NHL playoff preview: Breaking down the first-round matchups

One season under the NHL’s realigned conference setup probably was enough for Eastern teams to veto future additions from the West.

The Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets, who moved from the West to the East before this season, won their new conference’s two wild-card playoff berths. The Red Wings will make their 23rd consecutive postseason appearance, and the Blue Jackets will make their second appearance in franchise history.

First place in the East — and overall — went to the Boston Bruins, with the Ducks winning the No. 1 spot in the West. Under the new playoff format, the division winner with the best record in each conference will play the wild-card team with the fewest points, and the other division winner will face the other wild-card team. Within each division the second- and third-place teams will face each other.

The first-round winners within each bracket will meet in the second round to determine the four conference finalists. Here’s A look at the matchups:


DUCKS (54-20-8, 116 points) vs. DALLAS (40-31-11, 91 points)

Season series: Dallas 2-1.

Power play: Ducks 16% (22nd); Stars 15.9% (23rd).

Penalty killing: Ducks 82.2% (13th); Stars 81.4% (21st).

Top scorers: Ducks, Ryan Getzlaf 31-56—87; Stars, Tyler Seguin 37-47—84.

Outlook: The Ducks set franchise records for victories, points and goals (263, excluding shootout goals) on their way to earning the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. They’re resilient — they recorded a league-leading 26 comeback victories — and have speed and depth up front. They don’t have a sure No. 1 goalie, following Jonas Hiller’s late-season wobbles. Frederik Andersen has 28 games of NHL experience and John Gibson has three. Seguin, dealt from Boston to Dallas before the season, reached career highs in goals and points, as did left wing Jamie Benn. Dallas scored a lot of goals (235) but gave up nearly as many (228).

Pick: Ducks in six.

 Game 1

 Wed. at DUCKS, 7 p.m.

 Game 2

 Friday at DUCKS, 7 p.m.

 Game 3

 Monday at Dallas, 6:30 p.m.

 Game 4

 April 23 at Dallas, 5 p.m.

 Game 5

 April 25 at DUCKS, 7:30 p.m.*

 Game 6

 April 27 at Dallas, TBD*

 Game 7

 April 29 at DUCKS, TBD*


SAN JOSE (51-22-9, 111 points) vs. KINGS (46-28-8, 100 points)

Season series: Kings 3-1-1.

Power play: Sharks 17.2% (20th); Kings 15.1% (27th).

Penalty killing: Sharks 84.9% (sixth); Kings 83.1% (11th).

Top scorers: Sharks, Joe Pavelski 41-38—79; Kings, Anze Kopitar 29-41—70.

Outlook: The Kings’ core is largely the same as in their 2012 Cup season but upgraded with the game-breaking potential of winger Marian Gaborik. Jonathan Quick (2.07 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and six shutouts) remains their backbone. Both teams are solid at center, but the Sharks have an offensive edge there with Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, rookie Tomas Hertl and Pavelski, though Pavelski has played the wing mostly. The Kings need defenseman Drew Doughty, who missed the last four regular-season games because of a shoulder injury, to be in top form. This should be a hard-hitting, fierce series.

Pick: Kings in seven.

 Game 1

 Thurs. at San Jose, 7:30 p.m.

 Game 2

 Sunday at San Jose, 7 p.m.

 Game 3

 April 22 at KINGS, 7 p.m.

 Game 4

 April 24 at KINGS, 7:30 p.m.

 Game 5

 April 26 at San Jose, TBD*

 Game 6

 April 28 at KINGS, TBD*

 Game 7

 April 30 at San Jose, TBD*


COLORADO (52-22-8, 112 points) vs. MINNESOTA (43-27-12, 98 points)

Season Series: Colorado 3-0-1.

Power play: Avalanche 19.8% (fifth); Wild 17.9% (16th).

Penalty killing: Avalanche 80.7% (24th); Wild 78.8% (27th).

Top scorers: Avalanche, Matt Duchene 23-47—70; Wild, Jason Pominville 30-30—60.

Outlook: Colorado made an astonishing turnaround under first-year Coach Patrick Roy, who passed his competitive fire to his players. The Avalanche finished atop its division by winning eight of its last 11 games, despite losing Duchene to a knee injury that’s likely to sideline him in this round. Goalie Semyon Varlamov (2.41, .927) was outstanding most of the season. The Wild is disciplined defensively but lacks pop offensively. Injuries and Josh Harding’s struggles to regulate the medication he takes for multiple sclerosis have led Minnesota to place its playoff hopes in the gloves of Ilya Bryzgalov. That should be more entertaining than successful.

Pick: Avalanche in five.

 Game 1

 Thurs. at Colorado, 6:30 p.m.

 Game 2

 Sat. at Colorado, 6:30 p.m.

 Game 3

 Monday at Minn., 4 p.m.

 Game 4

 April 24 at Minn., 6:30 p.m.

 Game 5

 April 26 at Colorado, TBD*

 Game 6

 April 28 at Minn., TBD*

 Game 7

 April 30 at Colorado, TBD*


ST. LOUIS (52-23-7, 111 points) vs. CHICAGO (46-21-15, 107 points)

Season series: St. Louis 3-2.

Power play: Blues 19.8% (seventh); Blackhawks 19.5% (10th).

Penalty killing: Blues 85.7% (second); Blackhawks 81.4% (19th).

Top scorers: Blues, Alexander Steen 33-39 29—62; Blackhawks, Patrick Sharp 34-44—78.

Outlook: The Blues looked like a Cup contender after they acquired goalie Ryan Miller from Buffalo, but injuries sent them into a downward spiral that cost them division and conference leads. More brawny than skillful up front, they became punchless and lost their last six games. Some of their injured players will be ready, but not all. The defending champion Blackhawks lost forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in the final weeks, but both are expected to play Thursday in the Thursday’s series opener. The Blackhawks are balanced and experienced.

Pick: A different story, maybe, if the Blues were healthy. Blackhawks in six.

 Game 1

 Thurs. at St. Louis, 5 p.m.

 Game 2

 Sat. at St. Louis, noon

 Game 3

 Monday at Chicago, 5:30 p.m.

 Game 4

 April 23 at Chicago, 6:30 p.m.

 Game 5

 April 25 at St. Louis, 5 p.m.*

 Game 6

 April 27 at Chicago, noon*

 Game 7

 April 29 at St. Louis, TBD*



BOSTON (54-19-9, 117 points) vs. DETROIT (39-28-15, 93 points)

Season Series: Detroit 3-1.

Power play: Bruins 21.7% (third); Red Wings 17.7% (18th).

Penalty killing: Bruins 83.6% (eighth); Red Wings 83% (12th).

Top scorers: Bruins, David Krejci 19-50—69; Red Wings, Daniel Alfredsson 18-31—49.

Outlook: From top to bottom the Bruins are the class of the league, led by Vezina Trophy candidate Tuukka Rask (2.04, .930, league-high seven shutouts), towering defenseman Zdeno Chara, and standout two-way forward Patrice Bergeron. But never count out the Red Wings, whose grit carried them while skill players such as  like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg were injured. Zetterberg (back surgery) and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson (broken finger) are expected to miss the series. Both Coaches —Boston’s Claude Julien of Boston and Detroit’s Mike Babcock of Detroit —are good tacticians.

Pick: Close, despite the disparity in their regular-season records. Bruins in seven.

 Game 1

Fri. at Boston, 4:30 p.m.

 Game 2

Sun. at Boston, noon

 Game 3

April 22 at Detroit, 4:30 p.m.

 Game 4

April 24 at Detroit, 5 p.m.

 Game 5

April 26 at Boston, noon*

 Game 6

April 28 at Detroit, TBD*

 Game 7

April 30 at Boston, TBD*


TAMPA BAY (46-27-9, 101 points) vs. MONTREAL (46-28-8, 100 points)

Season Series: Tampa Bay 3-0-1

Power play: Lightning 18.5% (13th); Canadiens 17.2% (19th).

Penalty killing: Lightning 80.7% (23rd); Canadiens 85.1% (fourth).

Top scorers: Lightning, Ondrej Palat 23-36—59; Canadiens, Max Pacioretty 39-21—60.

Outlook: The Lightning passed the Canadiens on the final day of the regular season to earn home-ice advantage, a mild surprise given that goalie Ben Bishop (2.23, .924) has been out since last week because of an elbow injury. His status for this series remains uncertain. Because of that, so do Tampa Bay’s playoff chances. The Canadiens, whose 215 goals was were the fewest among Eastern playoff qualifiers, will depend heavily on goalie Carey Price (2.32, .927). Forward Alex Galchenyuk will miss the series because of a lower-body injury.

Pick: If Bishop can’t go, Montreal in six. If he plays, Tampa Bay could win.

 Game 1

 Wed. at Tampa Bay, 4 p.m.

 Game 2

 Fri. at Tampa Bay, 4 p.m.

 Game 3

 Sunday at Montreal, 4 p.m.

 Game 4

 April 22 at Montreal, 4 p.m.

 Game 5

 April 24 at Tampa Bay, 4 p.m.*

 Game 6

 April 27 at Montreal, TBD*

 Game 7

 April 29 at Tampa, TBD*


PITTSBURGH (51-24-7, 109 points) vs. COLUMBUS (43-32-7, 93 points)

Season Series: Pittsburgh 5-0.

Power play: Penguins 23.4% (first); Blue Jackets 19.3% (11th).

Penalty killing: Penguins 85% (fifth); Blue Jackets 82.1% (14th).

Top scorers: Penguins, Sidney Crosby 36-68—104 (NHL scoring champion); Blue Jackets, Ryan Johansen 33-30—63.

Outlook: In five regular-season games the Penguins trailed the Blue Jackets for 56 seconds, were five for 19 on the power play, and killed 13 of 14 disadvantages. The elephant in the rink is goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who hasn’t made big postseason saves and lost his starting job to Tomas Vokoun in the first round last season. But the Penguins proved their mental toughness by succeeding this season while besieged by injuries. Columbus, already thin up front, won’t have winger Nathan Horton (abdominal surgery) and might start without injured wingers R.J. Umberger and Nick Foligno.

Pick: Penguins in five.

 Game 1

 Wed. at Pittsburgh, 4:30 p.m.

 Game 2

 Sat. at Pittsburgh, 4 p.m.

 Game 3

 Monday at Columbus, 4 p.m.

 Game 4

 April 23 at Columbus, 4 p.m.

 Game 5

 April 26 at Pitt., TBD*

 Game 6

 April 28 at Columbus, TBD*

 Game 7

 April 30 at Pitt., TBD*


NEW YORK RANGERS (45-31-6, 96 points) vs. PHILADELPHIA (42-30-10, 94 points)

Season Series: 2-2.

Power play: Rangers 18.2% (15th); Flyers 19.7% (eighth).

Penalty killing: Rangers 85.3% (third); Flyers 84.8% (seventh).

Top scorers: Rangers, Mats Zuccarello 19-40—59; Flyers, Claude Giroux 28-58—86.

Outlook: The home team won each game in their season series, but the Rangers led the East with 25 road wins. Seven Flyers scored 20 goals or more, led by Wayne Simmonds’ career-best 29. Only two Rangers hit 20 — Brad Richards (20) and Rick Nash (26). Martin St. Louis scored one goal in 19 games after the Rangers acquired him from Tampa Bay. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh’s effectiveness after a shoulder injury will be crucial for the Rangers. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist (2.36, .920) is playoff-tested. Steve Mason (2.50, .917) gave the Flyers stability in goal, but he sustained an upper-body injury last week. Philadelphia’s defense is not deep.

Pick: Rangers in seven.

Gm 1

Thursday at New York, 4 p.m.

Gm 2

Sunday at New York, 9 a.m.

Gm 3

April 22 at Phila., 5 p.m.

Gm 4

April 25 at Phila., 4 p.m.

Gm 5

April 27 at N.Y., 9 a.m.*

Gm 6

April 29 at Phila., TBD*

Gm 7

April 30 at New York, TBD*

*if necessary; times PDT


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