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PRINT EDITION
LOOKING AHEAD TO THE NHL'S FIRST-ROUND PLAYOFF MATCHUPS
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THE CANADIAN PRESS
  
  

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018 – Page B17

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ATLANTIC DIVISION

Tampa Bay Lightning (1) against New Jersey Devils (4) The Lightning backed into the division's top seed when the Boston Bruins lost to the Florida Panthers on home ice in the final game of the regular season. That lifeline is good news - at least on paper - as Tampa avoids the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. The Lightning boast the league's No. 1 offence led by Nikita Kucherov's 100 points, while Norris Trophy candidate Victor Hedman anchors the blueline in front of goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The Devils are paced by Taylor Hall. Keith Kincaid took over the crease as the Devils pushed for the playoffs, but veteran netminder Cory Schneider remains in the picture.

Head-to-head season series: Lightning 02-1; Devils 3-0-0 Pick: Lightning in five Boston Bruins (2) against Toronto Maple Leafs (3) All but locked into the division's No. 3 seed for weeks, the Leafs watched as the Bruins and Lightning jockeyed for first.

Boston blew a chance to clinch top spot over the weekend with that loss to Florida, setting up a meeting between the league's fourth- and seventh-ranked clubs. Toronto's young lineup featuring Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander earned valuable experience in last spring's first-round loss to the Washington Capitals, while Boston's roster led by veterans Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Zdeno Chara is battle-tested. The Leafs won three of four meetings this season, but there wasn't much to choose between the clubs. Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen and Boston counterpart Tuukka Rask have near identical save percentages at .918 and .917, respectively.

Head-to-head this season: Leafs 3-1-0; Bruins 1-2-1 Pick: Leafs in six

METROPOLITAN DIVISION

Washington Capitals (1) against Columbus Blue Jackets (4) Columbus had the fourth-best regularseason record in 2016-17. Their reward? A first-round matchup with the No. 2 Pittsburgh Penguins. The Blue Jackets bowed out in five games, victims of the NHL's divisional playoff format. This year's test against Washington won't be any easier after Columbus grabbed the East's first wild-card spot. Alex Ovechkin's 49 goals led the league for the seventh time. The Capitals have not made it out of the second round in 20 years. Will Washington finally takes that next step in the Ovechkin era? The Capitals will have to get past the Blue Jackets first.

Head-to-head season series: Capitals 31-0; Blue Jackets 1-3-0 Pick: Capitals in seven Pittsburgh Penguins (2) against Philadelphia Flyers (3) The Penguins and Flyers combined for 56 goals, including scores of 10-3, 8-5 and 8-4, the last time they met in the playoffs back in 2012. While it's unlikely there will be that type of offensive deluge this time around, the series features four of the league's top-10 scorers - Claude Giroux (102 points) for Philadelphia, and Evgeni Malkin (98 points), Phil Kessel (92 points) and Sidney Crosby (89 points) for Pittsburgh. The Pennsylvania rivals flat out don't like each other. Can the Flyers knock off the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins after consecutive gruelling springs? Or does Pittsburgh have enough gas in the tank to push forward on its quest for a three-peat?

Head-to-head season series: Penguins 40-0; Flyers 0-2-2 Pick: Penguins in six

WESTERN CONFERENCE

CENTRAL DIVISION

Nashville Predators (1) against Colorado Avalanche (4) The Predators and Avalanche had very different goals heading into this season.

Nashville was looking to get back to the Cup final after falling to Pittsburgh last spring, while Colorado was coming off a miserable 48-point season. The Predators took the first step on their mission by winning the Presidents' Trophy with 117 points. The surprising Avalanche finished with 95 points - 47 more than they earned in 2016-17 - to get back in the playoffs for just the second time since 2011. Colorado centre Nathan MacKinnon, who had 97 points this season, is a Hart Trophy candidate after helping to drag his team back to respectability. But the Predators' deep forward group and stud defence backstopped by Vézina Trophy contender Pekka Rinne is a difficult hill to climb.

Head-to-head season series: Predators 40-0; Avalanche 0-3-1 Pick: Predators in five Winnipeg Jets (2) against Minnesota Wild (3) The Jets will be making their second trip to the playoffs in their second incarnation after going out with a whimper to the Anaheim Ducks in four games back in 2015. Led by captain Blake Wheeler, sniper Patrik Laine, a tough blueline and Vézina candidate Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg looks ready to give the city its first series win since the old Jets advanced to the second round in 1987. Paced by Eric Staal, Minnesota had a great start to the second half of the season, but has slowed a bit in recent weeks. A broken ankle suffered by star defenceman Ryan Suter will also be tough to overcome. This series could light the fuse for a heated geographic rivalry moving forward.

Season series: Jets win 3-1-0; Wild 1-3-0 Pick: Jets in six

PACIFIC DIVISION

Vegas Golden Knights (1) against Los Angeles Kings (4) The Knights have exceeded expectations time and again. The first modern expansion team in North America's four major professional sports leagues to finish first in its division in its inaugural season, Vegas faces a tough challenge in the battledtested Kings. The speedy Knights, accented by William Karlsson's 43 goals, were an offensive juggernaut, while the stingy Kings did it with league's best defence featuring 2016 Norris winner Drew Doughty.

Another regional rivalry in the making, this one could go the distance.

Head-to-head this season: Knights 2-1-1; Kings 2-1-1 Pick: Kings in seven Anaheim Ducks (2) against San Jose Sharks (3) Both teams head into this series with question marks. Anaheim starter John Gibson hasn't played since suffering an upper-body injury on April 1. Veteran backup Ryan Miller, who has plenty of playoff experience, will get the call if the Vézina contender is unable to go. San Jose, meanwhile, heads into the playoffs after going 1-4-1 over its final six games.

The Sharks made the Cup final two seasons ago, but were bounced in the first round by Edmonton last spring. The California rivals have only met once in the playoffs, with the Ducks winning in six games back in 2009.

Head-to-head this season: Sharks 3-0-1; Ducks 1-1-2 Pick: Sharks in six


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