One man's opinion on how the first-round playoffs will go.
?No. 8 Senators vs. No. 1 Devils: New Jersey's hard-hitting defensive pair of Scott Stevens and Lyle Odelein will be matched against Ottawa's best player, Alexei Yashin—expect him to take a pounding. The Senators' smallish backline will have a difficult time containing powerful center Bobby Holik, who should have a strong series. To win, Ottawa must capitalize on its power-play chances, but the Senators succeeded on just 12.8% of those opportunities in the regular season. Pick: Devils in six.
?No. 7 Canadiens vs. No. 2 Penguins: Look for Montreal to devise a five-man system to stop the Jagr-Francis-Barnes line. Canadiens penalty killers were ranked 16th in the league, and taking penalties against Pittsburgh's potent power play will be suicide. Montreal's ability to beat the trap and its strong play on the road (22-15-4) will tip the series its way. Pick: Canadiens in seven.
?No. 6 Sabres vs. No. 3 Flyers: Expect big-time hits and titanic battles in the slot. The matchup to watch: Philadelphia center Eric Lindros against Buffalo defenseman Bob Boughner. The Sabres have the clear advantage in goal with Dominik Hasek, but Philly has the home ice and can make it the key to this series. Pick: Flyers in seven.
?No. 5 Bruins vs. No. 4 Capitals: Boston coach Pat Burns works hard for matchups and Washington coach Ron Wilson doesn't, so look for the Bruins' checking line of Tim Taylor, Rob DiMaio and P.J. Axelsson opposite 52-goal scorer Peter Bondra. The big difference is experience—Washington has it, Boston doesn't. Pick: Capitals in six.
?No. 8 Sharks vs. No. 1 Stars: San Jose was 2-2 against Dallas this season because it played in-your-face hockey. Both are veteran teams, but how the younger Sharks hold up under playoff pressure may determine the outcome. San Jose will put up a better fight than most observers think. Pick: Stars in six.
?No. 7 Oilers vs. No. 2 Avalanche: For excitement this will be the best first-round series. Speed, speed and more speed, with no trapping, no clutching and no grabbing. Colorado must play strong transition defense, or Edmonton's rushing defensemen, Boris Mironov, Roman Hamrlik and Jamie Niinimaa, will have a big series. Oiler Curtis Joseph and Avalanche Patrick Roy will have to be sharp in goal because their teams will trade rushes. Big guns Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg better be 100% healthy or Colorado may take an early vacation. Pick: Avalanche in seven.
?No. 6 Coyotes vs. No. 3 Red Wings: Defending champion Detroit has depth, chemistry, a solid system and the best coach in hockey history, Scotty Bowman. Phoenix has a lot of skill but doesn't play well as a team. The Coyotes are also thin on defense, and their best backliner, Teppo Numminen, will be forechecked fiercely. Pick: Red Wings in six.