The Stanley Cup playoffs begin Tuesday and the league's top 16 teams will begin their quest for the Cup. Will the Penguins and Blackhawks continue to be unstoppable? Can the slumping Bruins and Canadiens improve their game for the post-season? Who will grow the best beards?
Click through for a look at each first-round matchup, Kevin Paul Dupont's predictions, and your chance to vote for who you think will win.
(Text by The Associated Press) Next
Penguins vs. Islanders
2013 series record: Pittsburgh 4-1
The Penguins were 23-4 in their final 27 games but will need to be on their game to avoid a third straight first-round exit... If Sidney Crosby can return to the lineup as well as James Neal, the Penguins might have no trouble in the playoffs... The Islanders are in the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and will be looking for their first series win since they reached the conference finals in 1993...New York was 14-6-4 away from Long Island and only 10-11-3 at home. ... Veteran G Evgeni Nabokov brought it all together with a 23-11-7 mark and 2.50 GAA.
Dupont's Prediction: Penguins in four
Senators vs. Canadiens
2013 series record: Both teams 2-1-1
With help from their division rival, and now first-round opponent, the Canadiens won the Northeast title for the first time since the 2007-08 season when Ottawa knocked off the Bruins in Boston on Sunday... Carey Price was in goal for nine of 10 games before the finale vs. Toronto. Price earned 21 wins in his 39 appearances, posting a 2.59 GAA. Peter Budaj proved to be a solid backup with eight wins in 13 games...The Senators moved up one spot from last year when they lost in seven games to the New York Rangers in the No. 1 vs. 8 first-round matchup...The Senators haven’t gotten out of the first round since 2006, but their chances this year are bolstered by the recent return of Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson, who missed 31 games with an Achilles injury sustained on Feb. 13 at Pittsburgh.
Dupont's Prediction: Senators in seven.
Rangers vs. Capitals
2013 series record: New York 2-0-1
Alex Ovechkin fueled the Capitals’ surge to their fifth Southeast Division title in six years by leading the NHL with 32 goals... Washington went 17-4-2 in its final 23 games — including 11-1-1 in April — to move from 14th in the East to the No. 3 seed in the playoffs... Last season, the top-seeded Rangers lost in the conference finals to New Jersey. They clinched their third straight postseason berth with an OT win at Carolina on Thursday...The Rangers secured their spot by going 10-3-1 in April, and by scoring an NHL-best 3.6 goals per game since the April 3 trade deadline.
Dupont's Prediction: Capitals in six.
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs
2013 series record: Boston 3-1-0.
The Bruins squandered a chance to win the Northeast Division and claim the No. 2 seed in the East by losing in overtime at Washington on Saturday and at home to Ottawa on Sunday in the regular-season finale. The skid goes back even further as Boston was 2-5-2 in its last nine games. ... While these teams are division rivals, it has been nearly 40 years since they met in the playoffs. This matchup is the only one between two Original Six teams in the first round, but all six qualified for the playoffs. ... The Maple Leafs lost four of their final six and were outscored 20-15 in that stretch. ... Phil Kessel netted his 20th goal of the season, giving him 10 in 10 games. ... Toronto will go as far as G James Reimer will take them. Reimer went 19-8-5 with a 2.46 GAA in 33 games this season. Ben Scrivens earned seven wins in 20 outings.
Dupont's Prediction: Bruins in seven.
Wild vs. Blackhawks
2013 series record: Minnesota 2-0-1
The Blackhawks tore through the Western Conference and claimed the Presidents’ Trophy for the second time... Chicago started the season 21-0-3 and then cruised to a 10-3-2 mark in April... The Blackhawks are one of the most balanced teams in the league, with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews tying for the club lead with 23 goals... The Wild secured their fourth playoff appearance in their 12 seasons, but first since 2008, when they beat Colorado in the regular-season finale...The biggest challenge will fall to Niklas Backstrom, who will try to stop the high-powered Blackhawks offense. Backstrom tied for the NHL lead with 24 wins this season.
Dupont's Prediction: Blackhawks in five
Red Wings vs. Ducks
2013 series record: Anaheim 2-1-0
If not for the Chicago Blackhawks, the Pacific Division champion Ducks would likely be the odds-on favorite to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup finals. Only Chicago (77) and Pittsburgh (72) had more points than the Ducks’ 66 this season... Top-line forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry tied for the team lead with 15 goals each, and Teemu Selanne and Bobby Ryan combined for only 23 goals — 12 for Selanne... It wasn’t easy but the Red Wings managed to get into the playoffs for a 22nd straight season, clinching their spot with a win in the season finale... Jimmy Howard will have to be the ultimate backstop now after having a fine regular season in which he won 21 games and posted a 2.13 GAA. ... The Red Wings no longer rely on a potent offense. They managed only 124 goals in the regular season, with Pavel Datsyuk posting team-highs with 15 and 49 points.
Dupont's Prediction: Red Wings in seven
Sharks vs. Canucks
2013 series record: San Jose 3-0-0
The Canucks enter the playoffs as the Northwest Division champion for the fifth time in six seasons... Vancouver might have to make the most of its home-ice advantage because the Sharks have only two regulation losses in San Jose and five other defeats in overtime or shootouts. ... The Canucks mustered just 127 goals this season — 28 fewer than Central champion Chicago and 13 less than Pacific champion Anaheim. ... The Sharks will have to quickly figure out how to win on the road — at least once in this series — if they are going to advance. They were 17-2-5 at home but only 8-13-2 on the road, though one of the wins was in Vancouver. ... Logan Couture led the team with 21 goals in 48 games, only 11 goals fewer than his career best of 32 in 79 games of the 2010-11 season.
Dupont's Prediction: Sharks in six.
Kings vs. Blues
2013 series record: Los Angeles 3-0-0
The Blues surged in April to secure home-ice advantage in the first round, but their 11-2 mark in the final month also put them into a matchup with perhaps their biggest nemesis... G Brian Elliott led the way down the stretch for St. Louis, giving up only 16 goals in the final 13 games. He was 3-6-1 before finishing 14-8-1 with a 2.28 GAA and .907 save percentage. ... The Kings won the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title last year, and they did it from the No. 8 seed... Captain Dustin Brown scored 16 goals and fell one point shy of being the fifth Kings player with 30. ... Los Angeles has won eight straight against St. Louis, including last year’s second-round sweep when the Kings outscored the Blues 15-6.
Dupont's Prediction: Kings in six.
Who will win the Stanley Cup?
Some predictions from the Globe staff:
Kevin Paul Dupont: Pittsburgh vs. Chicago, Penguins win
Fluto Shinzawa: Pittsburgh vs. Anaheim, Penguins win
Jim Hoban: Montreal vs. Chicago, Blackhawks win
Cast your vote below.
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