Here are my picks and thoughts on the first-round matchups:
1 San Jose vs. 8 Colorado
Season series: Sharks 2-1-1.
The number: 2, the times a No. 8 seed has advanced since 2006.
Star to watch: G Evgeni Nabokov, Sharks.
Back check: Everyone is writing off the Sharks, and history will tell you to do so. But Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Co. get past the very young and very banged-up Avs. The Sharks have experience, and that counts in the playoffs — at least right now for San Jose.
Pick: Sharks in six.
2 Hawks vs. 7 Nashville
Season series: Hawks 4-2.
The number: 1, power-play goals allowed by the Hawks vs. Nashville.
Star to watch: D Duncan Keith, Hawks.
Back check: The Hawks have five days to shake off their loss to the Detroit Red Wings, which ended their goal of finishing first in the conference. The Predators have a check-first style, which can slow down quick transition teams such as the Hawks. But the Hawks’ depth up front will be the difference. The Predators steal one at home, but Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews are too much.
Pick: Hawks in five.
3 Vancouver vs. 6 L.A.
Season series: Canucks 3-1.
The number: 112, Canucks’ Henrik Sedin’s NHL-leading point total.
Star to watch: Sedin, Canucks.
Back check: Vancouver and goalie Roberto Luongo have had some poor games down the stretch, but without question, they are eyeing a rematch with the Hawks in the next round. Goalie Jonathan Quick and the young Kings may steal a victory or two, but they don’t have an answer for the Sedin line to take the series.
Pick: Canucks in six.
4 Phoenix vs. 5 Detroit
Season series: Red Wings 2-0-2.
The number: 19, the Coyotes’ wins after regulation, tops in the NHL.
Star to watch: G Ilya Bryzgalov, Coyotes.
Back check: It’s the best story this year in the NHL vs. the team that embodies consistent success. The Coyotes are resilient and opportunistic and have Bryzgalov, who set a career high with 42 wins, in net. But the playoff-savvy — and healthy — Red Wings will show why they’re still a force.
Pick: Red Wings in six.
1 Washington vs. 8 Montreal
Season series: Canadiens 2-1-1.
The number: 85, the Capitals’ NHL-best goal differential this season.
Star to watch: F Alex Ovechkin, Capitals.
Back check: The Capitals and Canadiens have the most efficient power plays in the league. But Washington, the NHL’s highest-scoring team, is averaging more than a goal more than Montreal. It doesn’t matter who the Canadiens have in net, Carey Price or Jaroslav Halak, or if they had some success against the Capitals this year, Washington has something to prove.
Pick: Capitals in five.
2 N.J. vs. 7 Philadelphia
Season series: Flyers 5-1.
The number: 98, Devils goalie Martin Brodeur’s playoff win total.
Star to watch: F Ilya Kovalchuk, Devils.
Back check: The Flyers aren’t as mediocre as their record indicates. The have talent up front (Mike Richards, Danny Briere, Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne) and on the back end (Chris Pronger, Matt Carle). Goaltending is their main concern. The Devils don’t have that issue.
Pick: Flyers in seven.
3 Buffalo vs. 6 Boston
Season series: Bruins 4-2.
The number: 15, Sabres with at least 20 points this season.
Star to watch: G Ryan Miller, Sabres.
Back check: Expect a low-scoring series with Miller (2.22 goals-against average) and Boston’s Tuukka Rask (1.97) in net. The Sabres have the best penalty-killing percentage (86.6) among playoff teams, while the Bruins (86.4) are right behind them. Miller is a difference-maker, but the Bruins still prevail.
Pick: Bruins in seven.
4 Pittsburgh vs. 5 Ottawa
Season series: Tied 2-2.
The number: 51, Pens star Sidney Crosby’s NHL-leading goal total.
Star to watch: Crosby, Penguins.
Back check: Don’t bet on the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins getting eliminated in the first round. They’re just too good with Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal leading the way. Ottawa has done well with very little, but Pittsburgh wins out.
Pick: Penguins in five.