Florida Panthers vs.
New York Islanders
How they got here: Panthers won Atlantic Division, just second division title in franchise history; Islanders lost final two games and end with the top wild-card position.
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Season series: Panthers won 2-1.
Scouting report: The Panthers set franchise records with 47 victories and 103 points to win the Atlantic Division. The Islanders, meanwhile, are a wild-card team despite winning just two fewer games than Florida. For the Panthers, this is their fifth playoff appearance and only the third since moving to the BB&T Center in 1998. The Islanders haven’t won a playoff series since 1993, and Florida hasn’t won one since 1996. Something has to give. New York is very dangerous offensively with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo leading the way. Florida has goalie Roberto Luongo, however, who is hungry to show he’s ready to carry a team — his Panthers — deep into the postseason. Luongo will be opposed by Thomas Greiss after starter Jaroslav Halak was injured last month and will miss the series.
The pick: Panthers in 5.
Washington Capitals vs.
How they got here: Washington set franchise records with 56 wins and 120 points and basically clinched the Presidents’ Trophy by Christmas; Philadelphia had a great final month to claim the final wild-card spot on Saturday.
Season series: Capitals won 2-0-2.
Scouting report: The Capitals lost five of their final seven as they had nothing to play for while the Flyers had to stay hot just to advance to the playoffs. Can the Caps get the magic back? Probably. Coach Barry Trotz had Washington firing on all cylinders, Alex Ovechkin is Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby is the best goalie still playing. The Flyers are very dangerous, however, and South Florida native Shayne Gostisbehere has a knack for scoring goals when Philly needs them the most.
The pick: Capitals in 6.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs.
New York Rangers
How they got here: Penguins finished second in Metropolitan Division; Rangers finished third.
Season series: Penguins won 3-1.
Scouting report: The Rangers pulled into third in the Metropolitan to set up this series after beating the Penguins in the past two postseasons. The Rangers have been to the Eastern Conference finals in three of the past four years and played in the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals. Pittsburgh is playing the best hockey of anyone right now as it roared up to claim second in the division after being out of a playoff position not too long ago.
The pick: Penguins in 6.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs.
Detroit Red Wings
How they got here: Lightning finished second in Atlantic Division; Red Wings were third.
Season series: Tied 2-2.
Scouting report: Both teams are banged up, especially Tampa Bay, which is missing star center Steven Stamkos because of a blood clot and top defenseman Anton Stralman, who broke his leg. The Lightning played in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals yet lost the division title to the cross-state rival Panthers this season. Detroit kind of backed into the playoffs but is here for a 25th consecutive season, and that’s really all that matters.
The pick: Lightning in 7.
Dallas Stars vs.
How they got here: Dallas racked up 109 points to win the Central Division and top seed in the West; Minnesota limped into the playoffs but secured the final spot.
Season series: Stars won 4-1.
Scouting report: It’s the North/South Stars series as the team which left Minnesota looks to move on by beating its replacement in the Twin Cities. The Stars are as dynamic a team as there is in the game as they led the NHL with 267 goals, but they are in the playoffs for just the second time in the past eight years. The Wild is banged up and has the worst record of any team to make the playoffs since 2005.
The pick: Stars in 5.
Anaheim Ducks vs.
How they got here: Anaheim won the Pacific Division after beating Washington in a blizzard makeup game Sunday; Nashville took the first wild card position.
Season series: Predators won 2-1.
Scouting report: Anaheim bounced back from a terrible start — it was so bad that coach Bruce Boudreau was rumored to be fired on numerous occasions — to win a tough Pacific Division and the second spot in the West. That was thanks in part to terrific special teams, as the Ducks are the first team to lead the league in power play and penalty kill since the Islanders in 1985. Nashville is an extremely dangerous team and won’t be an easy opponent by any means. With goalie Pekka Rinne in net, the Predators will be a hard out and could do enough to win the series.
The pick: Predators in 7.
St. Louis Blues vs.
How they got here: St. Louis finished with 107 points but ended up second in Central; Chicago was four points back for third.
Season series: Blues won 3-2.
Scouting report: Are you kidding? The Blues have been knocked out of the first round in the past three years yet draw the defending Cup champion Blackhawks in the opening round this year? Although the Hawks don’t look as dominant as in the past, they can score in bunches and know how to win big games. The Blues are healthy but have a ton of pressure on their shoulders. The Blackhawks seem to thrive in this environment.
The pick: Blackhawks in 6.
Los Angeles Kings vs.
San Jose Sharks
How they got here: Los Angeles lost its final game Saturday and finished second in the Pacific; San Jose finished third.
Season series: Sharks won 3-1-1.
Scouting report: Both teams missed the playoffs last year, leading to some changes in San Jose as former Florida (and New Jersey) coach Pete DeBoer took over behind the bench. This will be the fourth time in six years the teams will meet in the playoffs, with the Kings winning the past two. The Sharks have a lot of firepower this year and have gotten strong play from former Kings backup goalie Martin Jones. Will that be enough to knock off the Kings? Maybe.
The pick: Kings in 7.