Montreal vs. Ottawa
Season series: Tied, 1-1-1.
Difference makers: Goaltending is the key variable for almost every team in the playoffs, and Carey Price of Montreal was outstanding for most of the season. He sputtered late, however, before finishing with a strong performance in Winnipeg. After missing most of the regular season as a result of having an Achilles tendon sliced by the skate of Penguins LW Matt Cooke, Senators All-Star D Erik Karlsson returned last week and showed few signs of his two-month layoff.
Special teams: Although Montreal had one of the NHL's more productive power plays (20.7 percent) in the regular season, its penalty-killing success rate of 79.8 percent ranked 23rd. Ottawa had the league's most efficient penalty-killing, snuffing 88 percent of opponents' power plays, but scored on just 15.9 percent of its chances with the man-advantage to place 20th.
Noteworthy: Although Montreal coach Michel Therrien is renowned for preaching responsible defense, the Canadiens scored 3.04 goals per game, fourth most in the league. ... Ottawa has gotten key players such as Karlsson and Anderson back from serious injuries, but first-line center Jason Spezza still is not available.
Who will win: Senators in seven.
Washington vs. New York Rangers
Season series: Rangers, 2-0-1.
Difference makers: It's pretty tough to overlook Capitals RW Alex Ovechkin, who morphed from a near-liability early in the season to a Hart Trophy contender by the time it ended as he led the NHL in goals (32), power-play goals (16), shots (220). The guy Ovechkin will be trying to put pucks behind, New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist, is capable of winning a series almost single-handedly.
Special teams: Washington had the league's top regular-season power play, as it converted 26.8 percent of its chances, but the worst penalty-killing of any playoff club (77.9 percent). New York's mediocre penalty-killing didn't have to work very often, since the Rangers averaged a league-low 9.2 penalty minutes per game, and its subpar power play was particularly poor on the road (11.4 percent).
Noteworthy: The Capitals and Rangers will be meeting in the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. ... Ovechkin scored 23 of his 32 goals in the final 23 games. ... Washington started season 2-8-1 but was 11-1-1 in its final 13 games. ... New York is one of two Eastern playoff clubs to finish with a losing record on the road (10-12-2).
Who will win: Capitals in seven.
Boston vs. Toronto
Season series: Bruins, 3-1.
Difference makers: Boston LW Milan Lucic is tough and talented, but hibernated for most of this season. He was a healthy scratch recently and scored just three goals in his past 31 games, but did show signs of coming around late last week. Maple Leafs RW Phil Kessel, who broke into the league with Boston, had 10 goals in his final 10 games and could provide the offense Toronto needs to upset the Bruins. Trouble is, he always has struggled when matched against Boston D Zdeno Chara, failing to score a single even-strength goal in 22 career games against Boston.
Special teams: The regular season suggests penalty-killers will dominate the special-teams battle in this series. Toronto ranked second (87.9 percent) and Boston fourth (87.1), and neither power play was very effective. The Bruins, who had two or fewer power plays in 27 of their 48 games, scored on just five of their final 46 chances with the extra man.
Noteworthy: The Bruins and Maple Leafs have met in the playoffs 12 previous times, but this will be their first series since 1974. ... Boston scored two or fewer goals in eight of its final nine games. ... Toronto led the NHL in hits (1,626) and blocked shots (826).
Who will win: Bruins in six.
Chicago vs. Minnesota
Season series: Blackhawks, 2-0-1.
Difference makers: Chicago center Jonathan Toews is one of hockey's premier two-way performers and the top player on what many regard as the NHL's best team. The Wild lured a couple of big-money free agents, D Ryan Suter and LW Zach Parise, to Minnesota in the summer, and this is when it will be looking for a return on those investments.
Special teams: The Blackhawks killed 47 of their final 49 short-handed situations and tied for third in the league with five short-handed goals, but their power play was surprisingly ordinary (16.7 percent) for a team with so much skill and depth. The most eye-catching power-play or penalty-killing number for the Wild is that Minnesota was one of just two teams that didn't allow a short-handed goal during the regular season.
Noteworthy: Chicago gave up a league-low 2.02 goals per game and scored an average of 3.1, second only to Penguins' 3.38. ... The Blackhawks lost consecutive games in regulation just twice in the regular season and won a league-best 19 one-goal games. ... Minnesota is making its first playoff appearance in five years. ... Suter played 30 or more minutes in six of the final 11 regular-season games.
Who will win: Blackhawks in five.
Anaheim vs. Detroit
Season series: Detroit, 2-1.
Difference makers: Anaheim C Ryan Getzlaf is big and talented, a gifted playmaker who can score goals as well as set them up. Red Wings C Pavel Datsyuk is a force all over the rink and enters the playoffs on a roll after piling up eight points in the final three regular-season games.
Special teams: Anaheim had the West's top-ranked power play in the regular season, scoring on 21.5 percent of its opportunities, as 14 players chipped in with at least one man-advantage goal. Although both of Detroit's units are run-of-the-mill, its penalty-killers gave up just three goals in their final 38 short-handed situations, while the power play scored only once on its past 19 tries on the road.
Noteworthy: The road team won all three games in the season series. ... Anaheim RW Teemu Selanne, 42, had two four-point games; only two players his age in league history had managed even one before this season. ... Ex-Penguins D Ben Lovejoy had 10 assists in 32 games after being traded to the Ducks. ... Detroit is in the playoffs for the 22nd consecutive spring, the longest active streak in the NHL. ... Red Wings G Jimmy Howard gave up two or fewer goals in 10 of his final 11 appearances.
Who will win: Ducks in seven.
Vancouver vs. San Jose
Season series: Sharks, 3-0.
Difference makers: Gifted twin brothers Daniel and Henrik Sedin get most of the attention in Vancouver, but when he's healthy, C Ryan Kesler hits hard, plays stifling defense and delivers goals at key times. San Jose leaned heavily on G Antti Niemi, playing him in 43 of 48 games, and he responded with 24 victories, tying for the league lead, and solid personal statistics.
Special teams: Vancouver's strong penalty-killing (84 percent) is offset by an unproductive power play (15.8 percent). Although San Jose is offensively challenged, it has the conference's second-most efficient power play (20.1 percent). The Sharks' penalty-killing ranked sixth in the NHL (85 percent), despite going just 9 for 13 in the final six games.
Noteworthy: Vancouver's home-ice advantage could be decisive, given that San Jose had the worst road record (8-14-2) of any playoff club. ... The Canucks tied for the NHL lead with seven shutouts, but the guy who recorded five of those, Cory Schneider, is questionable for the start of the series with an unspecified injury. ... Vancouver has been eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup winner in each of the past three years. ... San Jose averaged 2.42 goals per game, second-fewest among playoff teams.
Who will win: Canucks in seven.
St. Louis vs. Los Angeles
Season series: Kings, 3-0.
Difference makers: Blues G Brian Elliott is the linchpin to coach Ken Hitchcock's defensive style, and was hot down the stretch, going 11-2 in April. ... C Jeff Carter is the guy Los Angeles looks to when it needs a goal. He scored a team-high 26 of them, a league-leading eight of which were game-winners.
Special teams: St. Louis' penalty-killers placed eighth in the league (84.7 percent) and allowed just four goals in their final 53 short-handed situations at home. The Kings' power play rebounded from a 0-for-23 start to finish 10th in league (19.9 percent) and their penalty-killers gave up just one goal in the final 21 times they were short-handed.
Noteworthy: Los Angeles seems to have the Blues' number, winning the past eight games between the teams. ... The Kings won their final seven home games and were 19-4-1 at Staples Center. ... Los Angeles C Anze Kopitar had 33 points in the final 34 games. ... The Blues, in danger of missing the playoffs a month ago, closed the regular season on a 12-3 run. ... Blues C Patrik Berglund was the NHL's most accurate shooter, with 17 goals on 74 shots (23 percent).
Who will win: Kings in six.