It’s time for the NHL to once again drop the puck on the Stanley Cup playoffs. Here’s a quick guide to each of the first-round matchups from the Associated Press’ Larry Lage. And The Post’s own Neil Greenberg makes his predictions on who will move on to Round 2.
Boston (54-19-9) vs Detroit (39-28-15)
SEASON SERIES: Detroit won 3-1..
STORY LINE: The Bruins were the NHL’s best team for much of the season and finished with a league-high 117 points to win their first Presidents’ Trophy since 1990. They are expected to get past Detroit, but it probably won’t be easy. The Red Wings extended their postseason streak to 23 seasons, the fifth-longest in league history, despite a slew of injuries that forced them to use prospects from the AHL earlier than planned.
Greenberg’s prediction: Boston over Detroit
Mike Babcock managed to keep his M*A*S*H unit Red Wings relevant during the season en route to their 23rd straight playoff appearance, but Boston’s depth – which includes the favorites for the Vezina Trophy (Tukka Rask) and Selke (Patrice Bergeron) plus a likely Norris finalist (Zendo Chara) – can likely push them to the Cup Finals.
Tampa Bay (46-27-9) vs. Montreal (46-28-8)
SEASON SERIES: Tampa Bay won 3-0-1.
STORY LINE: Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop, who was dominant in the four games against Montreal, is expected to miss at last the start of the seven-game series because of an upper-body injury. If the Canadiens can take advantage of Anders Lindback, who has been in net for only one postseason game in his career, they probably will advance in the playoffs for the first time since reaching the Eastern Conference finals in 2010.
Greenberg’s prediction: Tampa Bay over Montreal
Jon Cooper showed that he can keep things together despite losing uber-star Steven Stamkos to a leg injury before the Olympic break. Now that he has his star forward back to complement Calder dark horse Ondrej Palat, gritty acquisition Ryan Callahan and underappreciated blueliner Victor Hedman, he has what he needs to beat the Habs in a seven-game series.
Pittsburgh (51-24-7) vs. Columbus (43-32-7)
SEASON SERIES: Pittsburgh won 5-0.
STORY LINE: The Penguins probably have the easiest first-round matchup, but any team still playing is good enough to advance. And the 2009 Stanley Cup champions were eliminated in the opening round in 2011 and 2012.
Greenberg’s prediction: Pittsburgh over Columbus
Pittsburgh dominated the Metropolitan division with 109 points, but they have their flaws. Most notably, without Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin on the ice they become rather pedestrian. However, with both those players healthy look for Pittsburgh to steamroll Columbus in round one.
New York Rangers (45-31-6) vs. Philadelphia (42-30-10)
SEASON SERIES: Tied at 2.
STORY LINE: The Rangers have advanced in each of the last two postseasons, reaching the conference finals in 2012, and are hoping to do it again under first-year coach Alain Vigneault.
Greenberg’s prediction: New York over Philadelphia
The Rangers struggled early this season, mostly because of the October performance of their star goalie, Henrik Lundqvist (0.908 save percentage). However, having the sixth best puck possession team allowed the Blueshirts to secure the second seed and an eventual first-round victory over Philadelphia.
Colorado (52-22-8) vs. Minnesota (43-27-12)
SEASON SERIES: Colorado won 4-0-1.
STORY LINE: The Avs had a remarkable turnaround, going from 29th overall in the NHL to third under rookie coach and former goaltending great Patrick Roy. The Wild earned a spot in a second straight postseason for just the second time in franchise history and are hoping to advance for the first time since reaching the 2003 conference finals.
Greenberg’s prediction: Minnesota over Colorado
The Avs have a 28-4-8 record in one-goal games, which you would think would make them “battle-tested” heading into the playoffs. Instead, it shows they have a record better than their talent level would suggest. There have been eight teams in the salary-cap era who have won more than 65 percent of the games decided by one goal, six have been bounced in the first round.
St. Louis (52-23-7) vs. Chicago (46-21-15)
SEASON SERIES: St. Louis won 3-2-0.
STORY LINE: Both teams expect to be at or near full strength for Game 1 on Thursday night in St. Louis. The banged-up Blues had T.J. Oshie skating for the first time since getting hit in the face last week. St. Louis’ David Backes (foot), Patrik Berglund (upper body) and Vladimir Sobotka (lower body) and Vladimir Tarasenko (broken right thumb) also have been injured. Chicago’s Patrick Kane (left knee) and Jonathan Toews (upper body) have been resting to get ready for the playoffs.
Greenberg’s prediction: Chicago over Blues
Historically, teams like Chicago who can dominate puck possession have gone on to win the Stanley Cup. Ignoring special teams and lead-protecting situations, the Blackhawks have seen 55.2 percent of shot attempts in their favor, second best in the league.
Anaheim (54-20-8) vs. Dallas (40-31-11)
SEASON SERIES: Dallas won 2-1.
STORY LINE: The Ducks had the most points in the Western Conference for the first time since they joined the NHL two decades ago. They want to send 43-year-old Selanne out with a championship in what is expected to be his final season. The Stars accomplished something by just making it to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Greenberg’s prediction: Dallas over Anaheim
Much like Colorado, The Ducks have a stellar record in one-goal contests (27-4-8). And like Colorado they don’t have a very solid foundation of puck possession to fall back on (16th in the league). Dallas could surprise them.
San Jose (51-22-9) vs. Los Angeles (46-38-8)
SEASON SERIES: Los Angeles won 3-1-1.
STORY LINE: In perhaps the first-round series with the most intensity, San Jose hopes home ice is an advantage after losing at Los Angeles in Game 7 of the second round last year. The Sharks got past the Kings in six games in their opening-round series four years ago.
Greenberg’s prediction: Los Angeles over San Jose
Since the 2005-06 season, Cup-winning teams have seen more than 55 percent of shot attempts in their favor during even strength. The Kings lead the league this season with almost 57 percent going their way. Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Johnathan Quick and newly acquired Marian Gaborik should prove to be too much for San Jose to handle.