Stanley Cup first-round forecast

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With the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs beginning Wednesday, here’s a look at all eight first-round matchups, along with a prediction of which team will be moving on to the second round.

Eastern Conference

Washington Capitals vs. Montreal Canadiens

The Caps start their bid for the franchise’s first Stanley Cup against the club that has holds the NHL record for titles, the Montreal Canadiens.

This year, Washington easily outpaced the rest of the Eastern Conference with 121 points, while the Canadiens needed an overtime loss with two days left in the season to avoid falling out of the playoffs completely.

But the Canadiens have played the Capitals tight this season, with both teams winning a pair of games and the four games being decided by a total of five goals. Montreal is the only playoff team that can say they beat the Caps in regulation at Verizon Center, and also ended Washington’s 14-game win streak back in February.

Montreal’s hope for an upset bid will rest with goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who posted a 2.40 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage, but did not face the Caps at all this year and whose play dropped off late in the season. He’s facing the Caps team that scored 313 goals — most in the NHL since 1995-96 — and features 50-goal scorer Alexander Ovechkin and 40-goal scorer Alexander Semin.

In an entertaining series, Washington should move on to the second round for the second straight year.

The Pick: Capitals in six.

New Jersey Devils vs. Philadelphia Flyers

A team with one of the best goaltenders ever to play the game takes on a team with some serious questions in net as a pair of bitter Atlantic Division rivals clash.

New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur, after an ugly collapse in the Devils’ first-round loss to the Hurricanes last April, now gets another chance for redemption and looks to make an extended Stanley Cup run when he battles the Flyers. As for Philadelphia, they have run through five different netminders this year and now turn to Brian Boucher with starting netminders Ray Emery and Michael Leighton shelved with injuries.

Philadelphia, after acquiring Chris Pronger in the offseason, had high hopes for the season but found themselves undone by injuries — particularly to their goaltenders — but managed to qualify on the season’s final day by surviving a de facto play-in game against the Rangers to punch their playoff ticket.

The series figures to be a tough battle, with the Devils being the league’s top defensive team, and the Flyers likely to try and punish the Devils physically and slow down the tempo of the series. Philadelphia features four players with over 125 minutes in penalties, compared to the Devils, who only have two players with more than 60 PIMs.

Despite the Flyers finishing with 15 less points than the Devils, Philadelphia went 4-1-1 against New Jersey in the regular season, and should make this a tight series despite Philadelphia’s serious goaltending woes.

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About the Author
Ted Starkey

Ted Starkey

Ted Starkey, a Web editor for the continuous news desk, has written for and edited high-traffic websites, including AOL News, AOL Sports, FanHouse.com, USAHockey.com and BuffaloBills.com. He also has covered the 2002 and 2010 Winter Olympics, Stanley Cup playoffs, NFL, NHL, MLB and NCAA hockey during his career.

He is a graduate of American University, with a double major in ...

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