Paul Mara, Gregory Campbell

Which of the first round series will be the most (and least) exciting?

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Now that we’ve gotten the more run-of-the-mill prediction posts out of the way, it’s time to get down to the more fun/arbitrary stuff. First things first, I thought I’d rank the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs’ first round series from most exciting to least exciting.

Note: Keep in mind that exciting doesn’t just mean “most intriguing stories.” The expected quality of the on-ice product means a lot, too. Also — and this isn’t just lip service — it’s important to note that all eight series have something going for them. This should be a fantastic first round.

1. Vancouver vs. Chicago

For the third consecutive year, the Canucks will try to beat the Blackhawks in a best-of-seven. Even without Dustin Byfuglien’s big body giving Roberto Luongo fits, this is about as interesting an eighth seed matchup as Vancouver can get. History isn’t the only reason this should be fun, though, as there’s plenty of talent on both sides of the ice.

2. Philadelphia vs. Buffalo

One underrated story going into this series is Danny Briere vs. Buffalo. Don’t forget, the Briere-led Sabres skated circles around Philly in a series that would eventually doom then-coach Ken Hitchcock and the Forsberg fueled Flyers. Along with that sneaky history comes two teams with plenty of variety on offense, with Philadelphia’s superior overall talent crashing head-first with Buffalo’s Ryan Miller trump card.

3. Boston vs. Montreal

Some people probably expected to see this series at No.1, but the one thing that holds me back is that both teams are defense-first clubs. In other words, the moments that aren’t hate-inspired and contentious could involve some really drab hockey. Hopefully the vitriol and raucous crowds (especially in Montreal) will help these teams transcend their yawn-inducing styles.

4. Washington vs. NY Rangers

This one would be higher if last year’s Capitals were involved, but believe it or not, the Rangers actually scored nine more goals than Washington this season. So on the negative side, this probably won’t be played a breakneck pace.

That being said, it should be a contentious series (the Caps cannot be happy about 6-0 and 7-0 losses from earlier this season) and might be evenly matched if Henrik Lundqvist plays like his all-world self.

5. Detroit vs. Phoenix

Hopefully this series will resemble 2010’s shockingly good (and surprisingly competitive) seven-game slugfest. One thing that points in the favor of solid series: Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is looking for a payday with his contract expiring in July. It probably won’t be enough for him to shut down the Red Wings’ high octane offense (even without Henrik Zetterberg), but it might motivate him to produce some inspired moments.

6. Pittsburgh vs. Tampa Bay

This would be great series with a 100 percent Sidney Crosby versus a full-strength Steven Stamkos, but Crosby probably won’t play and Stamkos seems a few strides short of his best work. With the Penguins low on ammo, they’ll probably try to make this a straight-forward series with little offensive artistry. On the bright side, Pittsburgh throws a lot of pucks on net so it shouldn’t be all bad.

7. Anaheim vs. Nashville

If the Ducks’ trio of top-end power forwards gets loose, this could be very entertaining. Simply put, watching Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan make music together is a pretty special thing. Heck, Teemu Selanne isn’t half bad himself.

Unfortunately, Predators coach Barry Trotz is too smart to let that happen, so these games could be a little dull at times. Then again, Nashville might show some serious fire because this might be their best chance to get to the second round for the first time ever.

8. San Jose vs. Los Angeles

These two teams hate each other, which should make for a spirited Battle of California.

Sadly, the two squads aren’t very evenly matched, which means the Kings might try to drag these games down to a slower, lower level. One cannot blame them since they’ll be skating without Anze Kopitar, but we don’t have to like it, either.

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So what do you think? Which series are you the most excited to see? Let us know in the comments.

Penguins push Capitals to brink of elimination with OT win

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The Pittsburgh Penguins ended a long run of playoff overtime struggles on Wednesday … and are now one win away from ending the Washington Capitals’ season.

Many expected the Penguins to crater on defense without Kris Letang (they were 2-8-1 in the regular season without him). While there were shaky moments, Pittsburgh emphasized its speed and other strengths in taking a 3-2 overtime thriller against Washington.

With that, the Penguins’ series lead grows to 3-1.

It was a thrilling, sometimes nasty contest, from Sidney Crosby shaking off an Alex Ovechkin slash, to Evgeni Malkin delivering a hit some thought was over the line and plenty of typical playoff skirmishes.

Ultimately, Matt Murray played another strong game and Patric Hornqvist scored the overtime-winner to put the Capitals in a tough spot.

The Penguins lost their previous eight playoff overtime games, so maybe it was just a matter of time before such a game went their way?

Then again, the history between the two teams is a little different:

If the Capitals want to advance beyond the second round for the first time in the Ovechkin era, they’ll need to accomplish quite the feat against arguably the hottest team in the NHL.

Sidney Crosby looks hurt (and furious) after Alex Ovechkin slash

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NBCSN screen
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Sidney Crosby is known to get fiery, but even for his feisty standards, he was furious during the third period of Game 4.

An Alex Ovechkin slash caught Crosby on the hand, leaving the Pittsburgh Penguins star shaking his mitt and pleading for a call.

After that, Crosby left to get his hand looked at … but not before flipping out and destroying his stick.

You can watch it happen in the GIF and the videos above.

Crosby was able to return not that long after that moment, although we can only speculate regarding how his overall game will be affected if his hand isn’t 100 percent.

Dirty or not? Evgeni Malkin’s hit on Daniel Winnik

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Tensions seem to rise with every passing game in the playoffs, particularly in a series with bad blood like the one between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

Kris Letang was suspended for his hit in Game 3, and some wonder if Evgeni Malkin should suffer a similar fate for his check on Daniel Winnik on Wednesday.

Winnik left the contest and has not yet returned during the third period.

Take a look at the hit in the video above and decide for yourself.

Blues aim to raise money for victims of Fort McMurray fires

An evacuee puts gas in his car on his way out of Fort McMurray, Alberta, as a wildfire burns in the background Wednesday, May 4, 2016. The raging wildfire emptied Canada's main oil sands city, destroying entire neighborhoods of Fort McMurray, where officials warned Wednesday that all efforts to suppress the fire have failed.  (Jason Franson /The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
AP
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Fires devastated the Canadian city of Fort McMurray, and the St. Louis Blues are doing their part to help those who were affected.

Here’s what the team is doing to raise money during Game 4 against the Dallas Stars:

Proceeds raised through the team’s 50/50 raffle and the Blues for Kids silent auction will benefit families who have been misplaced by the fires.

Blues forward Scottie Upshall shared his thoughts with the Associated Press regarding several family members being among those evacuated from the area.

“It’s been a great city, a city that’s survived for many years through some tough times and for me, growing up there doesn’t seem too long ago,” Upshall said. “Places that probably aren’t standing anymore will be really, really tough to take. But as long as everyone’s OK, that’s the main thing.”

Other people from around the hockey world weighed in on the scary scene, including Ottawa Senators defenseman Chris Phillips, who told the Ottawa Citizen that “it hurts a lot.”

People shared some scary sights from the evacuation.