THE 2011 NHL STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
(1) Washington Capitals vs. (8) New York Rangers
-- Season Series: Rangers won 3-1 including past meeting 6-0 on Feb. 25.
-- Recent postseason history: The Capitals are the east's top seed for the second consecutive season. Washington was upset by No. 8 Montreal in the opening round last year. The Rangers missed the playoffs last season and was knocked out of the first round by Washington in 2009. New York hasn't been to the east finals since losing to Philadelphia in 1997.
-- What to Watch: It appeared the Capitals were going to be stuck as a middle seed before they took off and caught not only Tampa Bay in the Southeast, but Philadelphia in the conference race. The Capitals aren't scoring as much as usual, but are better on defense. Although Washington employs three goalies, there is no doubt who runs the show in New York. Henrik Lundqvist had another exceptional season and knows he can beat the Caps. New York outscored Washington 15-1 in its three wins against the Caps this season.
-- Prediction: Capitals in 6.
(2) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (7) Buffalo Sabres
-- Season Series: Split the four games with Buffalo winning the final two including 4-3 on April 8.
-- Recent postseason history: The Flyers snuck into the playoffs as the seventh seed last year and advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Buffalo returned to the playoffs after a two-year absence last year and were knocked out by the Bruins.
-- What to Watch: The Sabres stormed into the postseason by winning 16 of their final 24 games and are led by Team USA goalie Ryan Miller. Philadelphia, meanwhile, has been sleepwalking a bit, winning just seven of its final 20. Philadelphia slipped to the second overall seed during that time. Buffalo definitely has the goaltending edge as the Flyers roll out rookie Sergei Bobrovsky, but Philadelphia is battle tested. This should be a fun series.
-- Prediction: Flyers in 6.
(3) Boston Bruins vs. (6) Montreal Canadiens
-- Season Series: Montreal won four of the six games although Boston won the final meeting 7-0 on March 24.
-- Recent postseason history: The Bruins looked to have a berth in the 2010 conference finals sewn up before Philadelphia stormed back from an 0-3 deficit to win. Montreal charged through the east last year as the eighth seed before losing to the Flyers in the east finals.
-- What to Watch: This should be a lot of fun. These two teams have a long rivalry as Original Six franchises, although its warmed up of late. On Feb. 10, the two teams played through a brawl-filled game. Then, last month, Boston d-man Zdeno Chara slammed Max Pacioretty up along the boards. This is the third time in four postseasons the two have met.
-- Prediction: Canadiens in 7.
(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Tampa Bay Lightning
-- Season Series: Teams split the four game series with Tampa Bay winning final game 2-1 on March 31.
-- Recent postseason history: The Penguins beat Ottawa in the opening round of the 2010 playoffs only to lose in seven to the Canadiens in the east semifinals. The Lightning are making its first appearance in the postseason since 2007. Tampa Bay hasn't been out of the first round since winning it all in 2004.
-- What to Watch: Sidney Crosby ha s been cleared to begin receiving contact in practice and his return could be just what the Penguins need to knock off a Lightning team that had plenty of ups and downs this season. Tampa Bay has experience in goal with Dwayne Roloson leading Edmonton to the Finals in 2006, but the Lightning need to solve Marc-Andre Fleury.
-- Prediction: Penguins in 7.
(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Chicago Blackhawks
-- Season Series: Split the four game series with Vancouver winning the final two including a 4-2 victory on Feb. 4.
-- Recent postseason history: Vancouver has been eliminated from the playoffs in each of the past two seasons by the Blackhawks, losing in the semifinals last year. The Blackhawks are the defending Stanley Cup champions and have reached the Western Conference finals in each of the past two seasons.
-- What to Watch: Even though Chicago has knocked off Vancouver in each of the past two seasons, the Canucks appear to be poised to make some noise this postseason. The Sedin twins – Henrik and Daniel – have four goals and nine points between them in four games against Chicago this season. Had Dallas beaten Minnesota in Sunday's season finale, we would be talking about the Stars here and not the defending champs.
-- Prediction: Canucks in 7.
(2) San Jose Sharks vs. (7) Los Angeles Kings
-- Season Series: Split four-game series with Sharks winning final meeting 6-1 on April 4.
-- Recent postseason history: San Jose advanced to the Western Conference finals last season but were knocked off by the Blackhawks. The Kings made the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and were beaten by Vancouver in the opening round.
-- What to Watch: The Sharks have yet to reach the Cup Finals, but their goalie has, as San Jose signed former Blackhawks backstop Antti Niemi in the offseason. With Niemi and the Sharks' offense going, San Jose is tough to beat. That said, the Kings are a string bunch although the loss of Anze Kopitar will hurt. The Kings battled Vancouver last year, but may not have enough against these Sharks.
-- Prediction: Sharks in 6.
(3) Detroit Red Wings vs. (6) Phoenix Coyotes
-- Season Series: Split the four game series with Phoenix winning the previous meeting 5-4 in a shootout on March 5.
-- Recent postseason history: The Coyotes returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2002 last season and were beaten by Detroit in 7. The franchise hasn't won a playoff series since the Winnipeg Jets beat Calgary in 1997. Detroit lost to San Jose in the second round last year, missing the Western Conference finals for the first time in four years. The Wings won the Cup in 2008 then lost to Pittsburgh in the 2009 Finals.
-- What to Watch: Detroit is definitely getting up there in age and the Coyotes are poised for big things. Shane Doan missed the final four games in last year's series against the Wings and will be a key player this time around. Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard has been strong against Phoenix this season, but without Henrik Zetterberg for the first few games, Detroit could struggle despite being at home. If Johan Franzen comes back to postseason form, the Wings should escape.
-- Prediction: Red Wings in 7.
(4) Anaheim Ducks vs. (5) Nashville Predators
-- Season Series: Nashville won three of four including a 5-4 decision on March 24.
-- Recent postseason history: Anaheim is in the playoffs again after missing out in 2010. The Predators are still waiting for their first postseason series win after being knocked out by Chicago in a tough opening round series last year.
-- What to Watch: The Ducks are one of the hottest teams in the league right now, winning 15 of the final 20 to snare home ice in the opening round. The Predators are going to have their hands full trying to slow down the troika of Corey Perry (50 goals), Ryan Getzlaf (57 assists) and Bobby Ryan (34 goals) not to mention some of Anaheim's other top scorers (Teemu Selanne, Lubomir Visnovsky). But Pekka Rinne is one of the league's top goalies and the Preds are tough to beat in Music City, USA.
-- Prediction: Ducks in 7.