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The Hockey News 2007-08 NHL Playoff Preview

Who will take home the Stanley Cup this season?

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Who will take home the Stanley Cup this season?

With the National Hockey League's playoff set to begin Wednesday, there's no shortage of storylines on each side of the continent.

Can the Ducks repeat after only playing a select few games as a complete group this season?

Will the Presidents' Trophy-winning Red Wings fizzle in the playoffs after another remarkable regular season?

Are the Senators ready to right the ship, or has their slide doomed them to an early playoff departure?

And what of the East-winning Canadiens? Is the NHL's most successful franchise poised for a run at glory?

The answers to these questions and more will become clear over the next two months, but for now we focus on the first round.

Below you'll find breakdowns on each of the eight opening round series and THN.com's picks to move on.

Detroit Red WingsDETROIT RED WINGS vs. NASHVILLE PREDATORSNashville Predators

NUTS AND BOLTS
Detroit - Home | Stats | Roster | Schedule | Transactions | Injuries
Nashville - Home | Stats | Roster | Schedule | Transactions | Injuries

SEASON SERIES
Detroit 5-3-0 (21 GF, 19 GA)
Nashville 3-3-0 (19 GF, 21 GA)

LEADING SCORER VS. OPPONENT
Detroit – Johan Franzen (6-2-8)
Nashville – Martin Erat (4-4-8)

SPECIAL TEAMS
No playoff team had more power plays than the 358 opportunities the Red Wings had this season and for the most part, they took advantage of them. Their 20.5 percent success rate was fourth-best in the league. Nashville’s power play was terrible all round, worst among playoff teams and their 10 shorthanded goals against was tied for worst in the league among playoff-bound teams. Both teams had among the best penalty-killing units in the league this season. Edge: Detroit

FORWARDS
Tomas Holmstrom making it back for the playoffs after missing 13 games was a huge boost for the Red Wings and will likely head back to the first line with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. The Red Wings have far more depth of talent up front than do the Predators, who rely on a far more defensive scheme for success. J.P. Dumont and Jason Arnott were terrific late in the season for the Predators and their depth players – Jordin Tootoo, Rich Peverley, Scott Nichol – will do their best to make things difficult for the Wings skill players. The Red Wings had the No. 4 and 6 scorers this season in Datsyuk and Zetterberg, while the Predators didn’t have a scorer in the top 20. Edge: Detroit

DEFENSEMEN
From a blueline standpoint, it’s hard to beat a Detroit-Nashville matchup. Both teams have terrific defensive depth, but while Detroit has more star power in its top two, the Predators have better performers at the bottom of their defensive depth chart. No team in the league got more goals (43) or points (221) from their defense corps than the Red Wings did. In fact, the Red Wings blueline outscored the Nashville defense by 61 points this season. Edge: Detroit

GOALTENDING
It’s tough to fathom that a team with Dominik Hasek in goal would go into a series with questions in goal, but that’s exactly the case with the Red Wings, who have been plagued by injuries and inconsistent play in goal. Dan Ellis, on the other hand, seized the No. 1 job with the Predators in the second half and was 1-1 against the Red Wings this season with a 1.75 goals-against average and a .950 save percentage. Edge: Even

COACHING
Since they are Central Division rivals who played each other eight times this season, there will be no secrets between these two teams. Both coaches are system based, but Babcock has employed a much more aggressive offensive scheme because that is the strength of his team. Much of the Red Wings success is based on puck possession and positioning. Nashville coach Barry Trotz, in his 10th season with the Predators, did a masterful job guiding a team that was ravaged by defections and injuries this season. Edge: Even

THE X FACTOR
Since the Predators joined the NHL in 1998-99, the Red Wings have won more Stanley Cups (one) than Nashville has playoff series (zero).  The Predators have never tasted anything approximating playoff success, but at least they managed to avoid having to play the San Jose Sharks, who have spanked the Predators in the first round the past two years.

PREDICTION
There have been some dire predictions concerning the Red Wings and to be sure, they are vulnerable, but they simply possess far too much skill and overall depth to lose to the eighth-place team in the Western Conference. The Predators have made a spirited run to the playoffs, particularly after being left for dead in late March, but this is where it will end, in the first round for the fourth consecutive season. Detroit in five 

Who do you think will win? Vote HERE.

San Jose SharksSAN JOSE SHARKS vs. CALGARY FLAMESCalgary Flames

NUTS AND BOLTS
San Jose - Home | Stats | Roster | Schedule | Transactions | Injuries
Calgary - Home | Stats | Roster | Schedule | Transactions | Injuries

Season Series
San Jose – 1-2-1 (13 GF; 13 GA)
Calgary– 3-1-0 (13 GF; 13 GA)
 
Leading Scorers vs. Opponent
San Jose – Milan Michalek, 4 (3G, 1A)
Calgary – Dion Phaneuf, 5 (2G, 3A)
 
Special Teams
The arrival of Brian Campbell has sparked the Shark. With Joe Thornton distributing the puck on the low side, Calgary's poor PK can't match. San Jose has the third-best shutdown and they'll focus on Dion Phaneuf. Edge: San Jose
 
Forwards

The Flames rely on two strong lines, while the Sharks boast more balance. Until Thornton gets over his playoff hump, Jarome Iginla and company have the pedigree. Owen Nolan has been dynamite (3G, 1A) against his ex-team. Edge: Calgary

Defense

The Flames have the far superior blueline on paper, but San Jose's is more mobile and versatile. Calgary's older, slower defensemen are more vulnerable to a speed, puck movement game. Edge: San Jose

Goaltending

Evgeni Nabokov has had an MVP-type season, but has been terrible against the Flames (.849 SP, 1W, 3L). Miikka Kiprusoff gets better as the spring wears on and is even more valuable than Iginla. Edge: Calgary

Coaching
The Flames brought in Mike Keenan to instill a playoff-style work ethic and the results have been middling. Couldn't Jim Playfair have managed this so far? The Sharks firmly believe in Ron Wilson's preachings. Edge: San Jose
 
X-Factor
The Flames have been a much better road team than ever before and beat the Sharks both games in San Jose. The Sharks have the best road record in the league and rarely stray from Wilson's winning formula. With high expectations on San Jose and little expected from the Flames, a quick Calgary start may get the Sharks squeezing the stick excessively.
 
Prediction
Thornton has a lot to prove both against the Flames (one assist in four games) and in the post-season. But San Jose plays a better team game and isn't prone to lengthy mental lapses. Calgary might have surprised all in a best-of-three or best-of-five series, but a seven-game series favors the superior team in the long run. San Jose in seven

Who do you think will win? Vote HERE.

MINNESOTA WILDMINNESOTA WILD vs. COLORADO AVALANCHECOLORADO AVALANCHE

NUTS AND BOLTS
Minnesota - Home | Stats | Roster | Schedule | Transactions | Injuries
Colorado - Home | Stats | Roster | Schedule | Transactions | Injuries

Season Series
Minnesota – 5-2-1 (22 GF; 18 GA)
Colorado – 3-4-1 (18 GF; 22 GA)

Leading Scorers vs. Opponent
Minnesota – Brian Rolston, 8 (4G, 4A)
Colorado – Joe Sakic, 8 (2G, 6A); 

Special Teams
The Wild had the second-best penalty-kill (85.6 percent, second only to Dallas’ 85.8 percent) and seventh-overall power play (18.9 percent) in the league this season. The Avalanche, meanwhile, were ranked 29th-best with the extra man (14.2 percent) and 20th-best penalty-kill (81.5 percent). Need we type more? Edge: Minnesota

Forwards
Colorado’s scoring is more balanced among its forward unit, as evidenced by the fact they’ve got eight forwards with at least 30 points (Minnesota has six). And, if they’re healthy, the duo of Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg can still be as good, or better, than Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra. Edge: Colorado

Defense
Neither team has a Norris Trophy candidate on the roster, but the Avs’ defense corps is a little bit deeper and meaner than the Wild’s, and that’s enough to give them the nod here. Edge: Colorado

Goaltending
So, Jose Theodore’s tank isn’t completely empty after all. Good for him. Unfortunately, when you compare him to Niklas Backstrom, the Avs’ starter is only the second-best goalie in the series. Maybe even the third-best (and, no, I’m not talking about Peter Budaj). Edge: Minnesota

Coaching
Minnesota’s Jacques Lemaire and Colorado’s Joel Quenneville each need a first-round win to extend their tenure with their respective teams. They’re both above-average bench bosses, but since Lemaire’s the only one who’s helmed a team to a championship, he gets the benefit of the doubt. Edge: Minnesota

X-Factor
The injury bug could play a huge role in the series. With Forsberg, Sakic and Adam Foote closer to the end of their careers than the beginning, odds are Colorado has to deal with wounded combatants before Minnesota does.

Prediction
The Avalanche may have more recognizable Stanley Cup warriors than the Wild, but there’s no telling how long any of Colorado’s creaky veterans will last before breaking down. Minnesota’s stifling system helps overcome any potential missing members, and I don’t know you can say the same for Colorado’s. Minnesota in six

Who do you think will win? Vote HERE.

ANAHEIM DUCKSANAHEIM DUCKS vs. DALLAS STARSDALLAS STARS

NUTS AND BOLTS
Anaheim - Home | Stats | Roster | Schedule | Transactions | Injuries
Dallas - Home | Stats | Roster | Schedule | Transactions | Injuries

Season Series
Anaheim 3-5-0 (15 GF; 24 GA)
Dallas 5-3-0 (24 GF, 15 GA)

Leading scorers vs. Opponent
Anaheim – Ryan Getzlaf, 10 (2G, 8A)
Dallas – Mike Ribeiro, 10 (3G, 7A)

Special Teams
Dallas would appear to have a significant edge in both power play and penalty killing, but it is hard to judge the Ducks since they have not played as a united team for more than a handful of games this season. Still, based on what transpired this year, Dallas had the best penalty-kill in the NHL and ranked high on the power play. Edge: Dallas

Forwards
Not much separates these two teams up front. Anaheim has one of the best power forwards in the league in Ryan Getzlaf, but Dallas counters with Brendan Morrow. If Corey Perry returns to health, he’ll be a key for the Ducks. Anaheim also boasts a top-notch shutdown line in Samuel Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen. Brad Richards, who had an indifferent season, and Mike Ribeiro are wild cards for the Stars. Edge: Anaheim

Defense
With Chris Pronger back from his eight-game suspension, the Ducks boast the best defense in the NHL. Scott Niedermayer returned from a brief  “retirement” and has rejuvenated the Ducks. If Sergei Zubov misses the playoffs, and it looks like that’ll be the case, the Stars will not be able to replace him. Edge: Anaheim

Goaltending
Marty Turco of the Stars answered the bell last season playing superbly against Vancouver in the first round, but couldn’t win the series. Meanwhile, J-S Giguere has won a Conn Smythe Trophy and a Stanley Cup. Edge: Anaheim

Coaching
Both Randy Carlyle of the Ducks and Dave Tippett of the Stars have enjoyed success at the NHL, but Carlyle has a Cup ring. Edge: Anaheim

X-Factor
Brad Richards has not made the impact the Stars hoped he would beyond a five-assist debut with Dallas. The forward they surrendered to get him, Jeff Halpern, is an excellent two-way player who would have helped the Stars against Anaheim.

Related Links

Prediction
The Hockey News picked the Ducks to repeat at the start of the season and many on staff stayed with the pick for the playoffs. Dallas has been too inconsistent down the stretch to be a serious threat to dethrone the champs. Anaheim in five

Who do you think will win? Vote HERE.

MONTREAL CANADIENSMONTREAL CANADIENS vs. BOSTON BRUINSBOSTON BRUINS

NUTS AND BOLTS
Montreal -
Home | Stats | Roster | Schedule | Transactions | Injuries
Boston - Home | Stats | Roster | Schedule | Transactions | Injuries

Season Series
Montreal – 8-0-0 (38 GF; 16 GA)
Boston – 0-7-1 (16 GF; 38 GA)

Leading Scorers vs. Opponent
Montreal – Alex Kovalev, 11 (7G, 4A); Andrei Kostitsyn 11 (5G, 6A); Mark Streit (0G, 11A)
Boston – Phil Kessel 4 (1G, 3A)

Special Teams
The Canadiens have the No. 1 power play in the league and their penalty killing got much better down the stretch. Only the Leafs and Kings were worse at killing penalties this year than Boston, so look out. Edge: Montreal

Forwards
The speedy Habs rely heavily on the big line of Tomas Plekanec, Alex Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn, but do get contributions throughout the lineup and scored more goals (267) than any other team this year. Marc Savard had 22 more points than any Bruin forward, but his status is unclear, as a back injury has kept him out of the lineup since March 25. Edge: Montreal

Defense
Boston is known as a defensive team, but the clubs actually gave up the exact same number of goals (222). The injury status of Montreal’s stud blueliner, Mike Komisarek, is unknown and even with him the Habs don’t have anybody with the shutdown power of hulking Zdeno Chara. Edge: Boston

Goaltending
Neither Carey Price nor Tim Thomas has played an NHL post-season game. Price was named MVP of the AHL playoffs after leading the Hamilton Bulldogs to the Calder Cup as a 19-year-old last year. He’s ready for the big stage.  Edge: Montreal

Coaching
Boston coach Claude Julien was fired by the Habs in 2006 so Guy Carbonneau could eventually take over. Carbonneau has to be a coach-of-the-year candidate for his work in Montreal this year, while Julien’s team adheres to his strict system. Edge: Even

X-Factor
Montreal has won 11 straight games versus the Bruins and absolutely owned them this year. When will the law of averages kick in? The Bruins have been playing for their playoff lives for months now. They’re banged up, but they’re also in the mode of clawing and scratching for everything they get.

Prediction
The momentum Montreal has against Boston is too overwhelming and if Savard can’t play or has limited effectiveness, how will the Bruins generate any goals? As long as the Canadiens don’t get impatient with Boston’s defensive schemes, they’ll eventually score enough to pull away. Montreal in five

Who do you think will win? Vote HERE.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINSPITTSBURGH PENGUINS vs. OTTAWA SENATORSOTTAWA SENATORS

NUTS AND BOLTS
Pittsburgh - Home | Stats | Roster | Schedule | Transactions | Injuries
Ottawa - Home | Stats | Roster | Schedule | Transactions | Injuries

Season Series
Pittsburgh – 1-2-1 (14 GF; 18 GA)
Ottawa – 3-1-0 (18 GF; 14 GA)

Leading Scorers vs. Opponent
Pittsburgh – Ryan Malone, 6 (4G, 2A)
Ottawa – Daniel Alfredsson, 7 (3G, 4A)

Special Teams
Both teams are very strong on the power play, though Ottawa will be without key contributor Daniel Alfredsson. The teams finished the season almost identical on the penalty-kill, but the Senators were much more dangerous, tallying a league-high 18 shorthanded goals; triple the amount Pittsburgh put up. Edge: Ottawa

Forwards
The Pens feature two of the most dangerous players in the game in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, while Ottawa will counter with Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza. The absence of injured forwards Alfredsson and Mike Fisher severely handicaps an Ottawa team already thin on secondary scoring. Marian Hossa and Petr Sykora will be the wingmen for Sid and Geno. Edge: Pittsburgh

Defense

Neither team has a spectacular defense, as both teams play such offensive games. Anton Volchenkov is a do-everything warrior for the Sens, while Wade Redden and Andrej Meszaros will look to rebound from sub-par regular seasons. Pittsburgh has more size on the blueline than it did in last year's series with Ottawa and the offensive prowess of Sergei Gonchar cannot be ignored. Edge: Even

Goaltending
Marc-Andre Fleury looked shell-shocked against Ottawa in the first round last year and Ty Conklin committed one of the bigger errors in Stanley Cup history the last time he played in the post-season, so all Martin Gerber has to do is be consistent. Unfortunately, that's why Ottawa dive-bombed in the second half, so he'll have to find something in himself to give his team a boost. Edge: Ottawa

Coaching
Things have only gotten worse for the Sens since GM Bryan Murray took over behind the bench for the dismissed John Paddock in late February. Pittsburgh's Michel Therrien may not have the best track record (especially in his dealings with goalie Fleury), but he won't squander the talent in from of him, either. Edge: Pittsburgh

X-Factor
Thanks to injuries to both, Hossa hasn't had much time to gel with Crosby and the Slovak's post-season history is spotty at best. That said, if the duo finds lightning in a bottle, the goals will pile up. The Sens made some major gaffes in staffing their blueline this year, so look for rookie Brian Lee to be given a shot on the third pairing. He looked very comfortable in his late-season audition.

Prediction
Ottawa was in an existential funk before the double-whammy injuries to Alfredsson and Fisher in the second-last game of the season and would have to muster all the strength possible to avoid going from conference favorites to first-round washouts. They won't do it. Crosby and Malkin now know what playoff hockey is like and will pick apart a vulnerable Sens squad.  Pittsburgh in six

Who do you think will win? Vote HERE.

WASHINGTON CAPITALSWASHINGTON CAPITALS vs. PHILADELPHIA FLYERSPHILADELPHIA FLYERS

NUTS AND BOLTS
Washington - Home | Stats | Roster | Schedule | Transactions | Injuries
Philadelphia - Home | Stats | Roster | Schedule | Transactions | Injuries

Season Series
Washington – 2-2-0 (14 GF; 15 GA)
Philadelphia – 2-1-1 (15GF; 14 GA)

Leading Scorers vs. Opponent
Washington – Nicklas Backstrom, 6 (1G, 5A)
Philadelphia – Vaclav Prospal, 8 (2G, 6A)

Special Teams
The Flyers had the league’s second-highest power play success rate, but the Caps counter with Alex Ovechkin’s chart-topping 22 PP goals. Both penalty-killing units enter the post-season on a roll. Edge: Philadelphia

Forwards
The Flyers bring a balanced and gritty line set that can push the opposing defense hard all game. Though the lineup is largely inexperienced, the Caps have one of the game’s most dynamic stars and scored the goals needed in crunch time. Edge: Washington

Defense
Each side has some big bodies to get in the way of shots from the point and create havoc along the boards. Though the Flyers may hold a slight edge in physical play, the Caps hold a wild card in Mike Green’s two-way play. Edge: Washington

Goaltending
He doesn't have any playoff experence, but Martin Biron had a strong bounce back season. Cristobal Huet has put up good numbers for four years and has a GAA under two in 13 games with the Caps. In a six-game loss to the Hurricanes in '06, Huet played six games for Montreal going 2-4 with a 2.33 GAA an .929 SP. Edge: Washington

Coaching
Both bench bosses are new to the NHL post-season coaching scene. John Stevens turned the free-falling Flyers around in one season and Bruce Boudreau lifted the Caps from a 6-14-1 start. Edge: Washington

X-Factor
We all know Ovechkin can score, but if a team is to be successful in the post-season, others have to step up. The tough Flyers have to bang Ovechkin and neutralize him.

Prediction
Some may look at the Caps’ final run and determine they are of gas. But make no mistake; this team is high on emotion. They were successful in all their big games, so expect that streak to carry into the playoffs. The Flyers always seem to have goaltending concerns come springtime, so don’t write-off Biron’s lack of experience. Washington in six

Who do you think will win? Vote HERE.

NEW JERSEY DEVILSNEW JERSEY DEVILS vs. NEW YORK RANGERSNEW YORK RANGERS

NUTS AND BOLTS
New Jersey - Home | Stats | Roster | Schedule | Transactions | Injuries
New York - Home | Stats | Roster | Schedule | Transactions | Injuries

Season Series
New Jersey – 1-4-3 (10 GF; 19 GA)
Rangers – 7-0-1 (19 GF; 10 GA)

Leading Scorers vs. Opponent
New Jersey – Jamie Langenbrunner 3 (2G, 1A); Zach Parise 3 (2G, 1A)
Rangers – Chris Drury, 8 (4G, 4A)

Special Teams
The Rangers have the marginally superior numbers and names on both the PP and PK, Martin Brodeur notwithstanding. The Devils managed just one PP goal against the Blueshirts in eight regular season meetings. Yikes.  Edge: Rangers

Forwards
The Devils may be a little deeper 1-through-12, but when the benches get shortened the Rangers – with Jagr, Drury, Gomez and Shanahan – will be tougher to stop. Edge: Rangers

Defense
They’re no Stevens-Niedermayer-Rafalski, but the likes of Mottau, White, Martin and Oduya have formed a solid backline. New York has been better than expected in this discipline, but their ‘D’ is still relatively green. Edge: Devils

Goaltending
Rangers fans think Brodeur can be rattled with traffic and Lundqvist has been all-but-unbeatable against the Devils this season, but how do you not give the nod to the best goalie of our generation (especially considering his MVP-calibre season)?  Edge: Devils

Coaching
Brent Sutter has done a masterful job most of this campaign, but it took until the shootout of Game 82 for him and his staff to find a way to beat New York. That’s a problem. His NHL playoff inexperience as a coach – he makes his debut this week – may also come into play. Edge: Rangers

X-Factor
Forget home ice advantage, the Rangers own New York and they’ve owned the Devils this season. While all the games were close – four of the eight went to overtime or the shootout – the Blueshirts willed wins consistently. The Devils alleviated some pressure with a season-ending triumph, but their inability to beat their archrivals in eight regulation attempts has to play on their collective psyche.

Prediction
If you’re looking for offense, you’ve come to the wrong series; this one is all about team ‘D’, stellar goaltending and opportune goals. The slightly more potent Rangers will prevail in a squeaker. Rangers in seven

Who do you think will win? Vote HERE.

Click HERE to read individual The Hockey News staff members picks for the first round.

Enter THN’s Free Playoff Challenge for your chance to win a 2008 Harley-Davidson Night Rod Special Motorcycle. Contest closes at the start of the third round.

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