Monday, April 12, 2010

Eastern Conference Playoff Preview and Picks

Montreal (8) vs Washington (1)

CANADIENS (39-33-10)


Season Series: Split. Each team earned 5 points in the four meetings.

How they got here: The Montreal Canadiens find themselves facing the Presidents Trophy winning Washington Capitals after going 3-4-3 in their last 10. Just one more victory in their last 10 and the Canadiens could have found themselves in a much more favorable position heading into the playoffs. The Canadiens have had an up and down season, who finally got it going with an impressive run right after the Olympic Break. However, the Canadiens struggled down the stretch and the result is a meeting with the Washington Capitals. The Capitals dominated the NHL all season outscoring opponents by 85 goals in their 121 point performance. The Capitals also went 30-5-6 at home, a staggering mark that makes their home ice advantage throughout the playoffs even more important.

Key Players: The Capitals have several talented players, lets be honest, their roster is ridiculous. Alex Ovechkin had another impressive season, tallying 50 goals for the 4th time and had a career high in assists with 59. After Ovechkin, the list of talented players goes on and on. Alex Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, Mike Green and on and on. Heck Eric Fehr had 21 goals in 69 games averaging only slightly more than 12 minutes of ice time a game.

Montreal was led by Tomas Plekanic who had 70 points this season. The Canadiens will need offensive outputs by Scott Gomez, Mike Cammelleri, and Brian Gionta. The Canadiens got a boost on the back line when Andrei Markov came back from injury halfway through the season.
Jaroslav Halak won the starting job at the end of the season and must play well for Montreal to win.

Washington will win if: They play their game. Push the play and create offense. The Capitals should have no problem creating offense on the Canadiens defense.

Montreal will in if: Jaroslav Halak plays insane, and/or the Capitals get lost on the way to the Bell Centre. In all seriousness, the Canadiens will have to play physical and force Washington off their game. If they can do that for the entire series, Washington's goaltending weakness might become relevant.

Prediction: Washington in 5. This is a tall order for Montreal. They will win one game because Washington tends to get lazy.

Philadelphia (7) vs New Jersey (2)

FLYERS (41-35-6)

DEVILS (48-27-7)

Season Series: The Flyers won the season series 5-1. The last game a 5-1 victory for Philly in Philly on March 28.

How they got here: The Devils had another typical fantastic season. New Jersey won the Atlantic Division and in the process won the Jennings award for fewest goals against in the league giving up just 191 the entire season. The Flyers have had an up and down season. A season where coach John Stevens was fired after a rough start and saw new coach Peter Laviolette get the Flyers playing great hockey. The Flyers struggled down the stretch but found a way to beat the Rangers on the final day of the season to grab the 7th seed.

Key Players: The Devils will rely again on the seasoned veteran in goal, Martin Brodeur. Brodeur will play in the playoffs for the 12th straight season and look to win another Stanley Cup. Team defense is a key for the Devils but New Jersey has some serious firepower for maybe the first time in their history. Ilya Kovalchuk was acquired in a trade and Zach Parise seems to be getting better each season. Each player is capable of scoring from anywhere on the ice and when a game is on the line, the Devils have the better goal scorers. For Philadelphia they will have to rely on Brian Boucher. Boucher is the Flyers 3rd string goalie who was forced into duty when Ray Emery and Micheal Leighton went down with injuries. Jeff Carter, Daniel Briere and Mike Richards lead Philly's offensive attack and will have to produce to keep the Flyers in this series.

New Jersey will win if: Brodeur is Brodeur and Kovalchuk can show some leadership. Zach Parise will be Zach Parise but the Devils will need other scorers to step up.

Philadelphia will win if: they play physical and wear down the Devils forwards. If Brian Boucher can play solidly and Briere, Richards and Carter can do their part, the Flyers can definitely win this series.

Prediction: The Flyers will be the upset of the first round and beat the Devils in 7 games. The Flyers physical play will not be matched by New Jersey and Boucher will play well.

Boston (6) at Buffalo (3)

Sabres (45-27-10)

Bruins (39-30-13)

Season Series: Boston won 4 games to 2.

How they got here: Lindy Ruff once again had his Sabres play up to their potential and led them to another solid season, winning the Northeast Division. The Sabres have done it by committee all season long and might be the only team in the East without any weaknesses.
The Bruins got to the playoffs on guts, grit and goaltending. The Bruins were 2nd to last in the NHL in goals scored with 206. Only Calgary with 204 scored less. The Bruins earned the 6th seed by going 6-3-1 in their last 10 games including victories in their last 3.

Key Players: For both teams, much of their playoff success or failure will come from the performance of their respective goalies. Ryan Miller has had another terrific year, including a silver medal in the Olympics. Offensively the Sabres do it as a team. A group of 12 players had 10 or more goals led by Thomas Vanek who had 28. Derek Roy continues to get better with age and led the Sabres in scoring with 69 points. Tim Connolly had a good year as well with 65 points and the Sabres are hopeful he could be back in the lineup when the series starts Thursday. The Bruins rely on Zdeno Charo and Tuukka Rask. Rask led the league in goals against average at 1.97 and save percentage at .931. Very impressive numbers for a goalie marked to the backup.

Buffalo will win if: The Sabres get solid goaltending from Ryan Miller and continue to get balanced scoring from their forwards. Tyler Myers could add some offense from the blueline to help out as well.

Boston will win if: Tuukka Rask steals some games and players like Marco Sturm and Miroslav Satan can add some scoring to help out Bergeron and Krejci.

Prediction: The Sabres will win in 5 games. The Bruins have had tough luck with injuries this season and just can't score.

Ottawa (5) vs Pittsburgh (4)

SENATORS (44-32-6)

PENGUINS (47-28-7)

Season Series:
The teams split the 4 games

How they got here: The Ottawa Senators have had a season of streaks highlighted by a 12 game winning streak in January which is the biggest reason the Senators find themselves in the 5 seed. Along with that winning streak, Ottawa has seen a four game losing streak and two 5 game losing streaks. The Senators were 7-2-1 in their last 10 before the season ended. The Penguins find themselves ready to defend their Stanley Cup from a year ago, just falling short of the Atlantic Division title. Pittsburgh went 0-6 against New Jersey this season and it cost them a better seed for the playoffs. Pittsburgh has been consistent most of the season and enters the playoffs playing well.

Key Players: Sidney Crosby tied for the league lead in goals with 51 this season adding more goal scoring ability to his playmaking skills. Evgeni Malkin led Pittsburgh in points in last year's Stanley Cup run might be the 3rd best offensive player in the game. Marc Andre Fluery looks to stay sharp in between the pipes for Pittsburgh who looks to make their 3rd consecutive trip to the Finals. Brian Elliot came on this season as a legitimate #1 goalie and has helped Ottawa make a stress free playoff trip. Daniel Alfredsson led Ottawa in scoring this season while Jason Spezza and Mike Fischer had solid seasons. Alex Kovalev will be out for the entire playoffs which hurts Ottawa's depth at scoring. Anton Volchenkov and newly acquired Andy Sutton will have to play physical on the blueline, something the Pittsburgh stars seem to dislike.

Pittsburgh will win if: Crosby and Malkin play like the superstars they are. We have no reason to believe they won't and if Fluery plays well.

Ottawa will win if:
Volchenkov, Carkner, Sutton, Ruutu and company play physical and get Crosby and Malkin off their game or intimidated physically. Brian Elliot plays out of his mind.

Prediction: Pittsburgh in 6. Ottawa won't make this easy, but Crosby and Malkin are the best 1,2 punch in money situations.

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