THE MAVEN’S FIRST-ROUND PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS

We have before us one of the most melodramatic collection of series in recent memory. You want to know who’s going to win – and why. Here goes:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

RANGERS-PENGUINS

Since the Pittsburghers are in a state of disarray, they should be an easy mark for the President’s Trophy-winners. The Blueshirtshave virtually every advantage – from better goaltending, to tighter defense and on to four solid lines. What Alain Vigneault lacks on his bench is Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. In other years, stifling that duet would be a formidable task. But as the Penguins’ finish revealed, not so much this time around.

RANGERS IN FIVE

[READ: THE MAVEN’S COMPLETE SERIES BREAKDOWN]

ISLANDERS-CAPITALS

The Isles literally backed into a playoff berth after a couple of very, very scary homestretch weeks. And let’s face it, Washington is far from invincible as their final standing indicates. What it comes down to is snuffing out Alex Ovechkin and, better still, John TavaresKyle Okposo bringing their AAA games on every shift. Braden Holtby had a career season, but this is the playoffs and once upon a time, Jaroslav Halak had a super-duper postseason. It could happen again. I see the Isles regaining their first-half form.

ISLES IN SEVEN

[READ: FISHLER’S FULL ISLES-CAPS PREVIEW]

MONTREAL VS. OTTAWA

Let me tell you, this Senators team is magical and when it comes to the surreal, you just can’t bet against that kind of stuff. Not with Andrew Hammond turning into the Hamburgler and Mark Stone emerging as another scorer extraordinaire. Granted the Habs finished with 110 points and have Hart Trophy candidate in Carey Price. But when it comes to an uncertain Max Pacioretty going up against Hammer and his band of merry magicians, forget about it.

OTTAWA IN SIX

TAMPA BAY VS. DETROIT

Mike Babcock remains one of the finest coaches of our decade, but he still cannot play goal nor score for his beleaguered Winged Wheelers. Netminding is far from Detroit’s only problem against the Bolts, who are healthy from ace goalie Ben Bishop and scoring machine Steve Stamkos. I’ll give Babcock the benefit of the doubt and figure that Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg plus friends will somehow score one win; but no more.

TAMPA IN FIVE

WESTERN CONFERENCE

ANAHEIM VS. WINNIPEG

All season long I wondered what kind of mirrors coach Bruce Boudreau was employing to keep the Ducks afloat, and I still can’t fathom how he did it. They’ll face a healthy, hot Jets club that plays what one expert calls a relentless, chaotic style. In short, the Jets are the perfect storm to knock the Western leaders on their derriere. An upset is in the making … big-time!

WINNIPEG IN SIX

VANCOUVER VS. CALGARY

How the Flames managed to survive an 82-game schedule and beat out defending champion Los Angeles defies credulity. Unless you happen to be like me and believe that Bob Hartley is one of the most under-appreciated coaches of our era. Led by Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler – hopefully Norris Trophy candidate Mark Giordano – the Flames are like the Senators; a bunch of wizards. Still, Vancouver has more experience and the excellent twin combo of Daniel and Henrik Sedin. I’m going with logic, not magic this time.

VANCOUVER IN SEVEN

ST. LOUIS VS. MINNESOTA

Coaching the Blues, Ken Hitchcock knows that he cannot afford a first round exit. Trouble is that he’ll be facing a curiously refreshing Wild outfit with indomitable Devan Dubnyk in goal. Hitch must decide whether to use Jake Allen or Brian Elliott between the pipes, but that isn’t the worst thing in the world. In the end, St. Louis has more size and depth. Add to that my belief that Dubnyk will be deduced, and the Wild will be reduced because of that.

ST. LOUIS IN SIX

NASHVILLE VS. CHICAGO

Man, oh, man, this looms as a beauty. Granted the Preds struggled late in the campaign, but since Nashville was on top for so long, Peter Laviolette’s outfit must be taken seriously. What I wonder about is the Predators’ ability to produce meaningful offense beyond Mike Ribeiro, James Neal and Filip Forsberg. The expected return of Patrick Kane obviously could be the series-turner for Chicago. The Pekka Rinne-Corey Crawford goalie battle will help decide this series. Crawford reached the Rinne level and Pekka will have his hands full of pucks this time around.

CHICAGO IN SEVEN