

Nashville Predators (4) vs. Detroit Red Wings (5)

The 4-5 matchup, the result of the ridiculous rule which seeds the division winners 1-2-3, makes for dramatic hockey because one very good hockey club, one which rightfully considers itself a Cup contender, will be going home after the first round. The Predators have the look of a club on the rise against a former champion with a weakening grasp on excellence. This one might just come down to home ice so, by the narrowest of margins, the Preds will take this one. Predators in seven.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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