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NHL playoffs preview

Times staff writer Tom Jones gives you a quick primer on the postseason, which starts tonight.

Eastern Conference

Montreal Canadiens

The top seed in the East has the league's best power play — always a key in the postseason. The biggest question is goaltending, where the Habs have it turned over to rookie Carey Price, who led Montreal on a 14-4-1 streak heading into the playoffs. The balanced offense is led by Alex Kovalev, who had 35 goals and 89 points and has played like an elite player all season.

TJ's call: It all depends on Price. If he answers the call, the Habs could return to glory.
Pittsburgh Penguins

With the sick skills of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marian Hossa, there might not be a more potent and scary offense in the playoffs. Unfortunately, defense is a big factor in the postseason and the Pens are a bit soft on the blue line. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, a question mark, has been good down the stretch and had a .920 save percentage, fifth best in the NHL.

TJ's call: The Pens will go farther than a year ago, but not all the way.
Washington Capitals

What a story. From last in the conference at one point to the third seed. The Caps won 11 of their final 12 and they have the no-doubt-about-it best player in the league this season in 65-goal scorer Alex Ovechkin. The big concern is someone shuts down Ovechkin, who is there to pick up the slack?

TJ's call: This team will win a round. Maybe two.
New Jersey Devils

The coaches might change, but the style doesn't. New Jersey will play a suffocating defense and leave the rest to, perhaps, the best goalie ever in Martin Brodeur. The offense doesn't score a lot — heck, Zach Parise led the team with a mere 65 points — but it doesn't need to score much with Marty the Great.

TJ's call: Bad first-round matchup against Rangers could mean one and done for Devils.
New York Rangers

At the beginning of the season, you looked at the roster and saw Jaromir Jagr, Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, Marty Straka and Brendan Shanahan and figured this team would be one of the best in hockey. It didn't quite work out that way. But the Rangers have slowly come together. The defense is the team's bugaboo, but they have a world-class goalie in Henrik Lundqvist.

TJ's call: Going out on a limb, but here's your Cup champion.
Philadelphia Flyers

This team went from 56 points last season (the worst Flyers team ever) to a playoff spot this year. What's to like is they really don't rely on one player, though they do have stars (Daniel Briere and Mike Richards) who are capable of going crazy in a series. Martin Biron has played well in goal, but doesn't have a lot of postseason experience. The defense is slow, but big and physical.

TJ's call: This team has a bright future in the playoffs. Just not these playoffs.
Ottawa Senators

Time is running out in Ottawa. With a team of stars — captain Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza — and a solid defense, this team should be looking for a second or third Stanley Cup, not a first. Making matters worse, it's unlikely Alfredsson and center Mike Fisher will play against the Pens in the first round because of injuries. The goaltending is a mess.

TJ's call: The Sens have been a soap opera all season and it seems unlikely they'll get their act together to beat the Pens.
Boston Bruins

With all due respect to Boston and classy coach Claude Julien, the Bruins are boring. Not loaded with an abundance of offensive talent, the Bruins prefer the snail's pace of defensive hockey led by Zdeno Chara. Boston was 24th in the league in offense and more bad news: Top scorer Marc Savard has a bad back. Tim Thomas is adequate in goal but not nearly good enough to steal a series.

TJ's call: The Bruins haven't won a playoff series since 1999 and that string will continue.
Western Conference
Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings finished with the NHL's best record and scored more goals than any team. Then again, they do tend to zone out, such as when they lost 10 of 11 in February. They have the best defenseman in hockey (Nicklas Lidstrom) and two dazzling offensive talents in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Incredibly, goalie Dominik Hasek might be the team's biggest question mark.

TJ's call: The favorite, but something tells me something is going to go wrong.
San Jose Sharks

This team tears it up during the regular season then folds in the playoffs. And it's hard to figure considering they have Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Jonathan Cheechoo, who can make up for a disappointing regular season with a big postseason. Forward Bill Guerin and offensive-defenseman Brian Campbell were nice trade pickups. Goalie Evgeni Nabokov led the NHL with 46 victories.

TJ's call: San Jose will win the West.
Minnesota Wild

The Wild is wildly inconsistent, capable of winning six or losing six in a row. The defensive style means it will always be in a game. And they are capable of winning such games because of goalie Nicklas Backstrom and sensational forward Marian Gaborik, Minnesota's special teams are special: third on the penalty kill and eighth on the power play. That wins playoff games.

TJ's call: Still not ready to win a Cup, but a conference final spot is not out of the question.
Anaheim Ducks

You really can't judge the defending champions on the entire season considering they were missing stars Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer, both of whom unretired midway through the season. Since Selanne returned, the Ducks are 20-5-1 and look as good as the team that won the Cup. Chris Pronger remains an elite player, and goalie J-S Giguere was last spring's playoff MVP.

TJ's call: Call it a hunch, but Ducks won't get past the second round.
Dallas Stars

You see names such as Brad Richards and Mike Modano and Mike Ribeiro, a solid defense and goalie Marty Turco, and you think this team has what it takes to win it all. So how do you explain a 4-8-2 record down the stretch? A maddening team to root for and even more maddening to predict.

TJ's call: I just don't see how they get by Ducks in the first round.
Colorado Avalanche

It feels like 1996 again with Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg putting on Avs sweaters. Sakic is still great, but Forsberg's health is always a question. If Forsberg, Ryan Smith, Adam Foote and Paul Stastny can stay healthy, the Avs are dangerous. Jose Theodore had a nice season in goal: 28-21 with a 2.44 GAA, but I'm not sold on him anymore.

TJ's call: Could knock off Minnesota in the first round, but I'll say they won't.
Calgary Flames

Similar to the Lightning, the Flames haven't made much noise since the 2004 Stanley Cup. Jarome Iginla is one of the NHL's top forwards and Dion Phaneuf is close to being the best defenseman in hockey. But goalie Miikka Kiprusoff hasn't looked himself this season. The Flames are loaded with the likes of Daymond Langkow, Alex Tanguay and Kristian Huselius — nice players but nothing special.

TJ's call: A first-round victory over the Sharks would be a shocker.
Nashville Predators

Nashville should get some kind of trophy for just making the playoffs, considering all the players it lost from last season and all the injuries it had this season. The Preds will be missing David Legwand, Martin Gelinas and Jed Ortmeyer. How bad is it? They are relying on former Lightning forward Jan Hlavac, who actually hasn't played that badly since being traded.

TJ's call: No way the Preds beat the Wings in the first round.

NHL playoffs preview 04/08/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 9, 2008 10:31am]
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