The NHL Playoffs are set to begin on Wednesday, and three of our local NHL teams are prepping their playoff beards.  We offer you these preview thoughts. @JoeBianchino

New York Rangers: An unexpected and brilliant season for the Rangers has earned them the number one seed in the Eastern Conference, and a first round date with the Ottawa Senators - a series which will kick off Thursday night from Madison Square Garden.  Though the Rangers lost three of four to Eastern Canada's lone playoff team this year, they are unquestionably the better team.  With a young, yet supremely talented, defense, and the Vezina-worthy goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers ranked third in the NHL in goals against this season.  That skill will, undoubtedly, need to be focused on the Senators' prodigious top line which includes Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson.  If those two can be stopped, and if the Rangers' offensive abilities can be flexed in even the slightest way, then Broadway Blue shirts will have a great chance to win this series.  But be careful, the Senators played the Rangers well for a reason, just because it's a 1-8 matchup, don't expect a route.  For a more in depth look at this series, look for a forthcoming Ranger playoff preview on

Boston Bruins: The Bruins enter the playoffs as the Eastern Conference's second seed.  For their efforts they've received a matchup with the Washington Capitals.  The Capitals have experienced one of the stranger NHL seasons in recent memory - firing their coach early in the season, and showing both brilliance and incompetence throughout.  Most will expect the Bruins to win this matchup - and they should - but it is, by no means, a foregone conclusion.  The Bruins suffered some bad play in the seasons' second half, and don't exactly enter the playoffs on a roll.  The Capitals have great talent and the pair of Ovechkin and Backstrom can explode at any time.  Boston's terrific defense should keep the Caps at bay, and, when all else fails, they still have reigning Vezina and Con Smythe winner Tim Thomas in net.  This series should belong to Boston, but don't be surprised if Washington makes it extremely hard on them.

New Jersey Devils: The Devils had a great second half of the season to earn them the Eastern Conference's sixth seed.  As such, the Devils have placed themselves in one of the more favorable positions in the Eastern Conference.  They've drawn the third seeded Florida Panthers - a team whose skill would see them a seven or eight seed, but whose presence atop their poor division has them third.  An argument could be made for either of these teams to come out on top, but the better arguments point in only one direction.  New Jersey.  The Devils have more points than Florida, and sit above them in both goals for and goals against per game.  You never know how, exactly, things will work out in the NHL playoffs, but the safest bet of these three may - MAY - be the Devils.