Finally the real season begins on Wednesday night, the regular season was decent but the playoffs is what every hockey fan lives for. 2 months of intense hockey games every night of the week, double and triple overtime games, upsets and blow outs, nothing better. In this article I will preview the Eastern Conference 1st round match ups and give you my predictions and why I picked them. The next article will feature the Western Conference and at the end my Stanley Cup prediction.
#1 New York Rangers vs #8 Ottawa Senators
Schedule: Game 1: Thursday April 12, Game 2: Saturday April 14, Game 3: Monday April 16, Game 4: Wednesday April 18, Game 5: Saturday April 21, Game 6: Monday April 23, Game 7: Thursday April 26
By The Numbers
Head to Head Record: Ottawa 3-1-0 New York 1-2-1
New York Rangers: Special Teams, Power Play 23rd (15.7%) and Penalty Kill 5th (86.2%)
Goals For per Game 2.8 (11th) and Goals Against per Game 2.3 (3rd)
Ottawa Senators: Special Teams , Power Play 11th (18.2%) and Penalty Kill 20th (81.6%)
Goals For per Game 3.0 (4th) and Goals Against per Game 2.9 (24th)
Players to Watch
New York Rangers: Brad Richards (25G-41A-66P) Already a proven playoff performer, winning Conn Smythe Trophy in 2004 with Tampa Bay. Marion Gaborik (41G-35A-76P) Rangers leading scorer has only played 34 career playoff games. Henrik Lundqvist (39-18-5) Top 5 in all major goaltender statistics, front runner for Vezina.
Ottawa Senators: Erik Karlsson (19G-59A-78P) 2nd year pro had a remarkable year leading all D in scoring by 25 points. First Playoff appearance. Jason Spezza (34G-50A-84P) Besides 2007, has been scapegoat for past playoff failures, will be looked upon for offence again this year. Craig Anderson (33-22-6) Only playoff appearance was in 2010 with Colorado. Will have to shine to give Ottawa a chance.
~New York is a strong defensive team lead by Henrik Lundqvist in goal with Marc Staal and Dan Girardi anchoring the blue line. Rangers captain Ryan Callaghan is a top 2 way player.
~Ottawa never quits on a game, they led the NHL in 3rd period scoring. The offence runs through Erik Karlsson.
New York Rangers in 6. Ottawa is a young team that overachieved this season. New York is stronger in their own zone then Ottawa and their offence can be just as explosive.
#2 Boston Bruins vs #7 Washington Capitals
Schedule: Game 1: Thursday April 12, Game 2: Saturday April 14, Game 3: Monday April 16, Game 4: Thursday April 19, Game 5: Saturday April 21, Game 6: Sunday April 22, Game 7: Wednesday April 25.
By The Numbers
Head to Head Record: Washington 3-1-0 Boston 1-2-1
Boston Bruins: Special Teams, Power Play 15th (17.2%) and Penalty Kill 11th (83.5%)
Goals For per Game 3.3 (3rd) and Goals Against per Game 2.5 (6th)
Washington Capitals: Special Teams, Power Play 18th (16.7%) and Penalty Kill 21st (81.6%)
Goals For per Game 2.7 (14th) and Goals Against per Game 2.8 (21st)
Players To Watch
Boston Bruins: Tyler Seguin (29G-38A-67P) Bruins leading scorer, had flashes last season as a playoff performer, He needs to be a go to guy this year. Patrice Bergeron (22G-42A-64P) Will be on the ice for every crucial face off and then some. Can be a game changer defensively or offensively. David Krejci (23G-39A-62P) and Milan Lucic (26G-35A-61P) Can these two be offensive leaders without line mate Nathan Horton. Tim Thomas (35-19-1) Conn Smythe Winner last season.
Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin (38G-27A-65P) Has performed decently in the post season but team has not. Has a tendency to try and do it all himself. Nicklas Backstrom (14G-30A-44P) Just came back from a concussion where he missed 40 games, needs to be productive right away. Alex Semin (21G-33A-54P) Caps cannot afford to have Semin pull his disappearing act again during playoffs, needs to be a contributor. Braden Holtby (4-2-1) Can he hold the fort, I believe Neuvirth should be back before the series is over.
~Nathan Horton (Bos) and Tomas Vokoun (Wsh) are unlikely to make a return these playoffs.
~Zdeno Chara vs Alex Ovechkin will be the key match up. Boston is really good at getting Chara on the ice against the other teams best player. Can Ovechkin attack Chara like Eric Staal did a few years ago or will he be a non factor because of the match up.
Boston Bruins in 7. I believe it will take Krejci and Lucic a few games to get going allowing the Caps to stay in the series. But when the Bruins need them most they will deliver in the end, just like last year. Ovechkin will have a hard time scoring against Chara.
#3 Florida Panthers vs #7 New Jersey Devils
Schedule: Game 1: Friday April 13, Game 2: Sunday April 15, Game 3: Tuesday April 17, Game 4: Thursday April 19, Game 5: Saturday April 21, Game 6: Tuesday April 24, Game 7: Thursday April 26.
By The Numbers
Head to Head Record: Florida 2-1-1 New Jersey 2-2-0
Florida Panthers: Special Teams, Power Play 7th (18.5%) and Penalty Kill 25th (79.5%)
Goals For per Game 2.5 (27th) and Goals Against per Game 2.8 (12)
New Jersey Devils: Special Teams, Power Play 14th (17.2%) and Penalty Kill 1st (89.6%)
Goals For per Game 2.8 (15th) and Goals Against per Game 2.5 (10th)
Players To Watch
Florida Panthers: Tomas Fleischmann (27G-34A-61P) Was apart of the highly touted Washington Capitals teams that didn't live up to the hype in the playoffs. 5 career playoff points. Stephen Weiss (20G-37A-57P) First appearance in the playoffs. Spent entire career with Panthers. Kris Versteeg (23G-31A-54P) and Brian Campbell (4G-49A-53P) Both won a cup with Chicago in 2010 and will be looked upon as leaders because of it. Jose Theodore (22-16-11) Has been solid for the Panthers and spectacular at times. Last playoff appearance was brief, while with Washington he didn't make it out of the second game in 2009 and 2010.
New Jersey Devils: Ilya Kovalchuk (37G-46A-83P) A grand total of 9 playoff games. Swept with Atlanta in 07 and out in 5 with Devils in 2010. Has something to prove. Patrik Elias (26G-52A-78P) Has been New Jersey's most consistent player over the years and has 2 Cups to prove it. Zach Parise (31G-38A-69P) Played every game this year after missing almost the entire season last year. Martin Broduer (31-21-4) Turns 40 May 6th, has 3 Cups and has won more games than anyone (reg. season). How much is in the tank.
~Florida hasn't been to the playoffs since 2000 and hasn't won a series since they went to the Cup Final in 1996. Coincidentally the Devils swept the Panthers in 2000.
New Jersey Devils in 5. Devils have all the experience and the game breakers. Florida should be happy just making it to the playoffs and build on it for next year. Theodore hasn't been trusted in the playoffs and arguably the best goalie ever is playing in the other end.
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs #5 Philadelphia Flyers
Schedule: Game 1: Wednesday April 11, Game 2: Friday April 13, Game 3: Sunday April 15, Game 4: Wednesday April 18, Game 5: Friday April 20, Game 6: Sunday April 22, Game 7: Tuesday April 24.
By The Numbers
Head To Head: Pittsburgh 2-3-1 Philadelphia 4-2
Pittsburgh Penguins: Special Teams, Power Play 5th (19.7%) and Penalty Kill 3rd (87.8%)
Goals For per Game 3.4 (1st) and Goals Against per Game 2.7 (15th)
Philadelphia Flyers: Special Teams, Power Play 6th (19.7%) and Penalty Kill 17th (81.8%)
Goals For per Game 3.2 (2nd) and Goals Against per Game 2.8 (20th)
Players to Watch
Pittsburgh Penguins: Sidney Crosby (8G-29A-37P) Played only 22 games and looks to be at the top of it. Crosby has played 63 games the past 2 seasons and registered 103 points, ,that's 1.63 points per game.
Evgeni Malkin (50G-59A-109P) Art Ross winner carried the load for the Penguins offence this season, has a Conn Smythe Trophy to his name as well. James Neal (40G-41A-81P) Clicked with Malkin this year, hitting the 40 goal mark for the first time. Kris Letang (10G-32A-42P) Played only 51 games this year. If he can stay healthy the puck will get to the elite forwards consistently. Marc-Andre Fleury (42-17-4) Has been there done that, 2 finals appearances. Along with Malkin kept Penguins near top of league in absence of Crosby.
Philadelphia Flyers: Claude Giroux (28G-65A-93P) Dynamic player with insane skill level. Centers one of the best lines in the league. Scott Hartnell (37G-30A-67P) 2nd member of the Giroux line, had a breakout year and earned an all-star selection. Jaromir Jagr (19G-35A-54P) 3rd member of the Giroux line and at 40 years of age hasn't lost a step. Ilya Bryzgalov (33-16-7) proven regular season goaltender but hasn't done much in the playoffs.
~ Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are bitter rivals as their last 2 games prove.
~ Team that stays out of the penalty box has best chance of winning.
~ 2 highest scoring teams in the NHL
Pittsburgh Penguins in 6. Pittsburgh has too many elite players. Bylsma could go with 3 centers meaning either Crosby, Malkin or Staal will be on the ice at all times. Pittsburgh also has the edge in goal. If Philly had Chris Pronger in the line up, it might be a different story.