Editor's note: While Tim Sassone is not yet able to return to work full time, we're happy to report our NHL veteran scribe was able to sort through the playoff pairings and offer his prediction for the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals.
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Hawks vs. PhoenixAll games televised on CSN
Thursday: at Phoenix, 9 p.m.
Saturday: at Phoenix, 9 p.m.
Tuesday: at Hawks , 8 p.m.*
April 19: at Hawks, 7 p.m.
x-April 21: at Phoenix, 9 p.m.
x-April 23: at Hawks, TBD*
x-April 25: at Phoenix, TBD
* Radio broadcast on WIND 560-AM; all other games on WGN -720-AM
No. 1 Vancouver vs. No. 8 Los Angeles
What to watch: Nothing short of a Stanley Cup will satisfy Canucks fans following last spring's Game 7 loss to Boston in the Finals. The Kings made the playoffs despite having the second-worst offense in the NHL. They scored only 188 goals, 53 fewer than Vancouver.
Key matchup: Stopping twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin isn't easy for any team and will be the key to winning the series for the Kings. Daniel Sedin (concussion) was back on the ice for practice Monday.
Prediction: Canucks in five games.
No. 2 St. Louis vs. No. 7 San Jose
What to watch: This is a chance for the Blues to prove their huge regular season was not a fluke. The Blues were the top defensive team in the NHL. The Sharks will look to ride the momentum gained from their dogfight with the Kings and Coyotes just to get in the playoffs.
Key matchup: It's got to be in goal with Jaroslav Halak and Antti Niemi going head to head.
Prediction: Blues in 7 games.
No. 3 Phoenix vs. No. 6 Blackhawks
What to watch: The Hawks can win this series without Jonathan Toews, but they will need their captain to go further. Toews has missed the last 22 games with a concussion but is expected to play in Game 1. This will be a battle of bad power plays with the Hawks ranking 26th and the Coyotes 29th in the league.
Key matchup: Goalie Corey Crawford picked up his game down the stretch for the Hawks while Mike Smith has been very consistent for the Coyotes.
Prediction: Hawks in six games.
No. 4 Nashville vs. No. 5 Detroit
What to watch: The Predators beefed up for the playoffs, trading for defenseman Hal Gill, center Paul Gaustad and bringing Alexander Radulov back from Russia. Nobody wants to play the Red Wings, who are loaded and experienced. The Wings were the NHL's best team at home this season.
Key matchup: This series will be decided between the pipes, where it's Pekka Rinne vs. Jimmy Howard.
Prediction: Red Wings in seven games.
No. 1 New York Rangers vs. No. 8 Ottawa
What to watch: With Henrik Lundqvist in goal, it's difficult to see the Rangers losing this series. The Rangers don't score lot of goals but they led the league in hits and are clearly the most physical team. For the Senators to have any chance to pull off the upset, Craig Anderson must stand on his head in goal.
Key matchup: Can Ottawa contain the Rangers physically? It's not likely.
Prediction: Rangers in five games.
No. 2 Boston vs. No. 7 Washington
What to watch: The Bruins are trying to repeat and certainly have the goalie to pull it off in Tim Thomas, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner. The Capitals backed into the playoffs, but with Alex Ovechkin they are a dangerous opponent for the Bruins.
Key matchup: The Bruins have Thomas, but his likely opponent is the unproven Brian Holtby.
Prediction: Bruins in six games.
No. 3 Florida vs. No. 6 New Jersey
What to watch: Dale Tallon's Panthers not only made the playoffs, they're going in as division champs. And this is a series they can win. The Devils made it behind the goaltending of Martin Brodeur.
Key matchup: Except for the former Hawks on the roster, the Panthers don't have nearly the playoff experience as Brodeur and the Devils.
Prediction: Devils in 7 games.
No. 4 Pittsburgh vs. No. 5 Philadelphia
What to watch: This should be the nastiest of the first-round series between two teams that don't like each other very much. The Flyers' Danny Briere is expected to start the series after taking a hit to the chest from the Pens' Joe Vitale two weeks ago.
Key matchup: This should be offense against offense. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin vs. Claude Giroux and Briere.
Prediction: Penguins in 7 games.
• Canucks over Blackhawks in 7 games.
• Red Wings over Blues in 7 games.
• Rangers over Devils in 6 games.
• Penguins over Bruins in 7 games.
• Red Wings over Canucks in 6 games.
• Rangers over Penguins in 7 games.
Stanley Cup Finals
• Rangers over Red Wings in 6 games.