On the Ice: Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

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On the Ice: Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

Derick Brassard of the New York Rangers pushes the puck over the goal line behind Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. The Rangers defeated the Penguins, 3-1, in Game 6 of the NHL Eastern Conference playoffs at Madison Square Garden in New York in last years NHL playoffs on Sunday, May 11, 2014. (Peter Diana/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/MCT)

Derick Brassard of the New York Rangers pushes the puck over the goal line behind Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. The Rangers defeated the Penguins, 3-1, in Game 6 of the NHL Eastern Conference playoffs at Madison Square Garden in New York in last years NHL playoffs on Sunday, May 11, 2014. (Peter Diana/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/MCT)

Derick Brassard of the New York Rangers pushes the puck over the goal line behind Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. The Rangers defeated the Penguins, 3-1, in Game 6 of the NHL Eastern Conference playoffs at Madison Square Garden in New York in last years NHL playoffs on Sunday, May 11, 2014. (Peter Diana/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/MCT)

Derick Brassard of the New York Rangers pushes the puck over the goal line behind Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. The Rangers defeated the Penguins, 3-1, in Game 6 of the NHL Eastern Conference playoffs at Madison Square Garden in New York in last years NHL playoffs on Sunday, May 11, 2014. (Peter Diana/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/MCT)

Jordan Ball

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The teams are set and here are the Eastern Conference first round playoff matchups:

M: Metropolitan, A: Atlantic, WC: Wildcard

(M1) New York Rangers vs. (WC2) Pittsburgh Penguins

(Regular season series: Rangers 3-0-1)

The New York Rangers, Presidents’ Trophy winners, host the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Rangers clinched a playoff berth weeks ago and are 5-1 in their last six games, while the Penguins are 1-5 in their last six and had to win their final game of the season to earn their playoff bid.

Last postseason, these two teams met in the Conference Semifinals where the Penguins squandered a 3-1 series lead, eventually losing in game 7.

X-Factors: For Pittsburgh, Centers Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury must play much better than they did last postseason for the Penguins to have a chance to win, especially with star defenceman Kris Letang out for season. For New York, mid-season additions, defenceman Keith Yandle and forward Kevin Hayes have given the Rangers much needed consistency, but now can they bring that consistency to the playoffs.

The Rangers are heavily favorited in this star studded matchup, but with great players like Crosby and Malkin, playing with something to prove, this could be the Rangers nightmare opponent.

Game 1 will be at MSG this Thursday at 7 p.m. ET.

My Prediction: Rangers 4, Penguins 3

(A1) Montreal Canadiens vs. (WC1) Ottawa Senators

(Regular season series: Senators 3-1-0)

The Montreal Canadiens clinched the Atlantic Division and have the second best record in the east, behind their dominant MVP candidate, goalie Carey Price. The Canadiens sitting atop the east heading into the playoffs is not shocking, but nobody expected the Senators to be here.

In the month of March, Ottawa won 11 out of 16 games and had a seven game win streak during the month. They then won six of their final seven games to clinch a wildcard berth, jumping teams like the Penguins and Bruins who were ahead of them in the standings.

X-Factors: For Montreal, last year’s postseason run was stopped short as Price got injured and they went on to lose to the Rangers for a chance at the Stanley Cup. Price is now in rare form and Norris Trophy favorite P.K. Subban will be the difference in how far the Canadiens go. For Ottawa, their forwards are going to have to play well if they want to beat Price. Defenceman Erik Karlsson, second in goals among defenceman, will also have to contribute to scoring if the Senators want to pull off this first round upset.

Can Price and Subban cap off a good regular season with a great postseason run, or will Karlsson and the red hot Senators continue their unbelievable run?

Game 1 begins Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET in Montreal.

My Prediction: Canadiens 4, Senators 2

SPORTS CANADIENS-FLYERS 3 PD

Philadelphia Flyers' Claude Giroux dives past Montreal Canadeins' Jaroslav Spacel for the puck during the second period at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Monday, November 22, 2010. (Steven M. Falk/Philadelphia Daily News/MCT)

(A2) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (A3) Detroit Red Wings

(Regular season series: Lightning 3-1-0)

Tampa Bay has the third best record in the Eastern Conference, led by their star center Steven Stamkos. In their last 10 games the Lightning were 6-3-1. Detroit did not have their best regular season, but this team is much older now. They won their final game of the regular season, but in their last 10 games they’re 4-4-2 heading into the postseason.

X-Factors: For Tampa Bay, their young forwards, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin must not shy away from the playoff stage because without their skilled versatility, the Lightning won’t stand a chance against Detroit’s veteran club. Also, defenceman Victor Hedman will need to be the catalyst for the Lightning’s blue liners, in controlling Detroit’s top forwards. For the Red Wings, starting goalie Jimmy Howard and backup Petr Mrazek must make timely saves against the high powered Lightning scorers to keep them in games. Forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have always played well in the playoffs, so the Red Wings depth must play better than they did during the regular season to beat a team that convincingly won the regular season series.

This matchup is truly a test between a young talented team against a distinguished veteran team. Will the young Lightning continue off their regular season success or will the more seasoned Red Wings come alive?

Game 1 begins Thursday at 7:30 p.m. ET in Tampa.

My Prediction: Lightning 4, Red Wings 1

SPORTS HKN-OILERS-REDWINGS 4 DE

Detroit Red Wings' Erik Cole pushes his way past Edmonton Oilers' Andrew Ference during the first period on Monday, March 9, 2015, at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. (Julian H. Gonzalez/Detroit Free Press/TNS)

(M2) Washington Capitals vs. (M3) New York Islanders

(Regular season series: Tied 2-0-2)

This series is as close to a tossup as there can be in these playoffs. In their last 10 games the Capitals are 6-3-1 and the Islanders are 4-3-3. They split the regular season series against each other and both teams will also display Hart trophy favorites, in Islanders center John Tavares and Capitals left winger Alex Ovechkin.

Ovechkin won the Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard Trophy for leading the league in goals (53) and Tavares was second in points (86), to Dallas’s Jamie Benn (87), in his quest for the Art Ross Trophy for leading the league in points.

X-factors: Capitals goalie Braden Holtby and Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak are the biggest x factors in this series. The winner of this series will come down to the play of these two goalies and which goalie allows soft goals or gets the crucial stops in big moments. The Capitals have an advantage at defencemen, with John Carlson, Mike Green, and free agent addition Matt Niskanen, because of their depth at the position. They will play a huge role in slowing down Tavares and the Islanders forwards.

Game 1 begins Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET in Washington.

My Prediction: Islanders 4, Capitals 3

SPORTS HKN-CAPS-JACKETS 1 OH

The Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin celebrates his goal with teammate Brooks Orpik (44) in the first period against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday, March 3, 2015. (Eamon Queeney/Columbus Dispatch/TNS)