With the lockout-shortened season now in the rearview mirror, the NHL opens the Stanley Cup playoffs with three games on Tuesday night, three more on Wednesday, and the final two first-round contests starting on Thursday.
Here's a quick look and a prediction for each NHL series, starting with the Blackhawks:
No. 1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. No. 8 Minnesota Wild
Season series: Hawks won 2-0-1
Outlook: The Hawks have too much depth and firepower for the Wild. With two Hawks lines that can dominate, who does Wild coach Mike Yeo play defenseman Ryan Suter against? Hawks goalie Corey Crawford needs to step up and put what happened last year in the playoffs behind him. Zach Parise is one Minnesota player the Hawks must contain.
Prediction: Hawks in six.
No. 2 Anaheim Ducks vs. No. 7 Detroit Red Wings
Season series: Red Wings won 2-0-1
Outlook: Led by Henrik Zetterberg, the Red Wings are coming into the playoffs on a roll and can steal games behind goalie Jimmy Howard. The Ducks had a great regular season behind goalies Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth and center Ryan Getzlaf, but it ends here. Detroit's experience and improved defense will be the difference.
Prediction: Red Wings in six.
No. 3 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 6 San Jose Sharks
Season series: Sharks won 3-0-0
Outlook: This will be a battle of home ice as the Canucks were 15-6-3 at Rogers Arena while the Sharks were 17-2-5 at HP Pavilion. Vancouver lost every game in the season series, but that will change here. The Canucks have better defense, the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler, plus Derek Roy has been a perfect fit. Cory Schneider will outplay Antti Niemi.
Prediction: Canucks in seven.
No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Los Angeles Kings
Season series: Kings won 3-0-0
Outlook: Other than the Hawks, the Kings are the most dangerous team in the West for a variety of reasons. Goalie Jonathan Quick has a Stanley Cup to prove his worth, and Jeff Carter scored 26 goals during the regular season. This is going to be a physical series with the Kings' experience, especially on defense, making the difference.
Prediction: Kings in six.
No. 1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 8 N.Y. Islanders
Season series: Penguins won 4-1-0
Outlook: Sidney Crosby, who missed the last month with a broken jaw, is expected to be ready for the start of the series. This could be the series where the Islanders' John Tavares gets the attention he deserves. The Penguins have been tough to beat since acquiring Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray near the trade deadline. This will be a much closer series than many people think.
Prediction: Penguins in six games.
No. 2 Montreal Canadiens vs. No. 7 Ottawa Senators
Season series: Montreal won 2-1-0
Outlook: Senators goalie Craig Anderson, a former Blackhawk and Barrington High School grad, comes in with a 1.69 goals-against average and .941 save percentage even though he appeared in just 24 games. Montreal's Carey Price will make this a series to be decided by the goaltenders. Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson's amazing return from a 70 percent torn Achilles tendon makes them the sentimental choice, but the Canadiens won't let it happen.
Prediction: Canadiens in six games.
No. 3 Washington Capitals vs. No. 6 New York Rangers
Season series: Rangers won 2-0-1
Outlook: The Capitals finished the season on a high led by Alex Ovechkin, who had 14 goals and 8 assists in April. The Caps are banged up with Brooks Laich and Joel Ward doubtful for the start of the series. The Rangers still have Henrik Lundqvist in goal, which makes them a threat to win every game. Rick Nash will make his playoff debut for the Rangers after scoring 19 goals.
Prediction: Capitals in seven.
No. 4 Boston Bruins vs. No. 5 Toronto Maple Leafs
Season series: Boston won 3-1-0
Outlook: This could be the most entertaining first-round series in the 2013 playoffs given the history between the two teams, which includes the Phil Kessel trade several years ago. The Bruins are limping into the playoffs after dropping seven of their last nine games. Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer needs to come up big if Toronto is going to take this series.
Prediction: Bruins in six.
Ÿ Blackhawks over Red Wings in six
Ÿ Canucks over Kings in seven
Ÿ Penguins over Bruins in six
Ÿ Canadiens over Capitals in seven
Ÿ Blackhawks over Canucks in seven
Ÿ Penguins over Canadiens in six
Stanley Cup Finals
Ÿ Blackhawks over Penguins in seven gamesCopyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.