This Sunday marked the conclusion of the NHL regular season. As teams prepare for the postseason, some excellent first round matchups are already brewing.

Eastern Conference:

Philadelphia Flyers vs. Washington Capitals

The Washington Capitals have dominated the Eastern Conference for the entire regular season, clinching the one seed in the east by 16 points. The Caps are lead by MVP candidate Alexander Ovechkin, who just registered his third consecutive 50-goal season.The Capitals are heavy favorites in this opening series and outmatch the Flyers in nearly every position. If the Flyers are to have any hope, it will take out of this world play from players such as goaltender Steve Mason. Ultimately, there is little excitement in the series and it will be surprising if it lasts longer than five games at most.

New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

This marks the third year in a row that the Penguins and Rangers have faced each other in the postseason with the Rangers being victorious in each of the first two meetings. The key difference is that Pittsburgh has home ice advantage this time and Pittsburgh has been outstanding at home this year, averaging over three goals a game. The Penguins are led on the ice by team captain Sidney Crosby, who has experienced a career renaissance this season after many pundits predicted that his decline was beginning. The Rangers’ hopes rest largely with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who has been one of the top goalies in the NHL this year. This series could go either way, but Pittsburgh should ultimately prevail.

Detroit Red Wings vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

The Red Wings and Lightning faced each other in the opening round of the playoffs last year; Detroit led for large parts of the series, but eventually lost to the Lightning in seven games. This time around, Tampa comes into the game filled with injuries, most notably to captain Steven Stamkos. The Lightning need to turn this into a tight, defensive series if they are going to find success. This is a golden opportunity for Detroit, as Tampa would most likely be heavy favorites if they were healthy. Detroit will need to rely on the young legs of players such as forwards Dylan Larkin and Riley Sheahan to try and out-skate Tampa for a victory.

New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers

The Panthers head into this series favored. Florida is led by the ageless wonder forward Jaromir Jagr, who is still playing at 44 years old. Also vital to the Panthers success is 37-year-old goaltender Roberto Luongo, who was rejuvenated this season and is playing as well as any goaltender in the league. The Islanders will rely most heavily on the play of forward John Tavares, who has gotten hot down the stretch of the regular season, scoring 12 points in his final seven games.


Western Conference:

Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues

This series is without a doubt the best one of the opening round. Both of these teams are easily Stanley Cup contenders. The Blackhawks look to become the first team since the early 70s to win back-to-back Stanley Cups. The Blues on the other hand hope to finally break through and find postseason success. The biggest challenge for Chicago is that they will be missing star defensemen Duncan Keith for the first game due to suspension. The Blackhawks are led by likely league MVP Patrick Kane. The Blues are going to have to be excellent in the goal in order to win and will rely heavily on underrated goaltender Brian Elliott. In a tight series, expect Chicago’s experience to push them over the top.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Nashville Predators

This series promises to be very low scoring as it features two of the best defenses in the entire league. The Ducks are the winners of this year’s William M. Jennings Trophy, given out to the team that allows the fewest goals during the regular season. The Preds also have a great defense with Shea Weber and Roman Josi both capable of giving any offense a headache. In a tight series, expect Anaheim to prevail, as they have been an absolute machine in the second half of the regular season.

Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks

In 2014, the Sharks blew a 3-­0 series lead to the Kings as they were en route to win the Stanley Cup. After missing the postseason last year, the King’s return ready for another run at the title. The Kings are one of the more explosive teams in the NHL led by forwards Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter. The major question for the Sharks is if their goaltending is up to par with a championship-caliber team such as the Kings. The Sharks top goaltender, Martin Jones, has yet to prove if he can be a top postseason player. The Kings should take this series.

Minnesota Wild vs. Dallas Stars

The Dallas Stars are the top seed in the Western Conference and like their Eastern Conference counterparts, the Capitals, they should not have much trouble in the first round. The Wild have overall been a very underachieving team this season; they have not looked very good in certain stretches, including their five-game losing streak to end the regular season. The Stars are the highest scoring team in the league and fifth off of the power play. Forward Jamie Benn led the Stars with 41 goals scored in the regular season, with forward Jason Spezza contributing 33 along the way. Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk will have to be special if Minnesota is to have any chance. Ultimately, the Stars should win this series easily.

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