Eastern Conference Round One
#8 New York Rangers
Regular Season Series- Rangers win 3-1
The Capitals found a new way to play this season, focusing on defense and toning down the offensive power that they boasted for years. While it led to offensive numbers of their stars being less than traditionally eye popping, they still managed to make their way to the top of the East. Behind young goaltending that played well when healthy, they managed to remain one of the best in the East.
The Rangers did something this season that they weren't able to do last year, make the Playoffs. They did so just before the season ended, sneaking in during the last game of the year and with help from the Carolina Hurricanes. Led primarily by defense and their world class goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist, their hopes lie on the back of King Henrik.
Unless Henrik breaks down out of nowhere, this should be a low scoring affair (especially by the Caps standards). In the end their ability to create offense, even though muted, will be what sets them apart from the Rangers, who have struggled through the season to consistently put the puck in the net. The Caps don't repeat last year's miracle upset and move on.
Prediction: Capitals 4-2
#2 Philadelphia Flyers
#7 Buffalo Sabres
Regular Season Series- Teams tied 2-2
The Flyers started out the season red hot. Leading the league most of the season, the number one seed looked to be all but locked up for the folks from Philly until recently. A rough skid and injuries have left the Flyers staggering into the Playoffs and losing the number one spot. With Chris Pronger out, the young goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has the spotlight on himself. How will he do?
Even with injuries to their mainstay goaltender, Ryan Miller, the Buffalo Sabres have managed to sneak their way into the Playoffs. Spread out scoring and a good power play have led them back to the tournament after being in danger of missing out. New ownerships commitment to winning, as well as extremely solid goaltending from back up Jhonas Enroth have kept them afloat and they look to make an impact.
A struggling team versus a team that comes in on a bit of a roll and surprisingly the seeding has that flipped. With the Sabres bringing an elite level goaltender and the Flyers still not sure exactly what they have, it will be a real battle. While the large amount of scoring talent that Flyers boast could sway this series, the hot team should still be the victors in the long run.
Prediction: Sabres 4-3
#6 Montreal Canadiens
Regular Season Series- Canadiens won 4-2
For the third year in a row the strength of the Bruins lie behind the blue line. With Tim Thomas likely locking up the Vezina trophy and the defense staying strong, they become a beast to deal with when it came to trying to get anything to happen once you entered your own zone. The biggest fault of the Boston boys is the lack of a killer offensive force, with only a few players providing anything dynamic.
Last year's Playoff hero, Jaroslav Halak, is all but a memory for the Habs and their fans. No fear, though, as Carey Price put on an All Star season that could possibly go for awards consideration. They get the fortune of once again playing the under dog in the post season, a position they grew quite comfortable with last year as they ran the low seed all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. Can they repeat this performance?
When all is said and done, the Bruins should avenge their tough loss in the season series to their heated rival of the Canadiens. No love will be lost in what will be a long, physical series. Though it won't go seven games, don't be the least bit shocked to have more than one of these ventures enter into extra time. The B's offense will just be too much in the end of it all.
Prediction: Bruins 4-2
#5 Tampa Bay Lightning
Regular Season Series- Teams tied 2-2
No Crosby, no Malkin? No problem! Without two of arguably the top five players in the NHL for nearly half of the season the Pittsburgh Penguins have found a way to not only stay in the Playoff race but almost outright win the Atlantic Division. Through strong defense from once Norris candidate Kris Letang, stellar goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury and a steady hand of Dan Bylsma they have remained a viable candidate to do damage in the second season.
They were the darling of the South East for quite a while. The Tampa Bay Lightning came out of nowhere behind the strong offense of young Steven Stamkos, who came just shy of breaking the 50 goal barrier for the second time in as many seasons. While they're not known for their defensive prowess, and have been known to have a rotating goalie factory, they undoubtedly have the fire power to do some damage come the Playoffs.
The Penguins will fight, grind, and battle as much as possible, that's the way they've been groomed to play. The penalty kill will likely be a big difference maker, as will Marc-Andre Fleury. In the end, though, their lack of offense won't be enough. Though Tampa has question marks on defense they have the fire power to put away a shallow team like the Penguins and in the end the Lightning will prevail.
Prediction: Lightning 4-2