Stanley Cup Playoffs series previews

(left), with Daniel Alfredsson, is a Norris Trophy candidate. ALEX BRANDON / Associated Press
(left), with Daniel Alfredsson, is a Norris Trophy candidate. ALEX BRANDON / Associated Press (Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson)
Posted: April 11, 2012

Playoff hockey is the time of year when guys rupture spleens and miss a shift. Softer players might miss a period.

It is a time for long games and longer beards. It is when Jim Jackson is at his best calling Flyers games and Mike Emrick is at his best calling seemingly every other series.

Here is a quick look at the madness, which begins Wednesday with the Flyers-Penguins:


N.Y. Rangers (1) vs. Ottawa (8)

Season series: Senators, 3-1

Rangers goaltender: Henrik Lundqvist had a 1.97 goals-against average and was the team's MVP.

Senators goaltender: Craig Anderson was 33-22-6 in his first full season in Ottawa.

Hat tricks: Are facing each other in the playoffs for the first time since 1930 when FDR was the governor of New York and the Ottawa Senators were in their previous incarnation . . . Lundqvist and the Rangers haven't won a playoff series since 2008 . . . Rangers center Derek Stepan, who absorbed an avoidable knee-on-knee collision with Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik, is fine . . . Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson, 21, is a strong candidate for the Norris Trophy.

The pick: Rangers in 5

Boston (2) vs. Washington (7)

Season series: Capitals, 3-1

Bruins goaltender: Eccentric, yet dependable Tim Thomas.

Capitals goaltender: Depends. Injuries are playing havoc with the Caps goalies. If veterans Tomas Vokoun or Michal Neuvirth can't go, youngster Braden Holtby will get the call.

Hat tricks: The Bruins will try to become the first repeat champions since the Red Wings won consecutive Stanley Cups in 1997 and 1998 . . . Boston had a league-high six players with at least 20 goals . . . The recent return of center Nicklas Backstrom makes the Capitals a dangerous team . . . Best individual matchup will be massive Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara against Washington's Alexander Ovechkin.

The pick: Bruins in 7

Florida (3) vs. New Jersey (6)

Season series: Tied, 2-2

Panthers goaltender: Jose Theodore has been in a slump. Scott Clemmensen, a former backup to Marty Brodeur for the Devils, has played very well behind Theodore this season.

Devils goaltender: Brodeur, who turns 40 on May 6, broke the record he shared with Patrick Roy by notching his 14th season of 30 wins.

Hat tricks: Petr Sykora, who played a key role in the Devils' 2000 title run, played last season in eastern Europe and had to make the New Jersey roster in training camp. He had 21 goals, including six game-winners . . . Devils coach Peter DeBoer coached the Panthers the last 3 years . . . New Jersey outpointed the Panthers, 102-94, this season, but gets the lower seed because Florida won a very weak Southeast Division . . . Much of the Panthers roster was built by Dale Tallon, the architect of the Blackhawks . . . Kris Versteeg, who mostly flubbed in his brief time with the Flyers at the end of last season, had a career-high 23 goals and 54 points for Florida.

The pick: Devils in 5

Penguins (4) vs. Flyers (5)

Season series: Flyers, 4-2

Penguins goaltender: Marc-Andre Fleury often gets overlooked, but his consistency allows the Penguins to cheat a step or two offensively.

Flyers goaltender: Ilya Bryzgalov is capable of stealing this series. Eight weeks ago, he nearly gave away the No. 1 job.

Hat tricks: After missing most of the last 2 years with concussion symptoms, Penguins star Sidney Crosby registered 37 points in 22 games. It's a big reason Vegas has the Pens favored to win the Stanley Cup, something unheard of for a team that didn't even win its own division . . . Scott Hartnell's prediction of this being a "bloodbath" better be overstated. The Flyers must control their collective tempers and stay out of the penalty box. That said, Peter Laviolette is bringing in former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for a pregame pep talk. Just kidding.

The pick: Flyers in 7


Vancouver (1) vs. Los Angeles (8)

Season series: Tied, 2-2

Canucks goaltender: Roberto Luongo will start, but it won't take long for Corey Schneider to come off the bench.

Kings goaltender: Jonathan Quick had a league-best 10 shutouts and would have had more than 35 wins if the Kings didn't have the second-worst offense in hockey.

Hat tricks: If they rioted after losing the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals, what will Vancouver fans do if they get upset by the Kings? Invade Seattle maybe? . . . Former Flyer Mike Richards had a miserable season (44 points in 74 games) that included a 25-game scoreless streak for LA. He has been known to crank it up in the postseason, though his defense might be what the Kings need most this series . . . Jeff Carter, acquired by the Kings at the trade deadline, had six goals in 16 games. He missed the last five with an ankle injury but is expected back for the playoffs.

The pick: Canucks in 6

St. Louis (2) vs. San Jose (7)

Season series: Blues, 4-0

Blues goaltender: The duties were basically split between Brian Elliott (36 starts) and Jaroslav Halak (46), with each getting five starts over the final 10 games. The Blues allowed 155 goals (1.89 per), the fewest ever in an 82-game season.

Sharks goaltender: Antti Niemi, who helped Chicago beat the Flyers in the Cup finals in 2010, has had consecutive 30-win seasons for San Jose.

Hat tricks: St. Louis outscored San Jose, 11-3, in the four-game sweep during the regular season . . . After a 6-7 start, the Blues fired Davis Payne (who sounds more like an investment banker) and hired Ken Hitchcock. With Hitch, St. Louis was 43-15-11 and won its first division title since 2000. The Blues had been fourth each of the last 2 years . . . Logan Couture, whose season had been highlighted by the car he received for being the last All-Star drafted, was named the Sharks MVP by the local media. Word is they gave him one of those pine tree air freshener things for his new wheels.

The pick: Sharks in 7

Phoenix (3) vs. Chicago (6)

Season series: Coyotes, 3-1

Coyotes goaltender: Mike Smith replaced Ilya Bryzgalov in the desert and should be a Vezina finalist.

Blackhawks goaltender: Corey Crawford, who temporarily lost his job to Ray Emery, rolls into the playoffs on a 8-1-2 stretch.

Hat tricks: The Coyotes haven't won a playoff series since 1987, when the team was located in Phoenix and before six current players were born . . . Ray Whitney is the Daniel Alfredsson of the West. Whitney, 39, paced the Coyotes with 53 assists and 77 points and played in all 82 games . . . Chicago captain Jonathan Toews' return is imminent. Toews, a terrific all-around centerman, missed the final 22 regular-season games with a concussion . . . The Blackhawks are buoyed by nearly erasing a 3-0 series deficit and taking then-No. 1 seed Vancouver to a Game 7 overtime before losing. Just like in the East, the sixth-seeded Blackhawks (101) finished with more points than the third-seeded Coyotes (97).

The pick: Coyotes in 7

Nashville (4) vs. Detroit (5)

Season series: Tied, 3-3

Predators goaltender: Pekka Rinne's 43 wins were tops in the NHL.

Red Wings goaltender: Jimmy Howard was on his way to a Vezina run before injuries sidetracked his season. He has started the last four games and is fine now.

Hat tricks: The wild card for the Predators is talented winger Alexander Radulov, who returned to Nashville in late March after four years in the Russian league. Radulov had three goals and four assists with the Preds down the stretch . . . The Red Wings were 24 games above .500 at home and four games below it on the road . . . From a travel standpoint, Detroit is thrilled to be the fifth seed ahead of the Blackhawks. Instead of grinding trips to Phoenix, the older Red Wings only have to fly to the Central time zone with Nashville . . . Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom, who turns 42 at the end of April, was plus-21 this season.

The pick: Predators in 7