8 New York Rangers vs 1 Washington Capitals
Season Series: Rangers won 3 out of 4.
For the 2nd year in a row, the Capitals take the #1 seed into the playoffs. The Capitals have won 4 straight Southwest Divisions now but have yet to get passed the 2nd round of the playoffs, including losing 3 games in a row to Montreal and getting ousted in the first round.
The Rangers playoff hopes came down to the last game of the season for the 2nd year in a row. Last year, they fell a shootout win short. This year, they got help from Tampa and found themselves in the 8th spot. The loss of Ryan Callahan might be too much to overcome.
Head to Head matchups:
Coaching: Rangers. No disrespect to Bruce Boudreau but John Tortorella has won a Stanley Cup and got an undermanned Rangers team into the playoffs for the 2nd time in the last 3 years. The Rangers have played their balls off most nights in the latter part of the season. They had two god awful stinkers on Long Island and one at home against the Thrashers last week. Expect the Rangers to give everything they have against the Caps and we think Tortorella will have the advantage over Boudreau in getting the most out of his team.
Defense: Rangers. The Rangers actually gave up one more goal than the Caps did this season but were more consistent throughout the season. In pressure situations, we trust Marc Staal and company to hold down the fort more than the Capitals, who haven't in their playoff past.
Forwards: Washington. The Caps actually scored 9 less goals than the Rangers this season but also went through a ghastly losing streak where they basically didn't score at all. Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin are just the big names on a very deep roster of players capable of scoring. Brooks Laich is one of the more underrated two way players in the game. The Capitals scoring disappeared in last years playoffs and must not have a repeat performance this year.
Goaltending: Lundqvist. Henrik Lundqvist is the Rangers best player hands down. He is the biggest reason for the Rangers success this season. He had 11 shutouts and had a 2.28 GAA and .923 save percentage. The Capitals young goalies have not proved themselves in big spots. Michal Neuvirth is 23 and will lead the Capitals in the playoffs for the first time this season. Watching him live twice, he impressed us but he is not Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers have a big advantage there.
Intangibles: Rangers. The Rangers will fight harder and work harder than the Capitals and will need to if they want to win. The Rangers will also have the bigger home ice advantage as Ranger fans are among the most passionate in the NHL.
Prediction: Rangers in 6. The Capitals have yet to prove they can win in a big spot with this group and the Rangers have more pride and a coach that can bring it out of them.
7 Buffalo vs. 2 Philadelphia
Season Series: 2 wins each with the Flyers only losing 1 in regulation.
The Flyers ran all the way to the Cup Finals with the #7 seed last year and hope that experience will keep them from facing the same fate that the #2 seed did last year. The Buffalo Sabres have surged since the announcement of new ownership. This series will be fun to watch as both teams have a very passionate fanbase. In fact, the Sabres lead the NHL in TV ratings of all American teams.
Head to Head matchups:
Coaching: Flyers. Peter Laviolette has done wonders wherever he has coached. He coached the Islanders to their best record in the last 20 years as a rookie NHL coach in 2001-2002 and two playoff appearances in a row before losing his job. He then won a Stanley Cup with Carolina, and then brought the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals in his first year there. His resume in the last 10 years has to be the most impressive of any NHL coach considering he has had success with 3 NHL teams. Lindy Ruff is a great coach as well and take nothing away from him, but he hasn't had the success of Laviolette.
Defense: Even with Pronger questionable for game 1, the Flyers defense is deeper and more physical than the Sabres. Cobrun, Carle and Meszaros will carry the load while Pronger is out and can physically wear down the Sabres team over a series.
Forwards: Flyers. The Flyers have 3 lines that can score and protect their own end as well. The Sabres will have to rely on Tomas Vanek, Drew Stafford and Jason Pominville. While Tyler Ennis and Tim Connolly are solid players, they aren't the threatening secondary scorers that the Flyers possess. Derek Roy has been ruled out and would have helped the Sabres immensely.
Goaltending: Buffalo. Ryan Miller has been the #1 goalie for team USA and has led the Sabres into the playoffs. Sergei Bobrovsky hasn't played an NHL playoff game and Miller for the Sabres is the biggest X-factor in this series. If the Sabres have any shot of winning this series, Miller will have to be the better goalie in every game.
Prediction: Flyers in 6. The Sabres CAN win this series but will have to have everything break right, and have Bobrovsky get seriously outplayed by Miller. We also think since the Flyers won as a 7th seed last year, they won't take the Sabres lightly.