A capsule look at the first round of the NHL playoffs:
BOSTON (54-19-9) vs DETROIT (39-28-15)
SEASON SERIES: Detroit won 3-1. Early in their last meeting on April 2 at Joe Louis Area, the Red Wings didn’t look as if they played in the same league as the Bruins. But the Red Wings rallied with two goals midway through the third period and held on for a 3-2 win that snapped Boston’s franchise-record road winning streak at nine and its point streak at 16 games.
STORY LINE: The Bruins were the NHL’s best team for much of the season and finished with a league-high 117 points to win their first Presidents’ Trophy since 1990. They are expected to get past Detroit, but it probably won’t be easy. The Red Wings extended their postseason streak to 23 seasons, the fifth-longest in league history, despite a slew of injuries that forced them to use prospects from the AHL earlier than planned.
BOSTON’S KEY PLAYER: Jarome Iginla. The 36-year old forward showed he can still be a star, scoring 30 goals to tie Patrice Bergeron for the most on the team, and had 61 points. He has to produce in the playoffs after being held pointless by Boston when the Bruins swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in last year’s Eastern Conference finals.
DETROIT’S KEY PLAYER: Jimmy Howard. The goaltender likely has to play the way he did when he had 33 saves in Detroit’s last game against Boston to give the Red Wings their best chance to advance at least once in the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years. Howard had an uneven season, giving up 2.66 goals a game. He is 20-22 in his playoff career with a 2.57 goals-against average.
PREDICTION: Bruins in 7.
TAMPA BAY (46-27-9) vs. MONTREAL (46-28-8)
SEASON SERIES: Tampa Bay won 3-0-1. The Lightning won three closely contested games, giving up only one goal in each of their three wins, and lost 2-1 in a shootout on Dec. 28, 2013.
STORY LINE: Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop, who was dominant in the four games against Montreal, is expected to miss at last the start of the seven-game series because of an upper-body injury. If the Canadiens can take advantage of Anders Lindback, who has been in net for only one postseason game in his career, they probably will advance in the playoffs for the first time since reaching the Eastern Conference finals in 2010.
TAMPA BAY’S KEY PLAYER: Lindback. He likely was expecting to sit and watch in the playoffs because Bishop had a fantastic season. Lindback won just eight of 22 games, giving up nearly three goals a game during the regular season. His previous playoff experience consists of one game in 2001 with the Nashville Predators.
MONTREAL’S KEY PLAYER: Max Pacioretty. The sixth-year forward scored a career-high 39 goals in the regular season. For Canada’s only NHL franchise in the playoffs, Pacioretty has to keep lighting the lamp. He did not have a goal or an assist in four games last year in his first postseason appearance, leading to a first-round exit against Ottawa.
PREDICTION: Canadiens in 6.
PITTSBURGH (51-24-7) vs. COLUMBUS (43-32-7)
SEASON SERIES: Pittsburgh won 5-0. The Sidney Crosby-led Penguins swept the season series, outscoring Columbus 16-7 with an average of one goal on the power play per game.
STORY LINE: The Penguins probably have the easiest first-round matchup, but any team still playing is good enough to advance. And the 2009 Stanley Cup champions were eliminated in the opening round in 2011 and 2012.
PITTSBURGH’S KEY PLAYER: Crosby. He joined Mario Lemieux (six), Jaromir Jagr (five) and Evgeni Malkin (two) as Penguins who have won multiple Art Ross Trophies after leading the league with 104 points.
COLUMBUS’ KEY PLAYER: Sergei Bobrovsky. The goaltender is a big reason why the Blue Jackets won a franchise-record 43 games and earned a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and just the second time since becoming an NHL franchise during the 2000-01 season. He faced Pittsburgh once this season, giving up three goals on 13 shots in relief of Curtis McElhinney in a 4-2 loss on Nov. 1.
PREDICTION: Penguins in 5.
NEW YORK RANGERS (45-31-6) vs. PHILADELPHIA (42-30-10)
SEASON SERIES: Tied at 2. The Rangers and Flyers alternated winning games in the regular season with only one matchup — Philadelphia’s 2-1 victory on Oct. 24 at home — decided by one goal.
STORY LINE: The Rangers have advanced in each of the last two postseasons, reaching the conference finals in 2012, and are hoping to do it again under first-year coach Alain Vigneault.
NEW YORK’S KEY PLAYER: Martin St. Louis. The Rangers made perhaps the boldest move before the trade deadline, acquiring the high-scoring forward from Tampa Bay for rugged forward Ryan Callahan, and it didn’t pay off in the regular season. Last year’s NHL scoring champion had only one goal in 19 games with the Broadway Blueshirts.
PHILADELPHIA’S KEY PLAYER: Claude Giroux. He was snubbed by Hockey Canada when it assembled a team for the Sochi Games that went on to win consecutive Olympic gold medals, but the Flyers may have benefited because he got some rest and some motivation. Giroux matched a career high with 28 goals and has 55 points in 50 career playoff games.
PREDICTION: Rangers in 7.