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NHL playoff preview

A series-by-series look at the first-round matchups.

April 11, 2011|By Helene Elliott

Outlook: The Capitals scored less this season (224 goals, down from 318 in 2009-10) but should enjoy a more successful playoff run than last season's first-round dismissal by Montreal. They're more solid defensively, and rookie defenseman John Carlson is a legitimate Calder trophy pick. The Rangers will miss injured forward Ryan Callahan from a weak offense. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist (2.28, .923 and a league-leading 11 shutouts) must be spectacular for them to stay competitive.

Pick: Capitals in five.

No. 2 Philadelphia vs. No. 7 Buffalo

Records: Flyers 47-23-12, Sabres 43-29-10.

Power play: Flyers 16.6% (19th), Sabres 19.4% (ninth).

Penalty killing: Flyers 82.8% (15th), Sabres 83.0% (13th).

Leading scorers: Flyers: Claude Giroux 25-51—76. Sabres: Thomas Vanek 32-41—73.

Outlook: The Flyers faded down the stretch. Sergei Bobrovsky doesn't inspire a lot of confidence but will start in goal, with Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton behind him. The Flyers need Chris Pronger to return from wrist surgery and be effective. He can dominate a series and did with Edmonton in 2006, the Ducks in 2007 and the Flyers a year ago. The Sabres have surged since the team was sold to businessman Terry Pegula. The line of Tim Connolly, Vanek and Jason Pominville will have to excel at both ends of the ice.

Pick: Flyers in seven.

No. 3 Boston vs. No. 6 Montreal

Records: Bruins 46-25-11, Canadiens 44-30-8.

Power play: Bruins 16.2% (20th), Canadiens 19.7% (seventh).

Penalty killing: Bruins 82.6% (16th), Canadiens 84.4% (seventh).

Leading scorers: Bruins: Milan Lucic 30-32—62, David Krejci 13-49—62. Canadiens: Tomas[cq] Plekanec 22-35—57.

Outlook: Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas led the league with a 2.00 goals-against average and modern-day record .938 save percentage and will be the key to their fortunes. His Montreal counterpart, Carey Price, faded late but shared the league lead with 38 wins, ranked eighth with a .923 save percentage and 10th with a 2.35 goals-against average. The Bruins prefer a physical, defense-first game that the Canadiens can disrupt with their speed. This could go either way.

Pick: Bruins in seven.

No. 4 Pittsburgh vs. No. 5 Tampa Bay

Records: Penguins 49-25-8, Lightning 46-25-11.

Power play: Penguins 15.8% (25th), Lightning 20.5% (sixth).

Penalty killing: Penguins 86.1% (first), Lightning 83.8% (eighth).

Leading scorers: Penguins: Sidney Crosby 32-34—66 (in 41 games before concussion). Lightning: Martin St. Louis 31-68—99.

Outlook: Crosby (concussion) has been practicing but hasn't been cleared for contact, making his return for the first round unlikely. Without Crosby and injured Evgeni Malkin the Penguins played a tighter defensive game and led the league in penalty killing for the first time in franchise history. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (2.32, .918) made it work. The Lightning had two players among the top five scorers, with Steven Stamkos (45 goals, 91 points) ranking fifth after a late fade. The Penguins are better defensively and deeper.

Pick: Penguins in six.

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