#1 – New York Rangers vs. #8 – Ottawa Senators
I can honestly say that I did not expect the season that Ottawa put forth. During the draft, they made it pretty clear that this was a rebuilding year. Sure, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to tank and go for the first round pick, but I also don’t think that anyone expected them to have the year that they had. Jason Spezza stepped his game up, Milan Michalek had a stellar year by almost doubling his career high for both goals and assists, Daniel Alfredsson played like a true captain, and Erik Karlsson outright dominated all three zones.
But how does all of that match up to the number one team in the Eastern Conference? It’s hard to say. On paper, you would think this series would be all Rangers, all day. They have one of, if not the best goaltenders in the NHL, a shut down defensive core, and solid depth up front. They have done just about everything right all year.
Yet somehow they still had a hard time beating the Ottawa Senators. Ottawa has taken 3 of four games against the Rangers. Two in regulation and one in a shootout. Honestly, I don’t think that the regular season numbers matter all that much, because come playoff time, it is all about that extra gear and you either have it or you don’t. Needless to say, I think that this series will be more interesting than it looks.
I think that the Senators are a quick and relatively young team that will use that to their advantage, but at the end of the day, you still have to get shots through the Rangers defense, and then after that you still have to beat Hank. I believe that this series will be all about goaltending. If the Rangers get the Lundvist they have had all season, I think that the Rangers take the series in 6.
Prediction: Rangers in 6
#2 – Boston Bruins vs. #7 – Washington Capitals
The Boston Bruins started this year on a very, very flat note. They came out looking like they were still hungover from their Stanley Cup celebrations. However, once November came, they reminded everyone why they won the Stanley Cup. I’m not going to lie. The way that they played in that month and a half stretch was down right terrifying. They weren’t beating teams, they were stomping them. They were dominant. They were physical, and they were scoring goals. Anyone who looked at that Boston team would easily have predicted them to repeat this year. Fortunately for the rest of the teams in the NHL, that streak proved to be a streak and nothing more. They are still a tough team with dominant players, but they now appear mortal. Tim Thomas is roared and ready to go after another stellar season. The only thing that I think might hurt them in the long run is the absence of Tukka Rask due to injury. Marty Turco, who has been playing in net for the Bruins lately, is ineligible for playoffs because he was signed after the trade deadline.
Sure, the absence of Tukka Rask as a back up to Thomas might seem problematic, but how about missing both of your starting goaltenders? That’s the boat Washington is currently sinking in. Both Vokoun and Neuvirth are out. They are playing AHL star goaltender Braden Holtby. He’s been playing well enough for the Capitals, but will that be enough for to keep the Bruins at Bay? It’s hard to say, but I certainly wouldn’t count the Capitals out.
The Capitals have taken the Bruins in three of their four meetings this season and their key players are starting to step their game up. Backstrom is back after receiving a concussion in January, Green is starting to get his legs going again, and most importantly, Ovechkin is scoring.
Honestly, I think that this series can go either way. If we see the Bruins from November and last year’s playoffs, I don’t think that anything can stop them. However, if the Capitals can continue the pace that they have been working at these past few weeks, they will make it interesting to say the least. I am picking the Capitals in 7 in this series.
Prediction: Capitals in 7
#3 – Florida Panthers vs. #6 – New Jersey Devils
When Dave Tallon took over for the Florida Panthers, there was a lot of criticism going around that he was simply rebuilding the Chicago Blackhawks. Whether that was his intention or not, it worked. He brought in former Blackhawks, Versteeg and Kopecky for some scoring depth, and then Scottie Upshall for good measure. He brought in some veteran presence with John Madden and Mikael Samuelsson, and then on the back end, the addition of Campbell. I remember Blackhawks fans laughing at Florida for taking the hit on Campbell’s contract, but realistically, there aren’t many better players in the league at quarterbacking a power play and getting the game moving. Campbell has played phenomenal for Florida and is a big part of their success.
New Jersey played this season like the New Jersey Devils we have known for years. Kovalchuk and Parise were dominant. Larsson logged huge minutes, Brodeur played good hockey and rookie Adam Henrique, had a stellar season. They got the scoring and the leadership where they needed it from their veterans and put together a great season. It wasn’t quite the Devils that we saw come together at the end of last season, but they were still a force to be reckoned with. In my opinion, the Devils are one of those teams that can beat any team on any given night.
The Panthers are in a bit of a rough spot coming into the playoffs having won only two of their final ten games, while the Devils are coming in hot, winning their last six. The pair of teams are 2-2 in the regular season, so it’s a wash. The Devils can be a scary team if all cylinders are going. I think that they’re a team that can go far under the right circumstances and I think that the Devils take this series in 5. It’s not that I discount the Panthers, because I think that they are a decent team. But the Devils are just playing that strong.
Prediction: Devils in 5
#4 – Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Philadelphia Flyers
To say that this will be one of the more interesting first round match ups would be a vast understatement. Since Crosby’s second return, the Penguins have been nothing short of dominant. With Malkin, Crosby, Letang, Staal and Fleury all finally healthy at the same, the Penguins are a scary, scary team. In the 14 games since Crosby’s return the team has outscored their opponents 63 to 48, boasting a 9-5 record. In those 14 games, the Penguins took down multiple top tier teams including the Rangers and the Devils twice, and the Predators, while dropping two games to the Islanders. Unfortunately for the Penguins, two of those other two losses were to the Flyers.
When healthy, I would argue that there are few more complete teams in the NHL than the Flyers. I am not just saying that because I’m from Philadelphia and a fan of the team. I am saying it because it’s true. Where do you even begin with a team like the Flyers? Giroux took the necessary steps to the lead the team, Hartnell turned all-star (who thought you would ever say that?), the group of rookies including Read, Schenn and Couturier have done it all and then some, Bryzgalov pulled his head out of the humangous big Universe, and Jagr has provided a much needed veteran presence. That doesn’t even touch on the additions of Talbot, Voracek and Simmonds. There is a reason that the Flyers are one of the top scoring teams in the NHL. Sure, their defense leaves something to be desired (and by something I mean a 6’6, 220 lb monster named Chris Pronger), but they’ve managed to pull it together in the final stretch with the addition of Grossman and Kubina.
It’s been a rough season for the Flyers. They have been bitten by the injury bug a little more voraciously than most teams, but they’re making the best of the situation and are still one of the best teams in the league. It’s scary to think how this team would play with Pronger, Mezaros, and JVR back, not to mention having Grossman, Bryz and Briere at 100%.
The Flyers have taken four of the six meetings this season against the Penguins, and I would argue that they would have taken the last game if Giroux was in the game. But again, regular season statistics don’t always match up come playoff time, and it would be dumb to discount either team in this series. I think that they both have what it takes to take home the cup, and I’m not going to lie, this is a series I was looking forward to as the Eastern Conference Finals. In the end, to me, the Flyers are the Penguins kryptonite. There aren’t many teams in the league that can take the Penguins the way that the Flyers do. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying this series will be a sweep, but I do think that the Flyers take it in 6.
Prediction: Flyers in 6