Breaking down the Eastern Conference playoff matchups
No. 1 Penguins vs. No. 8 New York Islanders
The Penguins enter the postseason nearing 100 percent health and are overwhelming favorites to win the Eastern Conference. Their exceptional depth and skill level is matched by a desire to overcome last year's playoff disappointment. Injuries are probably the only thing that could derail them.
Led by talented center John Tavares, the Islanders are a gifted offensive team but are not imposing defensively. Few of their players have playoff experience. The Penguins, meanwhile, boast 10 Stanley Cup winners and a wealth of veterans. Goalie Evgeni Nabokov be exceptional for the Islanders to have a chance.
Offense – Penguins
Defense – Penguins
Power play – Penguins
Penalty kill – Penguins
Goaltending – Penguins
Series winner: Penguins in 5
No. 2 Montreal Canadiens vs. No. 7 Ottawa Senators
Two of the most surprising teams in the NHL, neither the Canadiens nor Senators enter the postseason playing particularly well. Montreal is one of the league's youngest teams but has been fairly consistent throughout the season. The Canadiens will rely heavily on goaltender Carey Price.
Ottawa is one of the NHL's stingiest teams but struggles offensively without injured center Jason Spezza. Goaltender Craig Anderson has been terrific for the Senators, and star defenseman Erik Karlsson is back in the lineup after an Achilles injury threatened to end his season. Expect a tight series.
Offense – Canadiens
Defense – Senators
Power play – Canadiens
Penalty kill – Senators
Goaltending – Canadiens
Series winner: Canadiens in 7
No. 3 Washington Capitals vs. No. 6 New York Rangers
The Capitals are suddenly alive and well following a dreadful start to the season. Washington's forwards are among the more talented and diverse in the NHL. The resurgent Alex Ovechkin leads a group that includes Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Ribeiro and Troy Brouwer. The Capitals did beat up on a weak Southeast Division, making them difficult to handicap.
Figuring out the Rangers isn't simple, either. They've been lifeless most of the season but have played with more of an edge since trading star sniper Marian Gaborik. The Rangers are offensively limited but, as long as they employ goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, will remain an x-factor in the Eastern Conference.
Offense – Capitals
Defense – Rangers
Power play – Capitals
Penalty kill – Rangers
Goaltending - Rangers
Series winner: Rangers in 7
No. 4 Boston vs. No. 5 Toronto
This should become one of the most compelling first-round series. Boston remains formidable on paper and is among the NHL's finest defensive teams. However, the Bruins have been sluggish for more than a month and are struggling offensively. Milan Lucic has been a healthy scratch in recent games.
Toronto is a team with holes, but the Maple Leafs also possess a youthful exuberance that could serve them well. Playing in the postseason for the first time in nine years, the Maple Leafs are a dynamic offensive team largely because of centers Nazem Kadri and Phil Kessel. Goalie James Reimer has been superb.
Offense – Maple Leafs
Defense – Bruins
Power play – Maple Leafs
Penalty kill – Bruins
Goaltending – Maple Leafs
Series winner: Maple Leafs in 6