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2009 NHL Playoffs: Eastern Conference first round preview


Although the season is over for the Dallas Stars, Defending Big D is still dedicated to covering playoff hockey. It's the most exciting time in all of sports and each year features classic games, rife with intensity, drama and emotion. Today, we take a look at the Eastern Conference matchups and tomorrow we'll preview the West. Wednesday we'll put up our picks for who we think will be moving on the second round.

Here is how the Eastern Conference matchups for the first round look, as well as the schedule for each series.



#1 Boston Bruins Vs. #8 Montreal Canadiens
Stanley Cup of Chowder | Habs Eyes on the Prize

You don't have to be a history major to know that there is a ton of history between these two Original Six teams. There is also no secret that these teams, and fans,  also hate each other. I believe that this is going to be one of the better series in all of the Stanley Cup Playoffs simply because they are so familiar with one another. Not only do the play in the same division, but they also met last year in the first round of the playoffs. Montreal outlasted Boston and won the series in seven games.  Boston won the season series 5-1

Coming into the playoffs both teams have a few injuries to deal with, but quite frankly who doesn't.

Four of Boston's biggest players sat out Saturday's 6-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres with various ailments (Zdeno Chara, P.J. Axelsson, Patrice Bergeron and Phil Kessel) but all look like they will be ready to go when the playoffs get underway.

Expect this to be a hard fought, physical series that is going to come down to the men between the pipes. Carey Price will definitely be on a short leash for the Habs.  If head coach Bob Gainey has even the slightest feeling he isn't cutting it, Jaroslav Halak will be his guy.

Thursday, April 16 at Boston, 7:00 p.m. CBC, RDS
Saturday, April 18 at Boston, 8:00 p.m. VERSUS, CBC, RDS
Monday, April 20 at Montreal, 7:00 p.m. CBC, RDS
Wednesday, April 22 at Montreal, 7:00 p.m. CBC, RDS
*Saturday, April 25 at Boston, 7:00 p.m. CBC, RDS
*Monday, April 27 at Montreal, TBD CBC, RDS
*Wednesday, April 29 at Boston, TBD CBC, RDS




#2 Washington Capitals Vs. #7 New York Rangers
Japer's Rink | Blueshirt Banter

There is no questioning how dominant the Washington Capitals have been this year.  Especially when you have a player like Alexander Ovechikin on your team who has shown that he is the BEST player in the world. He will win the Hart Trophy as the NHL's MVP again this year.

The Rangers have been up and down the past few years. This definitely seems to be one of their "up" years.  Although it could have very easily been a down year.  With the Rangers mired in a huge slump, losing ten of twelve games in February, the Rangers fired head coach Tom Renney and brought in Stanley Cup champion coach John Tortorella to lead the team to the promise land.  It seems that's what he has done so far.

I look for Sean Avery to be a big factor in this series as he has enjoyed a rejuvenation of sorts in his return to the Big Apple. Be sure to keep an eye on him if his line gets matched up against the Ovechkin line. I am also looking for him to get into the fragile head of Jose Theodore as well. If his antics can get into the head of one the games best, I guarantee he will be in the head of Theodore.

The big question mark for me in this series is whether or not Jose Theodore can be the goalie the Caps need him to be.  If not (and I don't think he will) the entire season will have been for nothing.

Wednesday, April 15, at Washington, 7:00 p.m. TSN
Saturday, April 18 at Washington, 1:00 p.m. NBC, TSN
Monday, April 20 at New York, 7:00 p.m. VERSUS, TSN
Wednesday, April 22 at New York, 7:00 p.m. VERSUS, TSN
*Friday, April 24 at Washington, 7:00 p.m. VERSUS, TSN, RDS
*Sunday, April 26 at New York, 2:00 p.m. NBC, TSN, RDS
*Tuesday, April 28 at Washington, TBD VERSUS, TSN, RDS




#3 New Jersey Devils Vs. #6 Carolina Hurricanes
In Lou We Trust | Canes Country

I really think that this is a mismatch. Not the way you might think either. I feel like the Devils are in for all that they can handle in this series. Carolina is returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2006 when they raised Lord Stanley's Cup, a year in which they beat the Devils four games to one in the Eastern Semifinals.

Carolina is coming into this series probably the most healthy team in the NHL, with just one person on the injury report. Matt Cullen is questionable for the opening game of the series.

Eric Staal scored 40 goals this season and is truly a force to reckoned with. He scored four, count them four, hat tricks this year including a four goal explosion back in March against the Lightning.

With Martin Brodeur between the pipes you can never count the Devils out.  All he has done this year is set the record for all-time wins by an NHL goaltender.  He only started 30 games this year due to injury, he normally has that many starts by the end of November.  I expect him to play well given how rested he will be going into the playoffs.

The problem will not be him.  This year seems to be unfolding similar to last year when the Devils limped into the playoffs and were quickly dealt with by the New York Rangers.  But with Zach Parise and Devils capitain Jaime Langenbrunner, someone Stars fans are very familiar with, leading the team, this could be a very interesting series.

Wednesday, April 15 at New Jersey, 7:30 p.m. TSN, RIS
Friday, April 17 at New Jersey, 7:30 p.m. TSN, RIS
Sunday, April 19 at Carolina, 7:30 p.m. TSN, RIS
Tuesday, April 21 at Carolina, 7:30 p.m. TSN, RIS
*Thursday, April 23 at New Jersey, 7:30 p.m. TSN, RIS
*Sunday, April 26 at Carolina, TBD TSN, VERSUS
*Tuesday, April 28 at New Jersey, 7:30 p.m. TSN




#4 Pittsburgh Penguins Vs. #5 Philadelphia Flyers
Pensburgh | Broad Street Hockey

Let the Battle of Pennsylvania continue! This is going to be the most entertaining series in the NHL and the one that I will be watching the most of. Both teams finished the season with 99 points and feel they are legitimate Cup contenders.

The Pens really only have 2 options on offense. Evgeni Malkin led the NHL in points this year with 113 points (35G, 78A). Sidney Crosby scored 103 points (33G, 70A) this year, the third time he has broken the century mark in his four year career.  After that, let's just say the Pens are going to be leaning heavily on Gino and Sid the Kid to carry the offensive load.

Marc-Andre Fluery is proving that he is an elite NHL goaltender and is coming into the prime of his career even though he is only 24 years old. I fully expect for Fleury to find his playoff game this year.

The Flyers are also a high flying, offensive team that can also score in bunches.  They boast a roster that has six players with at least 25 goals (Jeff Carter 45, Simon Gagne 34, Scott Hartnell 30, Mike Richards 30, Mike Knuble 27 and Joffrey Lupul 25). They are the first team to do that since the 1993-94 Calgary Flames.

There are two things that I think is going to be key for each team to move on to the next round. Can the Pens defense shut down the Flyers and their half dozen 25 goal scorers? Can Martin Biron take the next step towards being an elite NHL goaltender?

Wednesday, April 15 at Pittsburgh, 7:00 p.m. VERSUS, CBC, RDS
Friday, April 17 at Pittsburgh, 7:00 p.m. VERSUS, CBC, RDS
Sunday, April 19 at Philadelphia, 3:00 p.m. NBC, CBC, RDS
Tuesday, April 21 at Philadelphia, 7:00 p.m. VERSUS, CBC, RDS
*Thursday, April 23 at Pittsburgh, 7:00 p.m. VERSUS, CBC, RDS
*Saturday, April 25 at Philadelphia, 3:00 p.m. NBC, CBC
*Monday, April 27 at Pittsburgh, TBD VERSUS, CBC