The 2015-16 NHL regular season is in the books, and 16 teams gear up for the second season, with the winner of a grueling four rounds of best-of-seven series capturing the coveted Stanley Cup. Below are brief snapshots of the upcoming first-round series in the Eastern Conference.
(Metropolitan 1) Washington Capitals vs. (WC 2) Philadelphia Flyers
The Presidents' Trophy winning Capitals take on the rival Flyers in what figures to be one of the best series in the opening round.
The Capitals are hoping to finally get over the hump, but don't have an easy road. The Flyers have been hot down the stretch, and needed a win Saturday to clinch, so they have been in playoff mode for some time.
Prediction: Capitals in five
(Metropolitan 2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (Metropolitan 3) New York Rangers
The Penguins are one of the hottest teams in the league, having won eight of nine and 14 of 16 to close out the season. After being knocked out of the playoffs the past two seasons, the Penguins are hoping to finally get past the Rangers.
Both teams are banged up, with the Penguins' Evgeni Malkin likely out for the first round and their top two goalies, Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murry, coming off head injuries, while the Rangers are without captain and top defenseman Ryan McDonagh, whose status is uncertain because of a hand injury.
Prediction: Penguins in six
(Atlantic 1) Florida Panthers vs. (WC 1) New York Islanders
The Panthers are the surprise team, with the legendary Jaromir Jagr leading a talented group of young players. But the Islanders maybe showed their hand by resting a number of regulars in their season finale Sunday, with a chance to jump over the Rangers in the division and face the red-hot Penguins.
After losing that game, the Islanders will face the untested Panthers. Time will tell if they will regret "tanking."
Prediction: Islanders in seven
(Atlantic 2) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (Atlantic 3) Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings backed into the playoffs, but still clinched their 26th straight appearance on the second-to-last day of the regular season.
The Lightning are battling a number of key injuries, most notably to star Steven Stamkos, who likely will miss the playoffs with a blood clot issue. Red Wings veteran forward Pavel Datsyuk, 37, is rumored to be heading to his home country of Russia following the season to play in the KHL, so look for him to go out with a bang.
Prediction: Red Wings in six