Let the Real Season Begin - NHL Eastern Conference Playoff Preview
#1 NY Rangers #8 Ottawa Senators
11-12 Record: 51-24-7 109pts 11-12 Record: 41-31-10 92pts
Season Series: Senators 3-1
Goals – Marion Gaborik – 41 Milan Michalek – 35
Assists – Brad Richards – 41 Erik Karlsson – 59
Points – Marion Gaborik – 76 Jason Spezza – 84
Goalie Comparisons (Record, SO, GAA, Save%)
Henrik Lundqvist (39-18-5, 8, 1.97, .930) Craig Anderson (33-22-6, 3, 2.84, .914)
The Rangers have been the class of the Eastern Conference all season long in earning the number one seed and falling 2 points short of the President’s Trophy (awarded to the team with the most points, i.e., best record) In an interesting matchup, they will be facing the Senators who are 1 of only 2 teams to beat the Rangers 3 times this year. The Senators who were leading the Northeast conference only a few weeks ago limp into the playoffs a little having won only 4 of their last 10 games.
The Rangers boast one of the league’s best snipers in Marion Gaborik and setup men in Brad Richards. The Rangers had the 11th ranked offense in the league and rely on balanced scoring up and down their lineup. The line combination of Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov may be difference in this series. As for the 4th ranked offense of Ottawa, they are led by the line of Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza and rookie Colin Greening. Spezza had a great year after 2 sub-par years by his standards. He led both teams with 4 goals and 6 points in the teams’ 4 meetings this year. Daniel Alfredsson, he of 27 goals this year, will be counted upon to have a big series for this team to move on. Secondary scoring is going to be HUGE in this series.
Edge: Rangers (barely)
Erik Karlsson of the Senators will be among the finalists for the Norris Trophy and had an astonishing 78 points from the blueline this year. He’s an unbelievable skater and playmaker and despite questions about his game in his own end, was +16 this year. The other Senators’ top defenseman, Sergei Gonchar, Filip Kuba, and Chris Phillips are all known as being offensive defenseman and part of the reason why the Sens allowed the 2nd most shots on goal this year. The Rangers boast a big, young D corps led by 21 year old Michael Del Zotto and 22 year old Ryan McDonagh. The return in the second half of the season of Marc Staal was huge and he will play a key part in shutting down this Ottawa team.
Edge: Even (for differing styles)
The Rangers have something a lot of teams don’t, and that’s an elite goaltender. Henrik Lundqvist is coming off a Vezina Trophy caliber season. He ranked 4th in wins (39), 4th in GAA (1.97) and 4th in save percentage (.930). He also had 8 shutouts on the year and was the key cog for a team that allowed the 3rd fewest goals this year. Craig Anderson on the other hand had a good year, but is as streaky as they come. He proved two years ago how he can be dominant as he nearly led the Avs to a first round upset of the Sharks almost single-handedly.
Edge: Rangers (big)
Ottawa had the 11th best power play (18.3%) and 15th ranked penalty kill (82.1%). The Rangers were 25th on the man advantage (15.9%) and 5th on the penalty kill (86.4%). It’s hard to believe with Gaborik and Richards that the Rangers had such struggles on the power play, but they were only 2 for 13 in 4 games against Ottawa this year. This is going to be the area where Karlsson and the Senators need to take advantage if they want to win this series.
Even though the Senators didn’t finish the season on a roll, they matchup well the Rangers as they showed this season. This series, like many playoff series before, will be decided by play between the pipes. Because of this, I predict King Henrik and the Rangers will eventually move on.
Prediction: Rangers in 6
#2 Boston Bruins #7 Washington Capitals
11-12 Record: 49-29-4 102pts 11-12 Record: 42-32-8 92pts
Season Series: Capitals 3-1
Goals – Tyler Seguin – 29 Alex Ovechkin – 38
Assists – Patrice Bergeron – 42 Dennis Wideman – 35
Points – Tyler Seguin – 67 Alex Ovechkin – 65
Goalie Comparisons (Record, SO, GAA, Save%)
Tim Thomas (35-19-6, 5, 2.36, .920) Tomas Vokoun (25-17-6, 4, 2.51, .917)
The defending cup winner Boston Bruins head into the playoffs playing solid hockey going 7-2-1 over their final 10 games, but feel a little unlucky the way the last day of the regular season shook out as they will take on the Capitals instead of an Ottawa team they were 5-1 against this year. The Capitals on the other hand fought their way into a playoff spot following a regular season that started with the biggest of expectations and included a coaching change in the middle of the year.
When it comes to dynamic talent in the NHL, Alex Ovechkin’s name has been on the list since he entered the league in 05-06. Even though he had by far his lowest point total for a season, he still managed 38 goals despite missing his playmaking center Niklas Backstrom for 40 games. The combination of Backstrom and Ovechkin leads a very balanced Caps forwards corps which include grinding forwards perfect for the playoffs like Jason Chimera, Troy Brouwer, Brooks Laich and Matthieu Perreault. It will also be interesting to see which Alex Semin comes to play. He has world class talent, but can disappear at times. The Bruins are led by 20 year old, 2nd year center Tyler Seguin and the little ball of hate Brad Marchand (28 goals). Like the Capitals, the Bruins are deep up front with guys who have the ability to be game changers or step up with big goals. Look for Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron to wreak havoc on the Caps D. The absence of Nathan Horton is going to hurt.
The Bruins are anchored by the biggest, strongest defenseman in the league in Zdeno Chara who averages 25 minutes of ice time per game, and boasts a 108 mph slap shot. The rest of their top 4 defense, Joe Corvo, Dennis Seidenberg, and Greg Zanon are all tough as nails but can chip in on offense when needed. The Capitals defense is more known for their offensive contributions than their stellar defensive zone play. Mike Green is one of the best offensive d-men in the game but was only able to play in 32 games this year. They have been led this year in his absence by former Bruin Dennis Wideman and 22 year old John Carlson who were a combined -23.
Edge: Bruins (big)
Tm Thomas had another fantastic year for the Bruins, as he chipped in with 35 wins, 5 shutouts, and a .920 save%. The Bruins were hurt at the end of the year by an injury to backup goalie Tuuka Rask who had a better GAA and save % than Thomas. As for the Capitals, it looks like they are going with rookie Braden Holtby as Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth mend groin and leg injuries. Holtby has gone 4-2-1 with a shutout, but it remains to be seen how he handles this stage.
Edge: Bruins (huge)
Neither group had a top ten power play. The Bruins were 15th clicking at 17%, and the Caps were surprisingly just 18th at 16.5%. The absence of Mike Green was a huge factor for this. The Capitals were also just 20th in the league on the penalty kill compared to the Bruins 11th ranked unit.
Edge: Bruins (slight)
Even with the loss of key components to their cup run last year (Nathan Horton, Mark Recchi, Michael Ryder), the Bruins still have enough to over come the Capitals. The Caps may be able to score goals, but I don’t think they can contain the Bruins defensively over the course of the series.
Prediction: Bruins in 6