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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Breaking Down the Eastern Semis



Earlier I brought you a preview of the Western Conference Semi Finals and gave you my predictions. Now it's time to look at the Eastern Conference


.
FIRST MATCH UP:
#1 Pittsburgh Penguins

vs.

#8 Montreal Canadiens


#4 Pittsburgh Penguins



Regular Season Record: 47-28-7 101 Points
Regular Season Scoring Leader: Sidney Crosby- 52g, 58a, 109pts
Goaltender of Record: Marc-Andre Fleury- 37-21-6 2.65 Goals Against Average .905 Save Percentage 1 Shut Out

Strengths
Sidney Crosby: A monster. Plain and simple. The best player on the planet. 51 goals and 58 assists in the regular season. In the post season, no different: 14 points with 5 goals and 7 assists and completely dominating four of the six games played.
Experience: Two years, two Stanley Cup Finals trips. Last year they won in seven games over the defending Detroit Red Wings. They know what it takes to get there and win.

Weaknesses
Scoring Depth: Outside of Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (4g, 4a) not many people have contributed to the offensive onslaught that ususally finds it's way with the Pens. The third line of Cooke-Staal-Kennedy has looked disjointed at times with Kennedy missing several games. They need to pick up their play to make the Pens a top contender.
Funky Fleury: Last year Marc-Andre Fleury played lights out for 95% of the NHL Playoffs. This year, through one round he has the lowest Save Percentage of the remaining goalies (.890%) and second lowest Goals Against Average (2.75). This numbers are inflated by a 5 goal loss and a 4 goal win in the Ottawa series but he needs to steady his play.

#8 Montreal Canadiens



Regular Season Record: 39-33-10 88 Points
Regular Season Scoring Leader: Tomas Plekanec- 25g, 45a, 70pts
Goaltender of Record: Jaroslav Halak- 26-13-5 2.40 Goals Against Average .924 Save Percentage 5 Shut Outs

Strengths
Jaroslav Halak: An impressive regular season for the starter who took over half way through the year from a stumbling Carey Price, Halak shined in the first round, especially in the final 3 games where he stopped 131 of 134 shots. He became a brick wall.
Wall of Wonder: While Halak's play has been stellar, the credit is shared by the defensive unit which has been dressed 7 deep in later games by coach Jacques Martin. They laid out in front of every shot put in front of them and allowed the Caps to take the shots only they wanted them to take.

Weaknesses
Size Does Matter: In the NHL Playoffs the physical nature of the play is turned up another few notches. The Habs didn't face this against a largely "soft" Capitals team. This will change against a rough and hardened Penguins team, who will try to take advantage of the small size of the Canadiens forwards.
We're Just Happy To Be Here?: The Habs taking down the Caps is one of the biggest upsets in NHL, or sports, history. To come back from down 3-1 like before was beyond huge. The question now becomes, are they just happy to be farther or are they going to build on this momentum?

PREDICTION:
Penguins dump the Canadiens in 5

SECOND MATCH UP:
#6 Boston Bruins

vs.

#7 Philadelphia Flyers


#6 Boston Bruins




Regular Season Record: 39-30-13 91 Points
Regular Season Scoring Leader: Patrice Bergeron- 19g, 33a, 52pts
Goaltender of Record: Tuukka Rask- 22-17-5 1.97 Goals Against Average .931 Save Percentage 5 Shut Outs

Strengths
Tuukka Rask: For the second year in a row the Bruins have a stand out goaltender between this pipes. Tuukka Rask has taken over for the faltering Tim Thomas, who won last year's Vezina Award. This year he was lights out as seen above. In the playoffs that trend continues: 4-2 with a 2.18 GAA and .927%
The D in Zdeno: A big part of this is the stellar defensive unit in front of him which allowed an NHL 2nd best 2.33 Goals Per Game in 2009-2010. Zdeno Chara, last year's Norris Trophy winner for best defenseman, is a big part of this and will make it tough for any offensive force to get by.

Weaknesses
Offense: 2.67 Goals Per Game. The team with the fewest goals scored per game left in the Playoffs. It's not a far departure from the 2.39 they scored in the regular season, ranking them worst in the NHL in the regular season. They'll need to score more or really defend less to keep going.
Penalty Trouble: While they were at a beyond stellar 100% Penalty Kill in the 1st Round against an anemic Buffalo Sabers offense that got worse as they lost their top scorer in Thomas Vanek but 103 PIMs will not keep you at a 100% PK much longer as you advance. Stay focused.

#7 Philadelphia Flyers



Regular Season Record: 41-35-6 88 Points
Regular Season Scoring Leader: Mike Richards- 31g, 31a, 62pts
Goaltender of Record: Brian Boucher- 9-18-3 2.76 Goals Against Average .899 Save Percentage 1 Shut Out

Strengths
Physical, very phsycial: The Flyers have traditionally been known for their physical edge, hence the "Broadstreet Bully" moniker that's followed them around since the 70's. If you're not ready to get beaten up by the Flyers, you're not ready to win a series against them.
Defense built for this: The moves made in the past years by Flyers GM Paul Holmgren has been to beef up the D line of the Flyers. They now sport the likes of Chris Pronger (6'6" 220lbs), Braydon Coburn (6'5" 220lbs), Oskars Bartulis (6'2" 195lbs), and Ryan Parent (6'2" 201lbs). These men are by no means small and will be tough for the Bruins offense to get through.

Weaknesses
The Waterboy?: Major props to Brian Boucher, who was huge in the upset of the New Jersey Devils in the 1st Round. Without him playing as well as they did, the Flyers likely don't make it out of that round. The big question becomes can he keep up his stellar play, especially after so much time off.
Rust Not Rest?: As has been pointed out to me, the Flyers traditionally don't come out too strong after such a long break. Will the Flyers still have their legs about them after being able to take care of the Devils in 5, becoming the first team to end a series and getting a week's worth of time off?

PREDICTION:
Bruins best the Flyers in 7 games.


All games, Eastern and Western, can be seen on Versus and NBC. Check your local listings and dig in!

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