- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 15, 2009

EASTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 BOSTON BRUINS vs. No. 8 MONTREAL CANADIENS

What to watch for: The Canadiens have won 24 of 31 playoff series against the Bruins, including 2002 and 2004 as the heavy underdog with Jose Theodore in net. Still, the Bruins have dominated this season and want to prove the ghosts of the old Forum no longer exist.

The Canadiens have had an embarrassing run since hosting the All-Star Game, but upsetting the hated Bruins would make the centennial season a success. It would take a heroic effort from Carey Price (and a dramatic return from defenseman Andrei Markov) to overcome the Bruins' clear advantage in all facets.

Prediction: Bruins in 5

No. 3 NEW JERSEY DEVILS vs. No. 6 CAROLINA HURRICANES

What to watch for: Can the Hurricanes, perhaps the hottest team in the league over the final two months, keep up the torrid pace? Can the Devils, who looked like the most vulnerable top-three seed in the final month, regain their mojo?

Keep an eye on the goaltenders - Cam Ward played 28 straight games before resting on the regular season's final day, and Martin Brodeur missed much of the season with an biceps injury. Will Ward look overworked and Brodeur refreshed?

Prediction: Devils in 7

No. 4 PITTSBURGH PENGUINS vs. No. 5 PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

What to watch for: If the Bruins-Canadiens series doesn't yield the most bloodshed, this one might. Both goaltenders can be streaky, and expect either offense to take advantage if one goes south.

Sidney Crosby vs. Mike Richards might be more entertaining than Crosby's “rivalry” with Alex Ovechkin. Last year in the conference finals, the Flyers tried to get physical with Evgeni Malkin, and he responded (before disappearing against Detroit). Philadelphia will have a healthy defensive corps this time around, but will it be enough?

Prediction: Flyers in 7

- Corey Masisak

WESTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 SAN JOSE SHARKS vs. No. 8 ANAHEIM DUCKS

What to watch for: The Sharks finished with a league-high 117 points and as a reward draw the rival Ducks, who finished the regular season on a 10-2-1 tear to beat out Minnesota and Nashville for the final spot.

The Ducks are battle tested - several of their veterans hoisted the Cup two years ago. San Jose, despite its talented roster, has advanced to only one conference final in the past five years. It's on Joe Thornton to will his team to a deep playoff run. The power play is the key: The Sharks ranked third in the NHL there, and the Ducks were only 23rd in penalty killing.

Prediction: Sharks in 6

No. 2 DETROIT RED WINGS vs. No. 7 COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

What to watch for: The Red Wings begin the road to a repeat championship against the upstart Blue Jackets, who are in the playoffs for the first time. Detroit should take a commanding lead in the series, giving postseason newcomers like Rick Nash and rookie goalie Steve Mason time to adjust to playoff intensity.

The Red Wings' injury and goaltending issues give Columbus a chance. Marian Hossa and Brian Rafalski are nursing groin injuries. Chris Osgood has two Cup wins as a starter, but he was shaky during the regular season - only three playoff teams allowed more than the Red Wings' 244 goals.

Prediction: Red Wings in 6

No. 3 VANCOUVER CANUCKS vs. No. 6 ST. LOUIS BLUES

What to watch for: Both teams enter the postseason playing well, setting up what should be a long, great series. The Blues rewarded management's decision not to trade veteran players at the deadline by going 21-7-6 down the stretch.

Two 20-year-olds (David Perron and Patrik Berglund) and a 21-year-old (T.J. Oshie) rank among the Blues' top 10 scorers along with veteran Keith Tkachuk. But the Canucks will survive because Roberto Luongo is the best goalie in the NHL and they have scoring depth - 11 players have scored at least 10 goals.

Prediction: Canucks in 6

No. 4 CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS vs. No. 5 CALGARY FLAMES

What to watch for: The Flames became the Northwest Division favorites when they acquired Olli Jokinen and Jordan Leopold at the deadline. But they won only nine of their final 21 games, a poor omen for a team that has lost in the first round for three consecutive years.

Chicago reached the playoffs for only the second time in 11 years, jumping this season from 88 to 104 points. The Blackhawks are a lot like the Capitals of last season - full of young players with no playoff experience. But Chicago is playing better at home recently, and that will be the difference.

Prediction: Blackhawks in 7

- Ryan O'Halloran

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