Ottawa Senators (44-28-10, second, Atlantic Division) vs. Boston Bruins (44-31-7, third, Atlantic Division)
Why you have to watch: This matchup could be more exciting than it appears on the surface. The Senators return to the postseason after a one-year absence, while the Bruins get in after missing out the previous two seasons. ... Each of these teams has the potential to be a playoff dark horse. ... Bruins RW Brad Marchand, who was suspended for the final two games of the season for spearing, had a career season with 39 goals and 46 assists for 85 points in 80 games. He's extra motivated to win another Cup and is being counted on to be Boston's best point producer in the playoffs. He won't win the Hart Trophy, but his name should be in the discussion. ... Senators captain Erik Karlsson produced one of his best overall seasons of his career. Getting 71 points in 77 games was impressive, but not as much as his 201 blocked shots, showing he's stepped up his two-way game. He should be a candidate for the Norris and his success will carry over into the playoffs. ... It'll be fun to watch Marchand's elusiveness against Karlsson's hockey sense and tireless determination.
Head to head: In his first season as head coach in Ottawa, Guy Boucher has the Senators playing an effective system that has given the Bruins issues. The Senators swept the season series 4-0. ... The teams played each other twice in the final weeks of the season, so there's a fresh familiarity. Ottawa completed the sweep with a 2-1 shootout win last Thursday at TD Garden in Boston. ... This is the first time the teams will face off in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Injury fallout: The Senators battled the injury bug to key players in the final few games of the season. Defensemen Marc Methot (finger), Cody Ceci (leg) and Erik Karlsson (undisclosed) all missed games down the stretch. Minutes leader and captain Karlsson returned before the season ended. ... The Bruins could be in serious trouble without the services of defenseman Torey Krug, who suffered a lower-body injury against the Senators on Thursday, missed the season finale and was seen using crutches on Saturday. Krug is a major weapon from the point on the power play. ... Bruins rookie D Brandon Carlo suffered an upper-body injury and missed the final two periods on Saturday. ... Bruins GM Don Sweeney said Krug and Carlo will not start the series, so the team signed D Charlie McAvoy to a three-year, entry-level contract on Monday. He practiced with the team and will likely make his NHL debut in Game 1. He will play the right side and could likely be paired with captain Zdeno Chara. The speed of the game, especially in the playoffs, will be a major adjustment for McAvoy.
Goalie advantage: The Senators' Craig Anderson finished the regular season strong and has the potential to get hot at the right time. He'll need to be the team's best player, especially since Ottawa's power play and penalty kill are ranked 23rd and 22nd, respectively. Otherwise, the Bruins will win the special-teams battle. ... Tuukka Rask has been solid and is one of the main reasons the Bruins reached the postseason. He played extremely well in the final few games of the season in preparation for the playoffs. ... However, once again Rask played too many games (65), and that workload could hurt his performance, especially in overtime.
Coaching advantage: After Claude Julien was fired on Feb. 7, the Bruins finished 18-8-1 under Bruce Cassidy to earn a playoff berth. ... Both Boucher and Cassidy have limited postseason coaching experience. Cassidy coached one postseason round for the Washington Capitals during the 2002-03 season, going 2-4. During his three seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boucher led the team to the Eastern Conference finals before losing to the Bruins in 2011, going 11-7. Tampa failed to reach the playoffs the following season, and Boucher was fired 32 games into the lockout-shortened 48-game season. ... This season, Boucher has made the Senators into one of the toughest teams to play against in the neutral zone.
Prediction: Ottawa's regular-season success against Boston means absolutely nothing now. This series will be a tight battle, and the Bruins' postseason experience will pay off in the end. Bruins in 7.