NHL Playoffs: Eastern Conference Semis Preview

(1) New  York Rangers vs. (7) Washington Capitals (Season series tied 2-2) 

Key Players:

New York- Henrik Lundquist, Dan Girardi, Ryan Callahan, Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, Ryan McDonaugh, Marc Staal, Carl Hagelin, Derek Stepan, Brian Boyle

Washington- Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Brayden Holtby, Mike Green, Alexander Semin, Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, Dennis Wideman, Karl Alzner

 

Playoff Scoring Leaders:

New York- Brad Richards: 5 pts (2 G, 3 A), Ryan Callahan: 4 pts (2 G, 2 A), Anton Stralman: 4 pts (2 G, 2 A), Dan Girardi (1 G, 3 A), Derek Stepan (1 G, 3 A)

Washington- Alex Ovechkin: 5 pts (2 G, 3 A), Brooks Laich: 4 pts (1 G, 3 A), Nicklas Backstrom: 4 pts (1 G, 3 A), Alexander Semin: 3 pts (3 G), Marcus Johansson: 3 pts (1 G, 2 A), two others ties at 3 pts (Joel Ward, Roman Hamrlik)

 

Special Teams:

New York-PP (23rd), PK (5th)

…Playoffs- PP (9th), PK (7th)

Washington- PP (18th), PK (21st) 

Playoffs-  PP (8th), PK (2nd)

 

You don’t see the #8 seed push the #1 seed around like the Sens did to the Rangers too often. Despite all of that, they took Ottawa’s best shot and survived to win in seven games. Henrik Lundqvist was outstanding and was pretty much the only reason they made it out of round one. Special teams was pretty much the same story from the regular season. The penalty kill was very good and the power play was sporadic, which is an upgrade from non-existent I guess. I really liked the job the Rangers’ defensemen did in this series. Their top-4 of Girardi-Staal-McDonaugh-Del Zotto was steady and made a very nice contribution to the offense. Anton Stralman also gave them some unexpected production from the blueline, racking up four points in the series.

The forwards weren’t too much to write home about offensively in this series. Two of their big guns, Callahan and Richards got on the scoresheet while one of their young forwards (Stepan) made a respectable contribution. Gaborik, Anisimov, and Hagelin were on a milk carton for most of this series. You’d kind of expect that from the latter two since they are young players who haven’t played in the playoffs before, but to see that kind of play from a veteran scorer like Gaborik is unacceptable. They’ll need him to start producing to have a chance. Brian Boyle scored three goals last series, but is still questionable with a concussion.

Meanwhile, the Capitals scored an impressive upset over the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Boston Bruins. Braden Holtby has had a coming-out party in these playoffs so far. Outdueling Tim Thomas is most impressive. Washington also seemed to reinvent themselves in that series. I didn’t expect that team to be so committed and so good defensively, but they were. Heck, you even saw guys like Alexander Semin who rarely plays a lick of defense backcheck like a mad man. Alex Ovechkin has been getting less ice time, but he’s still producing and is leading his team in scoring and hits so far.

Role-players like Brooks Laich and Joel Ward and youngster, Marcus Johansson have also chipped in on the scoresheet. The defensemen have been surprisingly good in their own end too. During most of the regular season, they got worked-over a lot. They seemed to have gelled and found their game as a unit.

 

Prediction: As you might have inferred, I wasn’t impressed with the Rangers’ efforts in round one. Conversely, the Caps were great and are playing exceptional defense. As a team, they aren’t as quick as the Sens, but they do have Ovechkin who is obviously a game-breaker. 

The two wild cards in this series are Holtby and Gaborik. The former was good against Boston, but he is still young, so there is a chance that he could slip up. That would be fatal against a strong defensive team like the Rangers with Lundqvist in goal. If the latter can start being a factor offensively, that might tip the scales in a series like this. To me, Holtby looked unflappable and I don’t see the Rangers being the team to change that. I still see Gaborik struggling since he was unable to find room against a Sens team who gave up some really good scoring chances despite playing solid defense most of the series. Logically, I have to take the Caps here, right? They’re playing better defense than the Sens did along with comparable goaltending and better forward depth. Washington in 6.

 

(6) New Jersey Devils vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers (Season series tied 3-3)

 Key Players:

New Jersey- Zach Parise, Martin Brodeur, Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac, Andy Greene, Bryce Salvador, Adam Henrique

Philladelphia- Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen, Jaromir Jagr, Danny Briere, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Coburn, Ilya Brysgalov, Nicklas Grossman, Sean Couturier

Playoff Scoring Leaders: 

New Jersey- Travis Zajac: 6 pts (3 G, 3 A), Ilya Kovalchuk: 5 pts (3 G, 2 A), David Clarkson: 5 pts (5 A), Zach Parise: 4 pts (2 G, 2 A), Adam Henrique: 3 pts (2 G, 1 A), five others tied at three pts (Steve Bernier, Stephen Gionta, Petter Harold, Bryce Salvador, Ryan Carter)

Philadelphia- Claude Giroux: 14 pts (6 G, 8 A), Danny Briere: 8 pts (5 G, 3 A), Jakub Voracek: 7 pts (2 G, 5 A), Jaromir Jagr: 7 pts (1 G, 6 A), Brayden Schenn: 6 pts (2 G, 4 A), Scott Hartnell: 5 pts (2 G, 3 A)

 

Special Teams:

New Jersey- PP (14th), PK (1st)

…Playoffs- PP (6th), PK (14th)

Philadelphia- PP (6th), PK (17th)

…Playoffs- PP (1st), PK (13th) 

 

New Jersey’s last series wasn’t really talked about that much, but it was definitely one of the more surprising series of the playoffs. Coming into the playoffs, the Panthers were ice cold and the Devils were playing really good hockey and had the league’s top penalty kill. The script got flipped though and the Panthers clawed their way to a 7th game by demolishing the Devils’ penalty kill with their power play. Adam Henrique ensured the Devils’ survival in double-overtime though, so here they are in round 2.

In this series though, their PK is going to have to get back on track because the Philadelphia power play is no joke. There is no way that they win this series without that stout PK. The Devils were good at getting out to hot starts in most of their games, but had a tendency to let the Panthers come back into games. That sounds awfully similar to what the Pens did for a few games in their series with the Flyers. Obviously, they need to be much better locking down leads. The good news for them is that Ilya Bryzgalov has been mediocre for the most part, so New Jersey’s top guns, Kovalchuk, Zajac, Parise, and Elias should be able to get theirs. Elias has to be better offensively in this series though.

At the end of the day though, Marty Brodeur’s performance in goal is what is likely going to determine the Devils’ fate. He has to be more consistent. He can’t afford to give up soft goals to a team like the Flyers. If Brodeur’s on his game, New Jersey definitely has the advantage in goal over Philly and Bryzgalov.

Speaking of Philly, they’re coming off a beat-down of Pittsburgh, who came into the playoffs as a big favorite to go to the Stanley Cup Finals. The goaltending is definitely a concern, but they do have the firepower to bail out Bryzgalov as we saw last series. Sean Couturier did a fantastic job shutting down Evgeni Malkin last series. I expect him to get matched up with Kovalchuk during this series. Danny Briere continued to provide clutch playoff performances for his team and Brayden Schenn unexpectedly was a reliable point producer in his first playoff series. Most importantly, the Flyers have Claude Giroux who put up 14 pts in only five game and was just flat-out beastly.

Their defensive unit has a little in common with the Devils’ blueline. Both teams’ defensemen are mostly unheralded players who quietly get the job done with little to no flash. The place where Philly has an advantage is their forward depth. New Jersey can match up a little bit with their high-end players, but they can’t role out four lines that are a threat to score like the Flyers can. 

 

Prediction: This looks pretty cut-and-dry to me. If the Devils’ team from the Florida series shows up for their series against the Flyers, they might get swept. If the team we saw in the regular season comes out to play, this will be a pretty competitive series. I think the Devils PK will rebound and we’ll also see some very good performances from Brodeur. Even if both those things happen like I think they will, I don’t see how the Flyers scoring depth just doesn’t overwhelm the Devils at some point in this series. All Bryzgalov has to do is provide average goaltending for his team to win. I’ll take the Flyers in 6. 

 

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