Time for a playoff preview, breaking down the matches and some of the players that will make a difference in the outcome. This is preview will just be for the Eastern Conference match ups:
New York Rangers (1) vs. Ottawa Senators (8)
Really, it hasn't been long since the Rangers hoisted the cup (1994) but when you're in New York everything is bigger and 18 years seems like 2 centuries. Both of these teams surprised this season, no one was expecting the Rangers to dominate the East and finish in first place, and most prognosticators had the Senators finishing dead last in the East. This match up's a little more favorable for the Sens, who have won 3 out of 4 matches against the Rangers this season.
3 keys to the series
1) Henrik Lundqvist---- Was hands down the MVP for the Rangers and helped carry the team into the playoffs. He's determined to make it big this season, as he doesn't know how many more chances he'll get!
But the king hasn't had a great time facing the Sens this season; in 3 games he's allowed 9 goals against.
2.) Ottawa's young guns--- It will come down to how well the youngsters in Ottawa can handle the pressure of the playoffs; Spezza has really stepped up and shown great leadership, Karlsson has been fantastic, and Turris has found a new home and is producing points. If the Senators kids step up and play the way they have all season, they'll give the Rangers a run for their money.
3) Brad Richards--- If the Rangers big fish can bring it in the playoffs the Rangers will benefit from the key free agent acquisition. He hasn't exactly blown anyone away with his stats this season, so the postseason would be a great time to earn his cash. He is tied for 4th with 9 game winning goals.
Rangers in 6 games!
Boston Bruins (2) vs. Washington Capitals (7)
The Bruins didn't have a fantastic season, as the defending Stanley Cup Champion everyone was gunning for them, but despite an up and down season they finished 2nd in the East. The Capitals had a brutal start near the beginning of the season (They did open 7-0), changed coaches, gone threw goalie after goalie and Alexander Ovechkin took 3/4 of the year off. Ovechkin came around toward the end of the year and pushed his Capitals into the playoffs, time will tell if they're the real deal or not.
The Bruins hold the edge of Defense, offence and goaltending. A Tim Thomas on his game is a dangerous thing for opponents and could likely end any hope for the Capitals, as Ovechkin could become very frustrated extremely quickly.
The Capitals won 3 games against the defending champs this season, and seemed to throw Boston off their game, but the playoffs is an entirely different ball game.
3 Keys to the series
1) Alexander Ovechkin--- It's now or never for Ovechkin. Time to prove if he's a solid captain that can take his team to the next level or just an overrated player who's only focused on himself. Look for him to shoot a lot early on in the series, if Thomas stones him early he'll get frustrated and may change or alter his game giving the Bruins the edge.
2) Tim Thomas--- If Thomas plays up to the level he's capable of it's light out for the Capitals. He showed in last season's playoff run that when he's on his game it is extremely difficult to score on him.
3) Special Teams--- The Capitals do hold the edge on the power play, but I wouldn't count the Bruins out as they have Chara with that monster shot on the blue line and sneaky little players who step up when the most is on the line!
(Not to mention Marchand who is a punk, who is very good at drawing penalties)
Bruins in 5 games!
Florida Panthers (3) vs New Jersey Devils (6)
Not going to lie I think this may be the match of the first round that just goes under the radar, not many people are too excited about this one and most don't think it's possible for either to be compeitive beyond the first round.
Both of these teams were a surprise this season and, not many pegged either team to make the playoffs.
3 Keys to the series
1) No points for overtime---- In my last post I talked about the fact the Panthers snuck into the playoffs based on half point earned for losing in OT/Shootout. Well guess what, there are no points for losing in overtime in the playoffs! If the Panthers can't find a way to win in regulation theyare in for a short series.
2) Martin Brodeur-- I love Brodeur as much as the next guy but this could be his last chance to make a run deep into the playoffs! The biggest question around the Devils is how their old goaltender is going to hold up under the pressure. He is no longer the scary intimidating goaltender he used to be; he won 31 games this season with a 2.41 GAA and .908 SV% not stunning numbers but horrible for a 39 year old.
3) Zach Parise vs Brian Campbell--- These two are the "X-factors" for their respective teams. Parise is playing for a contract as he takes to free agency this offseason. Campbell has always been a major powerhouse in the playoffs, ask R.J. Umberger, playing 90 playoff games since the lockout including a cup win with Chicago.
Devils in 5
Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs Philadelphia Flyers (5)
After what happened a week ago when these two teams met, this series quickly became a favorite for many. It's often said there's no fighting in the playoffs, however, this should be a hard hitting, and fighting affair. If Pittsburgh tries to out fight the Flyers they will be going home after the first round, Pittsburgh needs to stick to the game that got them to the playoffs: Scoring goals! The Flyers need to keep playing physical hockey against the Pens, but need to be careful about taking to many penalties.
3 Keys to the season
2) Ilya Brzgalov--- After his meltdown last season in the playoffs with the Coyotes, all eyes shift to the Russian netminder and whether he'll shine or melt during the first round.
3) Physical Play-- The physical play for this matchup will be a huge factor in determining who will be victorious in the end. Can Pittsburgh keep up with the Flyers grueling style of hockey?
The winner of this series may be the team from the East to make it to the Finals!
Flyers in 7