NHL Playoff capsules: First round

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Coach: Bryan Murray
Seed: No. 1 East

Coach: John Tortorella
Seed: No. 8 East

Season series: Ottawa, 4-0.

Players to watch: Ottawa RW Daniel Alfredsson and LW Dany Heatley power the league's most volatile offense, and towering D Zdeno Chara is a force at both ends. Tampa Bay RW Martin St. Louis is looking to rebound from a lackluster regular season and gifted C Brad Richards has the incentive of playing for a new contract.

Schedule: Today at Senators, 7 p.m.; Sunday at Senators, 6; Tuesday at Lightning, 7; Thursday at Lightning, 7; *-April 29 at Senators, 7; *-May 1 at Lightning, 7; *-May 3 at Senators, 7. *-if necessary

In the net: Rookie Ray Emery will be the man for Ottawa until Dominik Hasek recovers from an injury he got during the Olympics. Lightning coach John Tortorella faces a pick-'em situation with Sean Burke and John Grahame unless one gets hot.

How the Senators can win: Stick to the formula that's allowed them to earn victories in 13 of their past 14 vs. Tampa Bay. And don't force Emery to do too much.

How the Lightning can win: Gain an early upper hand to get Senators thinking about their perennial playoff failures. Getting something out their power play, the least-productive of any playoff team, would be a big plus.

Who will win: Ottawa in six. Allowing the defending champion Lightning a chance to hang in the series for too long could be a fatal error, though.

vs.Record: 52-22-8
Coach: Peter Laviolette
Seed: No. 2 East

Record: 42-31-9
Coach: Bob Gainey
Seed: No. 7 East

Season series: Carolina, 4-0.

Schedule: Tomorrow at Hurricanes, 7 p.m.; Monday at Hurricanes, 7; Wednesday at Canadiens, 7; Friday at Canadiens, 7; *-April 30 at Hurricanes, 7:30; *-May 2 at Canadiens, 7; *-May 4 at Hurricanes, 7. *-if necessary.

Players to watch: Hurricanes C Eric Staal had an MVP-caliber season, and ageless C Rod Brind'Amour has been excellent all over the ice. Canadiens RW Alex Kovalev can take control of a series by virtue of sheer talent, while Montreal's 3-11-1 record when underrated D Andrei Markov was out of the lineup testifies to his value.

In the net: Carolina's Martin Gerber clearly was at his best during first half, but still had a very good season. Cristobal Huet looks like he'll get the call for Montreal, with David Aebischer ready to step in if he stumbles.

How the Hurricanes can win: Capitalize on home-ice advantage, after winning 31 regular-season games at RBC Center. A big series by RW Mark Recchi, a Montreal alum who had just four goals and three assists in 20 games after being acquired from the Penguins, could be decisive.

How the Canadiens can win: Have their efficient power play exploit Carolina's mediocre penalty-killing. Stealing an early game in Raleigh would hurt Carolina's fragile confidence.

Who will win: Montreal in six. Both teams sputtered during the waning days of the regular season, so whichever can regain its equilibrium first will have the upper hand.

Season series: Tied, 4-3-1.

Coach: Lou Lamoriello
Seed: No. 3 East
Record: 44-26-12
Coach: Tom Renney
Seed: No. 6 East

Players to watch: Believe it or not, Devils RW Brian Gionta didn't get all 48 of his goals against the Penguins; he and C Scott Gomez do plenty of damage to other clubs, too. Rangers RW Jaromir Jagr can take over games like few others, while D Darius Kasparaitis, who is iffy with a bad groin, has a gift for getting elite opponents off their game.

Schedule: Tomorrow at Devils, 3 p.m.; Monday at Devils, 7; Wednesday at Rangers, 7; April 29 at Rangers, 3; *-April 30 at Devils, 6; *-May 2 at Rangers, 7; *-May 4 at Devils, TBA. *-if necessary.

In the net: New Jersey's Martin Brodeur remains hockey's best big-game goalie and was brilliant in the stretch drive. Henrik Lundqvist of New York had a sensational rookie season, but is battling a nagging hip problem.

How the Devils can win: Avoid the letdown that could follow winning their final 11 regular-season games. Play with the patience and poise their edge in playoff experience, as a team, should provide.

How the Rangers can win: Have high-end talents like Jagr and Lundqvist perform at peak efficiency. Steady contributions from Jagr's Czech posse -- Martin Straka, Martin Rucinsky, etc. -- would be welcome, too.

Who will win: New Jersey in five. After overachieving virtually all season, New York appears to be running on fumes.

Season series: Buffalo, 3-1.

vs.Record: 52-24-6
Coach: Lindy Ruff
Seed: No. 4 East
Record: 45-26-11
Coach: Ken Hitchcock
Seed: No. 5 East

Players to watch: Sabres C Chris Drury is the best clutch scorer on a well-balanced offense, while veteran Teppo Numminen anchors a solid defense. When he's healthy, Flyers C Peter Forsberg might be NHL's best all-around player, and LW Simon Gagne is a prolific goal-scorer.

Schedule: Tomorrow at Sabres, 7 p.m.; Monday at at Sabres, 7; Wednesday at Flyers, 7; April 28 at Flyers, 7; *-April 30 at Sabres, 2; *-May 2 at Flyers, 7; *-May 4 at Sabres, 7. *-if necessary.

In the net: Rookie Ryan Miller has hurdled Martin Biron to become Buffalo's No. 1 goalie. Robert Esche will start the series for Philadelphia, but Antero Niittymaki could step in if he struggles.

How the Sabres can win: Wear down Philadelphia with speed, grit and depth. Taking advantage of the league's best home-ice special teams wouldn't hurt, either.

How the Flyers can win: Capitalize on their ability to score short-handed goals and the Sabres' penchant for allowing them. If Forsberg is anywhere near 100 percent, he could tilt the series in Philadelphia's favor.

Who will win: Sabres in seven. Flyers have the kind of team that could go out of the postseason in a matter of days or advance deep into the playoffs.

Season series: Edmonton, 2-1-0-1.

vs.Record: 58-16-8
Coach: Mike Babcock
Seed: No. 1 West
Record: 41-28-13
Coach: Craig MacTavish
Seed: No. 8 West

Players to watch: Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom tops the short list of best defensemen, while young forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have taken over as Red Wings' top point-producers. Oilers RW Ales Hemsky's talent level is high, even if his profile isn't, and Chris Pronger can be a dominant defenseman.

Schedule: Today at Red Wings, 7; Sunday at Red Wings, 1; Tuesday at Oilers, 10; Thursday at Oilers, 9:30; *-April 29 at Red Wings, 3; *-May 1 at Oilers, TBA; *-May 3 at Red Wings, 7. *-if necessary.

In the net: Manny Legace had a strong regular season, so it's unlikely two-time Cup-winner Chris Osgood will make it off the bench. Edmonton's Dwayne Roloson, acquired from Minnesota, played pretty well late in the season, but made a habit of giving up soft goals.

How the Red Wings can win: Overpower Edmonton with superior depth and talent. Detroit didn't win another Presidents' Trophy by accident.

How the Oilers can win: An implosion by Detroit might be their best hope. Guys like Hemsky and LW Ryan Smyth could test the Wings' defense, though.

Who will win: Red Wings in five. Edmonton has the passion and personnel to make it interesting, but not to take the series.

Season series: Dallas, 3-1.

vs.Record: 53-23-6
Coach: Dave Tippett
Seed: No. 2 West
Record: 43-30-9
Coach: Joel Quenneville
Seed: No. 7 West

Players to watch: Dallas RW Bill Guerin will be looking for redemption after a miserable regular season, and ex-Penguin Sergei Zubov remains one of hockey's premier defensemen. Colorado C Joe Sakic has a history of lifting his game -- and his team --during the post-season, and rookie RW Marek Svatos' scoring touch could be a valuable asset if he can overcome shoulder injury.

Schedule: Tomorrow at Stars, 3 p.m.; Monday at Stars, 9; Wednesday at Avalanche, 9:30; April 28 at Avalanche, 10; *-April 30 at Stars, 2; *-May 2 at Avalanche, TBA; *-May 4 at Stars, TBA. *-if necessary

In the net: Marty Turco gets the call in Dallas, although backup Johan Hedberg has proven he can respond well to playing in high-stakes games. Colorado acquired one-time MVP Jose Theodore from Montreal because it didn't have faith in Aebischer.

How the Stars can win: Jump-starting a surprisingly lame power play might would make it tough for Colorado to keep up. The Stars' stifling team defense could minimize the Avalanche's offensive output, despite the talent in Colorado's lineup.

How the Avalanche can win: Build a large edge in the special-teams battle, which isn't out of the question. Some timely goals from RW Milan Hejduk and LW Alex Tanguay could be pivotal.

Who will win: Stars in six. Colorado's collection of talent just isn't as scary as it used to be.

Season series: Tied, 2-2.

vs.Record: 46-29-11
Coach: Darryl Sutter
Seed: No. 3 West
Record: 43-27-12
Coach: Randy Carlyle
Seed: No. 6 West

Players to watch: RW Jarome Iginla is the only major threat in Calgary's offense, but rookie of the year candidate Dion Phaneuf headlines a defense corps with few equals. RW Teemu Selanne has been revitalized by returning to Anaheim, and signing D Scott Niedermayer as a free agent last summer made the Mighty Ducks' playoff berth possible.

Schedule: Today at Flames, 10 p.m.; Sunday at Flames, 9; Tuesday at Ducks, 10; Thursday at Ducks, 10; *-April 29 at Flames, 10; *-May 1 at Ducks, TBA; *-May 3 at Flames, TBA. *-if necessary

In the net: Miikka Kiprusoff of Calgary will get serious consideration as the league's most valuable player. Anaheim's Jean-Sebastien Giguere proved his playoff pedigree when he carried Anaheim to within one victory of a Stanley Cup in 2003.

How the Flames can win: Play their usual ferocious defense and count on Kiprusoff to handle the few chances they give up. Having RW Tony Amonte make an occasional appearance on the score sheet wouldn't hurt, either.

How the Mighty Ducks can win: Force Calgary out of its preferred style by getting early leads, which will allow Anaheim's skill and young legs to take over. And ride Niedermayer as far as he'll take them.

Who will win: Flames in seven. This has the potential to rank among the most entertaining first-round series if Anaheim doesn't self-destruct.

Season series: Nashville, 2-0-2.

vs.Record: 49-25-8
Coach: Barry Trotz
Seed: No. 4 West
Record: 44-27-11
Coach: Ron Wilson
Seed: No. 5 West

Players to watch: LW Paul Kariya is the driving force behind a diversified attack, and Brendan Witt has added a rugged edge to an underrated defense corps. Sharks C Joe Thornton led the NHL with 125 points, while helping linemate Jonathan Cheechoo score a league-high 56 goals.

Schedule: Today at Predators, 8 p.m.; Sunday at Predators, 1; Tuesday at Sharks, 10:30; Thursday at Sharks, 10:30; *-April 30 at Predators, 8:30; *-May 2 at Sharks, 10:30; *-May 4 at Predators, TBA. *-if necessary

In the net: Nashville has been forced to turn to Chris Mason after Tomas Vokoun was lost for the season because of a blood disorder. Vesa Toskala has bumped better-known Evgeni Nabokov out of the No. 1 job in San Jose.

How the Predators can win: Exploit their advantage in special-teams play and offensive balance, although starting the series without injured RW Steve Sullivan would hurt. And do whatever it takes to limit the damage done by Thornton.

How the Sharks can win: Get Thornton on the ice -- and the puck on his stick -- as much as possible. Rattling Mason early in the series would help a lot, too.

Who will win: Sharks in six. This matchup has the potential to produce some outstanding hockey, even though neither team has much of a national profile.


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