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NHL playoff previews

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(1) New York Rangers vs. (8) Ottawa Senators

When/where: 7; Madison Square Garden, New York

TV: NHL Network

Season series: Senators 3-1

Watch for: Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist finished in the top five in every major statistical category, including wins with 39, a personal best. Despite the high-profile signing of center Brad Richards in the offseason, the Rangers are middle of the pack offensively. Defensively, they are among the leaders in fewest shots allowed per game. … Jason Spezza remains the Senators' offensive catalyst. He was fourth in the league in points (84). The offense also gets a boost from defenseman Erik Karlsson, whose 78 points were 10th in league and first among defensemen. Karlsson also averages the most ice time among Ottawa's defenseman.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(2) Boston Bruins vs. (7) Washington Capitals

When/where: 7:30; TD Garden, Boston

TV: NBC Sports Network

Season series: Capitals 3-1

Watch for: Six Bruins have 50 or more points. Defenseman Zdeno Chara, 6 feet 9, can wear down opponents and has one of the game's hardest shots. Goalie Tim Thomas had to shoulder more of the load down the regular-season stretch after backup Tuukka Rask went down with a groin injury. Vet Marty Turco, out of the NHL for most of the season, is the backup. … After a mostly lackluster season, wing Alex Ovechkin heated up as the Capitals fought for a playoff spot. He got a boost when center Nicklas Backstrom returned to the lineup last week after missing 40 games with a concussion. Washington is shaky in goal. Tomas Vokoun (groin) is out indefinitely, and Michal Neuvirth (lower body) went down in the next-to-last regular-season game. No. 3 Braden Holtby was expected to make his playoff debut tonight.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (7) San Jose Sharks (7)

When/where: 7:30; Scottrade Center, St. Louis

TV: CNBC

Season series: Blues 4-0

Watch for: "Defense first" is the Blues' motto under notoriously defensive-oriented coach Ken Hitchcock. St. Louis scored 206 goals in the regular season, second fewest to the Kings among West playoff teams. That approach helped goalie Brian Elliott lead the league in goals-against average (1.56) and save percentage (.940). But he's out with an upper-body injury, so Jaroslav Halak, who played in tandem with Elliott, starts tonight. He was fifth in goals-against average (1.97). … The Sharks have firepower with Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski (who flies under the radar during the regular season but gets clutch goals in the playoffs). Antti Niemi, who backstopped the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup two years ago, has been inconsistent all season.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (6) Chicago Blackhawks

When/where: 10; Jobing.com Arena, Phoenix

TV: NBC Sports Network

Season series: Coyotes 3-1

Watch for: Coyotes goalie Mike Smith, who left the Lightning last summer as a free agent, was third in the league in save percentage (.930), tied for third in shutouts (eight) and fourth in wins (38). Ray Whitney, 40 next month, led the team with 77 points (24) goals. … The Blackhawks were the fifth-highest scoring team in the league behind Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Toews has been out with a concussion but could play tonight.

Times wires

NHL playoff previews 04/11/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 11:01pm]
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