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New Jersey Devils' Ilya Kovalchuk (17), of Russia, hugs goaltender Martin Brodeur after they defeated the New York Islanders 5-1 in an NHL hockey game on Thursday, March 8, 2012, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Bill Kostroun/AP

(1) NY Rangers versus (8) Ottawa

Season series: Senators 3-1-0

Injuries: NYR – Michael Sauer (concussion, indefinitely). Ottawa – Peter Regin (shoulder, out for season).

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Breakdown: Two of the youngest teams to make the postseason collide. The Rangers narrowly missed winning the Presidents' Trophy on the final day of the season and finished with 17 more points than the Sens, making them heavy favourites in this one. They boast likely Vézina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist in goal and a hard-working, no-nonsense cast that has completely bought into coach John Tortorella's system (as evidenced by their 1,338 blocked shots). Ottawa won only seven of its final 17 games and could be in tough here if the Rangers can shutdown Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson.

Prediction: Rangers in 6

(2) Boston versus (7) Washington

Season series: Capitals 3-1-0

Injuries: Boston – Nathan Horton (concussion, indefinitely), Tuukka Rask (groin, week-to-week), Adam McQuaid (head, day-to-day). Washington – Michal Neuvirth (lower body, day-to-day), Tomas Vokoun (groin, unknown).

Breakdown: Three of the top four goalies in this series are expected to begin it with injuries, leaving last year's playoff MVP, Tim Thomas, as the only veteran standing. That likely leaves Washington going with rookie Braden Holtby, who started just six games this season but has performed well at the NHL level. The Caps as a whole have been a team in disarray for most of the year and go in as heavy underdogs despite winning the season series. Can Alex Ovechkin save them?

Prediction: Bruins in 6

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(3) Florida versus (6) New Jersey

Season series: Panthers 2-1-1

Injuries: Florida – none of note. New Jersey – Henrik Tallinder (blood clot, indefinitely).

Breakdown: It's the return of the rat in Florida, where there are sure to be a few of the plastic critters on the ice in the Panthers' first playoff appearance since 2000. What shouldn't be expected is all that many wins, as the Panthers boast one of the weakest division-winning teams ever. Both teams picked up plenty of points via shootouts during the year, which won't apply here, but the Devils boast more high-end offensive talent – led by Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Patrik Elias – and stingy team defence.

Prediction: Devils in 6

(4) Pittsburgh versus (5) Philadelphia

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Season series: Flyers 4-2-0

Injuries: Pittsburgh – none of note. Philadelphia – Chris Pronger (concussion, out for season), Danny Brière (back, indefinitely), James van Riemsdyk (foot, at least one week), Andrej Meszaros (back, two-to-four weeks), Nicklas Grossmann (knee, one week).

Breakdown: The Flyers go into what should be a long war of a series already significantly wounded, something that could well be the difference if Brière and Co. can't make a return. (And who knows what they'll get from Ilya Bryzgalov?) Pittsburgh has been one of the hottest teams in the NHL heading into the postseason, with the recent return of Sidney Crosby (25 points in 14 games) helping pace it to an 18-4-1 finish to its season.

Prediction: Penguins in 7

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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