NHL Playoffs: Eastern Conference Preview

By Brian Willwerth

The NHL playoffs get underway Wednesday night. The action and intensity will increase to a fever pitch. 16 teams will be vying for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the quarterfinal matchups, starting in the East:

(1) Washington Capitals vs. (8) New York Rangers:

The Caps are once again the top seed in the East. They’ll be looking to avoid a repeat of last year, when they got bounced in the first round by the Montreal Canadiens.

And consider this: The Rangers have beaten Washington soundly three straight times. You can’t talk about the Caps high-powered offense without mentioning Alex Ovechkin, (32 goals, 53 assists.) The Rangers have a reliable goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist, who led the NHL this year with 11 shutouts.

(2) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (7) Buffalo Sabres

The Flyers went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals as the #7 seed last season. This time around, they enter the postseason as one of the favorites to get back there, but these two teams have been going in opposite directions down the stretch. Philly won just one of its last six games, while the Sabres are [28-11-6] since January 1, 2011.

If you’re a big believer in history, Buffalo has won the last two postseason series against Philadelphia.

(3) Boston Bruins vs. (6) Montreal Canadiens

On paper, this has all the potential to be the best – and bloodiest – of the first-round series. The only thing fans of these two teams would rather see is a matchup in the Conference Finals instead of the opening round. The Canadiens won four of the six meetings against the Bruins. But Boston posted a 7-0 shellacking in the series finale.  And who could ever forget that Wednesday night in February at TD Garden, when the two teams combined for nearly 200 penalty minutes?

(4)  Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Tampa Bay Lightning

The headline going into this series involves who will not be on the ice. That would be Penguins’ star Sidney Crosby. He’s been sidelined since Jan. 6 with a concussion. The Lightning are back in the postseason for the first time in four seasons. They have four players who scored double-digit goals in the regular season. They will face a challenge in beating Pens’ goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who’s been very impressive during the second half of the season.

Coming tomorrow: a preview of the Western Conference opening-round match-ups.

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