Who will survive? Ted Kulfan breaks down first round

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Petr Mrazek

Ted Kulfan of The Detroit News breaks down every first-round series in the NHL playoffs:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ATLANTIC DIVISION

(1) Montreal vs. (4) Ottawa

RECORDS: Montreal 50-22-10 (110 points); Ottawa 43-26-13 (99 points).

SEASON SERIES: Ottawa won 3-1-0.

STORYLINES: Ottawa has all the momentum heading into the playoffs, going on a phenomenal 21-3-3 run to qualify. G Andrew Hammond (20-1-2) was unbelievable during the stretch, going from a fringe minor leaguer to viable Hart Trophy candidate. But can the Senators' luck continue against a Montreal team that has been among the NHL's elite all season, led by Hart and Vezina Trophy candidate Carey Price (44-16-6, 1.96 GAA, .933 SVS). The Canadiens need to get LW Max Pacioretty (37 goals) back in the lineup from his concussion symptoms.

KEY PLAYER: Ottawa RW Mark Stone. A favorite for the Calder Trophy after scoring 26 goals, including many big ones in recent weeks as the Senators rolled into the playoffs. Can the rookie continue in the playoffs?

PREDICTION: Ottawa in 7.

(2) Tampa Bay vs. (3) Detroit

RECORDS: Tampa Bay 50-24-8 (108 points); Detroit 43-25-14 (100 points).

SEASON SERIES: Tampa Bay won 3-1-0.

STORYLINES: The Red Wings head into these playoffs with a huge question in net, choosing Petr Mrazek over Jimmy Howard. The Lightning counter with Ben Bishop, who has been among the NHL's elite over the last two seasons but is largely unproven in the playoffs. Tampa Bay has as much depth up front as any team in the NHL but the defense has been hit with injuries. This is the 24th consecutive playoff berth for the Red Wings, who boast the second-ranked power play in the NHL.

KEY PLAYER: Red Wings G Petr Mrazek. When Mrazek has been on his game, he's proven capable of carrying the Red Wings and being a quality No. 1 goalie. But the youngster has been extremely prone to inconsistency.

PREDICTION: Tampa Bay in 6.

METROPOLITAN DIVISION

(1) New York Rangers vs. (4) Pittsburgh

RECORDS: New York Rangers 53-22-7 (113 points); Pittsburgh 43-27-12 (98 points).

SEASON SERIES: N.Y. Rangers won 3-0-1.

STORYLINES: After reaching the Stanley Cup Finals last season the Rangers are picked by many analysts to win it all this spring. G Henrik Lundqvist returned from a neck injury several weeks ago and is rounding into peak form. The acquisition of D Keith Yandle at the trade deadline has solidified the defense, while up front the Rangers are quick, versatile and deep. Pittsburgh has five healthy defensemen heading into this series and had to win the final night of the season to earn a berth. The Penguins have lacked secondary scoring all season.

KEY PLAYER: G Marc-Andre Fleury. If the Penguins are to have any chance at all, Fleury needs to play beyond expectations, and that includes outplaying Lundqvist. Fleury had one of his better regular seasons, but doesn't have a lot of help in front of him currently.

PREDICTION: N.Y. Rangers in 5.

Alex Ovechkin

(2) Washington vs. (3) N.Y. Islanders

RECORDS: Washington 45-26-11 (101 points); N.Y. Islanders 47-28-7 (101 points).

SEASON SERIES: Tied 2-2-0.

STORYLINES: Coach Barry Trotz has instilled a defensive conscience into the Capitals, who appear to be built for a successful playoff run with their size, skill and goaltending. G Braden Holtby (41-20-10, .923 SVS, 2.22 GAA) is having a standout season. The Islanders have the emotional edge of leaving Nassau Coliseum (going to Brooklyn next season), where home ice advantage can still be a factor. C John Tavares (38 goals, 86 points) has to continue what has been a Hart Trophy-caliber season.

KEY PLAYER: LW Alex Ovechkin. He led the NHL with 53 goals and appears ready to carry the Capitals toward a long playoff run.

PREDICTION: Washington in 5.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

CENTRAL DIVISION

(1) St. Louis vs. (4) Minnesota

RECORDS: St. Louis 51-24-7 (109 points); Minnesota 46-28-8 (100 points).

SEASON SERIES: Tied, 2-2.

STORYLINES: The Blues yet again enter the playoffs after a sensational regular season, look good in paper, but have to overcome the history of playoff failures. The Blues again have a question mark in net, where neither Brian Elliott nor Jake Allen inspire confidence. Conversely, the Wild are riding the outstanding play of G Devan Dubnyk, who turned the Wild around after being acquired at midseason. The Wild have a deep collection of forwards, led by LW Zach Parise (33 goals).

KEY PLAYER: LW Alexander Steen. Many Blues players have had forgettable playoff seasons, but Steen is getting heat after scoring only five goals in 25 career games, only one in last season's first-round loss to Chicago.

PREDICTION: St. Louis in 6.

(2) Nashville vs. (3) Chicago

RECORDS: Nashville 47-25-10 (104 points); Chicago 48-28-6 (102 points).

SEASON SERIES: Chicago won 3-1-0.

STORYLINES: If RW Patrick Kane (27 goals) can return from a broken collarbone suffered Feb. 24, it provide a huge boost for the Blackhawks. Chicago has a deep and veteran lineup that will likely be broken up in the summer because of salary cap considerations. The Blackhawks would like to end it with a Stanley Cup. Nashville made a remarkable turnaround under coach Peter Laviolette this season but this organization has just two playoff series victories in its history. Nashville's defense, led by D Shea Weber, is among the best and could shut down the explosive the Blackhawks.

KEY PLAYER: Nashville G Pekka Rinne. The Predators have the edge in net; Rinne can singlehandedly steal this series.

PREDICTION: Chicago in 6.

Dustin Byfuglien

PACIFIC DIVISION

(1) Anaheim vs. (4) Winnipeg

RECORDS: Anaheim 51-24-7 (109 points); Winnipeg 43-26-13 (99 points).

SEASON SERIES: Anaheim won 3-0-0.

STORYLINES: The pressure is on the Ducks again heading into the playoffs. The Ducks were the best team in the Western Conference from opening night and have been built for playoff success. But coach Bruce Boudreau has faltered often in the playoffs, and Ducks G Frederik Andersen is unproven. Winnipeg will be carried by its delirious fan base, which is going crazy seeing the Jets back in they playoffs. LW Andrew Ladd (24 goals) and RW Blake Wheeler (61 points) are two fine players few know outside of Winnipeg.

KEY PLAYER: Winnipeg D Dustin Byfluglien. The big and mobile Byfuglien has the ability to contain Anaheim's elite nucleus of C Ryan Getzlaf, RW Corey Perry and C Ryan Kesler (Livonia).

PREDICTION: Winnipeg in 6.

Jiri Hudler

(2) Vancouver vs. (3) Calgary

RECORDS: Vancouver 48-29-5 (101 points); Calgary 45-30-7 (97 points).

SEASON SERIES: Tied, 2-2.

STORYLINES: G Eddie Lack took over for injured G Ryan Miller (East Lansing) the second half of the season and the Canucks didn't miss a beat. The Canucks continue to be led by the Sedin twins (149 combined points), who found a perfect complement in RW Radim Vrbata (31 goals). But the Canucks don't have a lot of size, and Calgary's edginess and brawn could wear them down. Nobody expected the Flames to go as far as they have, with coach Bob Hartley pushing this hard-working and rapidly improving roster. LW Johnny Gaudreau (24 goals) is a Calder Trophy candidate.

KEY PLAYER: C Jiri Hudler. The former Red Wing has developed into a star in Calgary, leading the Flames with 31 goals, 45 assists and 76 points. Hudler has thrived under the increased expectations.

PREDICTION: Calgary in 6.