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OnFrozenPredictions: Your 2012 Stanley Cup Playoff First Round Outlook ... Panthers-Devils Pick Comes Tomorrow

SCupNYCSTANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS

EASTERN CONFERENCE 

--(1) NEW YORK RANGERS V (8) OTTAWA SENATORS

The season series: Ottawa won three of four. 

TortsLast year: The Rangers lost to Washington in the opening round; Ottawa missed the playoffs last season.

Playoff history: First meeting

Thursday: Senators at Rangers, 7 p.m.; Madison Square Garden (NHL Network)

What to watch: The Rangers will go as far as star goalie Henrik Lundqvist takes them, and lately, that hasn't been far as New York hasn't escaped the first round since beating the Devils in 2008. The Senators have been a nice surprise this season and a lot is on the shoulders of Craig Anderson. The former Panthers backup did well in his postseason debut with Colorado a few years back getting the Avs to the second round. He'll need to be great to give the Sens a shot here.

The prediction: Rangers in 6

--(2) BOSTON BRUINS V (7) WASHINGTON CAPITALS

The season series: Washington won three of four.

Last year: Boston won the Stanley Cup over Vancouver; the Capitals were knocked out of the second round by the Lightning.

BruinbearPlayoff history: Washington won in 6 against the Bruins back in 1998.

Thursday: Capitals at Bruins, 7:30 p.m.; TD Garden, Boston (NBC Sports Net)

What to watch: The Capitals didn't exactly storm into the playoffs but won their final two games to leap Ottawa and take the seventh seed. With goalies Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth on the shelf with injuries, untested rookie Braden Holtby to get the starts for now. Boston isn't playing as well as they had been earlier in the season – and Nathan Horton is out with a concussion – but the Bs should take advantage.

The prediction: Boston in 6.

--(4) PITTSBURGH PENGUINS V (5) PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

The season series: Philadelphia won four of six.

Last year: The Penguins were upset in the opening round by the Lightning as Philadelphia was dropped by Boston in the second round.

Playoff history: This is the third time since 2008 these two have met in the opening round; Penguins have won past two series (including 2008 EC finals).

IglooWednesday's Game 1: Flyers at Penguins, 7:30 p.m.; Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh (NBC Net) 

What to watch: This is the most highly anticipated matchup of the opening round as one can just feel the hatred these two share for one another radiating off the screen. The chirping and bad-mouthing between the two should only fuel what is expected to be a hard-hitting, passionate struggle. These two have been here before and know exactly what to expect.

The prediction: Penguins in 7.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

--(1) VANCOUVER CANUCKS V (8) LOS ANGELES KINGS

The season series: Split four games with Vancouver getting the extra point.

Last year: The Canucks lost to Boston in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals; Los Angeles was booted from the first round by San Jose.

RiotkissPlayoff history: Vancouver eliminated the Kings from the opening round in 2010.

Wednesday's Game 1: Kings at Canucks, 10:30; Rogers Arena, Vancouver (NBC Net) 

What to watch: The Kings are trying to escape the first round of the playoffs for the first time since beating Detroit in 2001. It's not going to be easy. The Canucks, with Daniel Sedin working his way back from a concussion, haven't been able to break things open offensively against the Kings (thanks mostly to G Jonathan Quick) this year. If Roberto Luongo struggles a bit, does Cory Schneider get the nod? 

The prediction: Kings in 7.

--(2) ST. LOUIS BLUES V (7) SAN JOSE SHARKS

The season series: Blues won all four meetings.

Last year: The Sharks lost in the conference final to the Canucks while St. Louis is back for the first time since 2009.

CardsfootPlayoff history: The Sharks beat the Blues 4-1 in the opening round of 2004.

Thursday: Sharks at Blues, 7:30 p.m.; Scottrade Center, St. Louis (MSNBC)

What to watch: The Blues don't give up many goals – their two per game average led the league – and they are very hard to beat at home. If the Sharks give St. Louis an early lead, the Blues are tough to come back on. Coach Ken Hitchcock has done a great job in turning the Blues around. 

The prediction: Blues in 7

--(3) PHOENIX COYOTES V (6) CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

The season series: Phoenix won three of four.

Last year: Both teams were bumped in the opening round; Phoenix by Detroit and Chicago by Vancouver.

Playoff history: First postseason meeting.

Bluesbro2Thursday: Blackhawks at Coyotes, 10 p.m.; Jobing.com Arena, Glendale (NBC Sports Net)

What to watch: The Blackhawks are a most definite favorite in this series but the Pacific Division champs are a tough opponent with Tampa Bay castoff Mike Smith in net. The Coyotes haven't won a playoff series since 1987. The Coyotes will be hungry.

The prediction: Chicago in 7.

--(4) NASHVILLE PREDATORS V (5) DETROIT RED WINGS

The season series: Each team won three of the six.

Last year: Both teams moved to the second round with Detroit losing to San Jose and Nashville losing out to eventual west champ Vancouver.

NashPlayoff history: The two haven't met in the postseason since 2008.

Wednesday's Game 1: Detroit at Nashville, 8; Bridgestone Arena, Nashville (CNBC) 

What to watch: The Preds don't take well to playing on the road, so having a potential Game 7 in NashVegas is huge. After finally breaking through and winning a playoff series last year, this Nashville team is a more confident bunch. Goalie Pekka Rinne helps with that confidence as he is outstanding. But don't overlook the aging yet wily Wings. Detroit is more Predatorthan ready to stomp on the Preds again.

The prediction: Nashville in 7.

GEORGE RICHARDS

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