Ted Kulfan breaks down NHL first-round matchups
1 Florida vs. 4 N.Y. Islanders
Records: Florida 47-26-9 (103 points), N.Y. Islanders 45-27-10 (100 points)
Series: Florida 2-1-0
Story line: Florida hasn’t won a playoff series since 1996, but is a legitimate contender.
Key player — Panthers D Aaron Ekblad: He could be a breakthrough star if the Panthers win a few rounds.
Prediction: Panthers in six
2 Tampa Bay vs. 3 Detroit
Records: Tampa Bay 46-31-5 (97 points), Detroit 41-30-11 (93 points)
Story line: A rematch of last spring’s first-round series in which Tampa Bay rallied to win in seven.
Key player — Lightning G Ben Bishop: He has been the Lightning’s savior and most dependable player.
Prediction: Lightning in seven
1 Washington vs. 4 Philadelphia
Records: Washington 56-18-8 (120 points), Philadelphia 41-27-14 (96 points)
Series: Washington 2-0-2
Story line: Washington was the NHL’s best team, while Philadelphia was tremendous after the All-Star break (20-9-6).
Key player — Capitals LW Alex Ovechkin: Will he win his first Stanley Cup?
Prediction: Capitals in five
2 Pittsburgh vs. 3 N.Y. Rangers
Records: Pittsburgh 48-26-8 (104 points), N.Y. Rangers 46-27-9 (101 points)
Series: Pittsburgh 3-1-0
Story line: The Rangers have eliminated the Penguins the last two seasons, and have won seven of the last eight between them in the playoffs.
Key player — Penguins C Sidney Crosby: He has been outstanding the second half and appears determined to carry this roster on a deep run.
Prediction: Rangers in seven
1 Dallas vs. 4 Minnesota
Records: Dallas 50-23-9 (109 points), Minnesota 38-33-11 (87 points)
Series: Dallas 4-1-0
Story line: The first time Minnesota’s former and current teams meet in the playoffs.
Key player — Stars D Kris Russell: A deadline trade acquisition, he has made the Stars better, particularly the power play and penalty kill.
Prediction: Stars in five
2 St. Louis vs. 3 Chicago
Records: St. Louis 49-24-7 (107 points), Chicago 47-26-9 (103 points)
Series: Blues 3-2-0
Story line: This was a physical, downright dirty at times, series when the Blackhawks won in 2014.
Key player — Blackhawks D Duncan Keith: Suspended for Game 1, he will return and will be needed to shut down the versatile Blues attack.
Prediction: Blackhawks in six
1 Anaheim vs. 4 Nashville
Records: Anaheim 46-25-11 (103 points), Nashville 41-27-14 (96 points)
Series: Nashville 2-1-0
Story line: A huge disappointment early, Anaheim won the Pacific Division for the fourth straight season, playing outstanding in the second half.
Key player — Predators D Shea Weber: He has to shut down a slew of dynamic Ducks forwards.
Prediction: Ducks in five
2 Los Angeles vs. 3 San Jose
Records: Los Angeles 48-28-6 (102 points), San Jose 46-30-6 (98 points)
Series: San Jose 4-1-0
Story line: The Kings eliminated the Sharks in 2013 and 2014, overcoming a 3-0 series deficit in 2014.
Key player — Sharks C Joe Thornton: At 36, he had one of his best seasons (82 points) but has to overcome his previous playoff failures.
Prediction: Sharks in six