Will Caps pay the penalty?

Both coaches believe in the concept of puck possession – the other guys can’t score if you’ve got the puck – so there should be excitement with offensive pressure. Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom, a 66-assist man, is the sleeper threat on a team that has Alex Ovechkin and record-setting defenseman Mike Green. Henrik Lundqvist, Madison Square Garden and the best penalty-kill in the league will help the Rangers make this a much better series than the standings and seedings would suggest. Can’t forget the Rangers were ousted by a high-powered offense in each of the past two playoffs.

Prediction: Capitals in 7

No. 3 Devils vs. No. 6 Hurricanes

Devils with a mental edge

It’s almost too easy to focus on the fact the Devils had a 0-5-1 stumble after Martin Brodeur set the all-time goalie victory record and that they failed to turn on the switch last spring. Then there is the matter of Patrik Elias’ injury. Also, who was better down the stretch than the Hurricanes, goaltender Cam Ward, outstanding power forward Eric Staal (40 goals, including eight game-winners) and their 13-1-1 burst to make the playoffs? Still, the Devils are stronger mentally – they’ve added Brian Rolston, Bobby Holik and Brendan Shanahan – than they were last year. It’s just too hard to pick against them.

Prediction: Devils in 6

No. 4 Penguins vs. No. 5 Flyers

Intrastate rivals has goals galore

This might be the most watched series of all (two games scheduled for NBC), and why not? There’s the great one-two goal-scoring punch – for the Flyers. Many people don’t realize that Jeff Carter (46) and Mike Richards (30) totaled more goals than Evgeni Malkin (35) and Sidney Crosby (33). The latter two, though, are also two of the best playmakers in the sport, totaling 148 assists to 88 for their Philadelphia counterparts. Still, home ice helps and the Penguins have it.

Prediction: Penguins in 7

No. 1 Bruins vs. No. 8 Canadiens

It will be Boston’s tea party

Oh, you again! This will be the 32nd time these teams have met in the playoffs. The Bruins, having lost 24 of the previous series, likely will reverse the historical trend. They didn’t finish first overall for nothing. They had seven 20-goal scorers, 18 players who ended the regular season with plus ratings. Plus, they had perhaps the most consistent goalie in the league in Tim Thomas. To be fair, the Canadiens did snap to life once general manager Bob Gainey went behind the bench.

Prediction: Bruins in 5

No. 1 Sharks vs. No. 8 Ducks

Sharks will feast on Ducks

The first all-California series since the L.A. Kings beat the Oakland Seals in a seventh game in 1969. The Ducks are hot, they’re feisty and familiar with the opposition (41-41-8 all-time against the Sharks). Anaheim plays a physical game and has 13 players who have won at least one Stanley Cup. Then again, the Sharks did turn back a challenge from the Red Wings for the Western Conference title. It says something when your big problem is finding ice time for agitator Jonathan Cheechoo and four-time Cup winner Claude Lemieux.

Prediction: Sharks in 5

No. 2 Red Wings vs. No. 7 Blue Jackets

Won’t be easy for Detroit

At the very least, this is an opening headache for the Red Wings. The Blue Jackets, in their first-ever playoff series, are not intimidated by the defending champions, having gone 2-3-1 in the regular season. How can you bet against the Red Wings’ resume? Their roster has a combined 44 Cup rings (to Columbus’ 3). Detroit had a 97-point season from Pavel Datsyuk and a 40-goal season from Marian Hossa along with the usual brilliance from Nicklas Lidstrom. The Blue Jackets did get an all-world rookie season from goalie Steve Mason, who went 33-20-7 and led the league with 10 shutouts.

Prediction: Red Wings in 6

No. 4 Blackhawks vs. No. 5 Flames

The Blackhawks are back

The one factor that might make you nervous about the Blackhawks is stage fright. Most of their players haven’t been in the playoffs. But the huge caveat is that goalie Nikolai Khabibulin won the Cup with the Lightning, beating the Flames in the final. Don’t read too much into the fact the Flames went south after the deadline acquisition of Olli Jokinen, who has played more games than anyone else in NHL history without having been in the postseason. Do read something into the 0-4-0 record against Chicago and the uncertain status of injured defenseman Robyn Regehr.

Prediction: Blackhawks in 7

No. 3 Canucks vs. No. 6 Blues

Vancouver is Canada’s hope

Goalies certainly are in form. Roberto Luongo of the Canucks and Chris Mason of the Blues were named the Nos. 1 and 2 stars of the week in the NHL’s final week. The Canucks are Canada’s best hope to regain the Cup for the first time in 16 years. Twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin led the Canucks in scoring and are heading into unrestricted free agency with hunger for a legacy. St. Louis went on a 25-9-7 run that kept going through the final game of the season, when it earned the sixth seed. They have a head of steam.

Prediction: Blues in 6

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