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The 2015 NHL playoffs are about to begin, and the Montreal Canadiens will begin their holy quest to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup a 25th time. The HabsWorld writers weigh in on their predictions on who will progress to the second round and how they’ll do it.

Today is the first part of a two part set of predictions, based on games that begin tonight. Tomorrow’s article will focus on the games starting Thursday night. Bragging rights are on the line in HabsWorld land with a point system in place for accurately predicting the winners and the correct number of games for each series.

Eastern Conference

Montreal Canadiens vs Ottawa Senators

Brian La Rose predicts: Canadiens in 7
Alexander Létourneau predicts: Canadiens in 6
Paul MacLeod predicts: Canadiens in 4
Louis Moustakas predicts: Canadiens in 6
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Canadiens in 7

(Brian) Many seem ready to either write-off the Habs because the Sens are a team of destiny or write-off Ottawa because their hot streak has to end eventually. As is often the case, the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

Both teams have very good goaltending. While it’s fair to trust Carey Price more than Andrew Hammond given their difference in experience, it’s likely that both can and will steal a couple of games if their regular season play carries over.

In the end, I think the extra experience the Canadiens have will prove beneficial and help them win this series but this will be one of the more closely-contested first round matchups.

(Alex) By no means is that prediction an easy one. The series win could easily be inversed, and they were, before I caved. Look, we all know what the Habs are, and that’s a team that’s as good as Carey Price allows them to be. Price is the make or break player here, and if he plays at the level we’ve seen since the Olympics, there’s no reason he, and a very close knit team who know who they are, can’t make another deep run. Pacioretty playing is naturally essential, especially since he’s had success against the Senators. As for the Sens, when’s that clock striking midnight? This is a team oozing confidence and that’s terrifying, given they’ve lost like five or six games in the last two months. The quality lies between a potential flash in the pan (albeit a pretty brilliant one) in Andrew Hammond and a veteran who’s playing the best hockey of his life – that will be the difference. Wild card player is Lars Eller, who I can’t not see making an impact on this series.

(Paul) The red hot Sens vs the 110 point Canadiens. Despite the feelings of the pundits and the angst of the Montreal faithful, the Habs match up well with the Senators and will beat them handily.

(Norm) I am very conflicted with predicting this series. My head says Ottawa but my heart says Montreal. The Habs have the edge in goal. On defence the teams are practically a wash, while the Senators have the edge in scoring up front particularly given the unknown status of Max Pacorietty. However Montreal has experience on their side and should be looking to avenge their playoff lost to Ottawa in 2013. Ottawa’s Cinderella run will end in April.

New York Islanders vs Washington Capitals

Brian La Rose predicts: Islanders in 6
Alexander Létourneau predicts: Capitals in 7
Paul MacLeod predicts: Islanders in 6
Louis Moustakas predicts: Capitals in 7
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Capitals in 7

(Brian) Two years ago, the Islanders pushed Pittsburgh a lot harder than many expected and most of the core from that team is still intact. Even more importantly, they now have a goalie, something that wasn’t the case in their last playoff appearance.

Braden Holtby has had quite the season for the Capitals and he can keep them in any series while their defence is also strong but I have my concerns about the depth of their attack. They’ve largely been a one line team and teams in those situations don’t tend to last long in the postseason.

It should be a close series but I think New York takes that step they came so close to two years ago and makes the second round.

(Alex) This is tough one and I’m not sure why I think it’ll take 7. Maybe because Jaroslav Halak is in nets and I’ve seen him shut down a potent Washington attack before. Both teams have been impressive this season, with Washington closing out the season stronger. Braden Holtby has certainly had himself a nice year and Alex Ovechkin has been pumping them in at an impressive pace, given the decrease in goals scored on the whole this year. The Islanders have their captain, who quietly and consistently plays some of the best hockey in the NHL year after year. The offensive upside lies with the Capitals, so the Islanders are going to have to make them work for goals. Undisciplined hockey will be suicide against the Caps. I think home ice will decide this one, with it being the last season at the Nassau Coliseum for the Isles. Tough pill to swallow for them though, having won two more game than the Capitals.

(Paul) It’s hard to go against Ovechkin, but Halak and Tavares are going to steal this show.

(Norm) This will be a very close series. Special teams play can be very important in the post season, and the Capitals have the best power play, while the Islanders have the 26th penalty killing rating. Both teams are practically identical on offence at 5 on 5, and both teams have game breakers named Ovechkin and Tavares. The goalies and defencemen are also evenly matched. Washington’s improved ability to play team defence will also be an advantage.

Western Conference

Calgary Flames vs Vancouver Canucks

Brian La Rose predicts: Canucks in 6
Alexander Létourneau predicts: Canucks in 6
Paul MacLeod predicts: Flames in 7
Louis Moustakas predicts: Flames in 7
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Flames in 5

(Brian) Regardless of who winds up in goal, the Canucks have a pair of strong options. Their blueline is strong and playoff-tested which will give them a leg up on a young Calgary attack. Although Vancouver is a one-line team, they should be able to get enough secondary scoring to get through this round at least.

Calgary’s run has been impressive. Bob Hartley has the Flames playing hard every night and that youthful energy can be contagious. However, I fear they’re too inexperienced and may get overwhelmed with the pressure in the first few games which would be their downfall.

Everyone keeps waiting for the air to be let out of Calgary’s balloon and for them to fall flat. That won’t happen entirely here – they’ll put up a good fight – but I don’t think they make it through this series.

(Alex) Talk about two teams I thought would be on the outside and not even getting a sniff at a post season spot when the year started. Great to see hockey alive and well in Canada (except in Toronto and Edmonton) and this should be a great series. I take Vancouver based on them having more experience and home ice advantage. That’s it. Both these teams have been such a pleasant surprise that, aside from the hate that will inevitably ooze from the provincial neighbors, there is a feel good story there. But like I said, Vancouver has the experience to punish a youthful and excited Flames team. One blip for the Canucks is if their top line offense dries up, I’m not sure how much secondary scoring they’ll be able to muster. It’s a real pity Mark Giordano missed the last 20 games of the season. What a year he was having before getting shut down.

(Paul) The upstart Flames are going to upset their west coast rivals.

(Norm) The Flames will surprise some by defeating the Canucks, but not me. Calgary has been another Cinderella team this season, and the ball will continue for them in the postseason. I give them the edge in goal, and the forwards are equally matched. Vancouver’s defence is better, but Calgary’s team game, hard work and coaching are superior.

Chicago Blackhawks vs Nashville Predators

Brian La Rose predicts: Blackhawks in 5
Alexander Létourneau predicts: Blackhawks in 6
Paul MacLeod predicts: Blackhawks in 6
Louis Moustakas predicts: Predators in 6
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Predators in 5

(Brian) Here we have a case of a team that has been there before versus a group that no one expected to finish that high in the standings with limited playoff experience.
The Blackhawks, to me, feel like a team that hasn’t put forth their best effort yet; they have another gear left in them. And while I wouldn’t expect Patrick Kane to play like a front liner when he really shouldn’t even be playing, he can still be a threat that the Preds will have to plan for.
Nashville hasn’t been at their best for a while and even Pekka Rinne has seen his performance slide a bit lately. While their defence is terrific, I don’t think they have a good enough attack to be a big threat in this series.
If the Predators want to have a chance at this, they need to keep the games low scoring. With Chicago’s attack though, I don’t see that happening. Give me the experience over the inexperience here.

(Alex) Patrick Kane missing all that time is certainly an issue, but so is his potential return for game 1 an issue for the Predators. As of this writing, his possible game 1 return has been referred to as ‘boost’ for the Hawks. I think it’ll be a bit more than boost, considering you’re going up against a very good defensive Nashville team that boasts one of the elite goalies in the game. Nashville has some interesting tools, but they have issues scoring and have relied on excellent goaltending. While Chicago has a had a bit of a drop-off in play this year, this is still a very good team that knows what it takes to get where it wants to go. I have a tough time seeing them lose out to Nashville, which is unfortunate because Nashville has a very good squad that’s trending upwards for a few years, at least.

(Paul) Early round death match for one really excellent Western team. Chicago’s experience wins out.

(Norm) This series represents a case where the team with the most points is going to be seen as the underdog. While Chicago has ample postseason success, they have not been the same dominant team this regular season. I like the Predator’s odds in this match due to their goaltending and defence. Patrick Kane’s status is still questionable, and when he does return how much rust will he have after such a long layoff? I don’t believe he will be a factor this time.