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2012 Stanley Cup playoffs: Breaking down the other seven first-round matchups

No. 1 N.Y. Rangers vs. No. 8 Ottawa

Thursday: at Rangers, 7

Saturday: at Rangers NY, 7

Monday: at Senators, 7:30

April 18: at Senators, 7:30

x-April 21: at Rangers, 7

x-April 23: at Senators, TBD

x-April 26: at Rangers, TBD

Outlook: The Rangers reserved the Eastern Conference’s top seed last Tuesday but missed out on the Presidents’ Trophy after a 4-1 loss to the Capitals in the regular season finale. The Senators, meantime, drifted down to the last seed after losing three in a row to close the year. The Rangers have never met the current Senators — an expansion franchise in 1992-93 — in the postseason. Ottawa’s biggest challenge will be New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who had a career-high 39 wins this season. The Senators, though, boast a high-scoring top line of Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek — and went 3-1-0 against the Rangers in the regular season.

No. 3 Florida vs.
No. 6 New Jersey

Friday: at Panthers, 7

Sunday: at Panthers, 7:30

Tuesday: at Devils, 7

April 19: at Devils, 7

x-April 21: at Panthers, 6:30

x-April 24: at Devils, TBD

x-April 26: at Panthers, TBD

Outlook: Thanks to a 4-1 win over Carolina in the season finale, the first Southeast Division championship banner in franchise history will soon sway over the Panthers’ ice. As if the wait for playoff hockey wasn’t long enough, the Panthers-Devils series will be the last of the eight across the league to get started. It’ll be a reunion of sorts for several parties in both franchises. Florida center John Madden began his career in New Jersey and won two Stanley Cup titles there. And Panthers goaltender Scott Clemmensen was once a backup to New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur. On the other side, Devils Coach Peter DeBoer held the same title with Florida just last season.

No. 4 Pittsburgh vs.
No. 5 Philadelphia

Wednesday: at Penguins, 7:30

Friday: at Penguins, 7:30

Sunday: at Flyers, 3

April 18: at Flyers, 7:30

x-April 20: at Penguins, 7:30

x-April 22: at Flyers, TBD

x-April 24: at Penguins, TBD

Outlook: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin spent last spring watching their Penguins teammates try to carry on without the injured stars, a burden that became too much during a first-round loss to upstart Tampa Bay. But Pittsburgh enters this postseason with the league’s best record since Jan. 1 and a roster eager to bookend the Stanley Cup the Penguins won in 2009. They’re healthy. They’re surging. And they’re wary. They should be. The Flyers won four of the six meetings between the two teams this season and are 5-1 at Consol Energy Center since it opened in 2010, the lone loss coming in a meaningless regular-season finale.

No. 1 Vancouver vs.
No. 8 Los Angeles

Wednesday: at Canucks, 10:30

Friday: at Canucks, 10

Sunday: at Kings, 10:30

April 18: at Kings, 10

x-April 22: at Canucks, TBD

x-April 24: at Kings, TBD

x-April 26: at Canucks, TBD

Outlook: With two extra-time losses to San Jose in the final three days of the regular season, Los Angeles slipped all the way from third place to eighth in the West. The Kings realize they’ve got to recover quickly from those late-season disappointments to have a shot at the Canucks, who fell a game short of winning their first Stanley Cup last June. Vancouver steamed into the postseason with eight wins in its last nine games, but lost a major part of its identity when leading goal-scorer Daniel Sedin was sidelined with a concussion for that stretch. Sedin practiced Monday before sitting out Tuesday, instead reportedly skating with teammates after practice.

No. 2 St. Louis vs.
No. 7 San Jose

Thursday: at Blues, 7:30

Saturday: at Blues, 7:30

Monday: at Sharks, 10

April 19: at Sharks, 10:30

x-April 21: at Blues, 7:30

x-April 23: at Sharks, TBD

x-April 25: at Blues, TBD

Outlook: There is at least one lesson the San Jose Sharks learned while losing all four regular season games against St. Louis. Defenseman Dan Boyle says whatever the team did in those previous games is probably exactly what they don’t want to do in the playoffs. St. Louis dominated special teams and outscored San Jose 11-3 in those games, allowing just one goal in the final 10 periods. The Blues may have a hurdle to overcome, though: Goaltender Brian Elliott left practice early Tuesday with what Coach Ken Hitchcock is calling an upper-body injury and is listed as day-to-day. Hitchcock said he has not made a decision on whether to start Elliott or Jaroslav Halak.

No. 3 Phoenix vs.
No. 6 Chicago

Thursday: at Coyotes, 10

Saturday: at Coyotes, 10

Tuesday: at Blackhawks, 9

April 19: at Blackhawks, 8

x-April 21: at Coyotes, 10

x-April 23: at Blackhawks, TBD

x-April 25: at Coyotes, TBD

Outlook: The Coyotes won the final five games of the regular season to leapfrog Los Angeles and San Jose for the Pacific Division title. They had never won a division dating from their inception as the Winnipeg Jets in 1979-80. In Chicago, meantime, Jonathan Toews’s presence and energy at an hour-long practice suggested he will be ready to return to the lineup for the playoffs. The team captain hasn’t played since Feb. 19, missing the final 22 regular-season games with a concussion. If Toews is able to play, he expects he’ll be effective against a Phoenix team that beat the Blackhawks three times in four games this season and has a red-hot goalie in Mike Smith.

No. 4 Nashville vs.
No. 5 Detroit

Wednesday: at Predators, 8

Friday: at Predators, 7:30

Sunday: at Red Wings, noon

Tuesday: at Red Wings, 7:30

x-April 20: at Predators, 8

x-April 22: at Red Wings, TBD

x-April 24: at Predators, TBD

Outlook: Pekka Rinne fills up so much of the net at 6-foot-5, and the Nashville goaltender led the NHL with 43 wins while facing more shots than anyone else. Jimmy Howard was on quite the run for Detroit himself, leading the league in wins and on pace to top Terry Sawchuk’s franchise record of 44 victories before breaking his index finger and then injuring his groin. Nashville already has home-ice advantage in this first-round series, and the Predators also feel they have the edge in net thanks to Rinne. They will need him at his best if they are to beat their Central Division foe for the first time in three postseason tries.

— Wire services

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