Monday, April 11, 2011

NHL Playoffs: Eastern Conference

#1 Washington Capitals vs. #8 New York Rangers
Notes: After being denied a playoff birth on the very last day of the season in 2010, the New York Rangers clinched the 8 seed during their final game this year. The Washington Capitals got off to a slow start this season, but quietly surged over the last half of the season to win the conference for the second year in a row.

Excitement Factor: 8
-This is sure to be an excellent series. Even after a "down" year with 85 points, it's always worth tuning in any time Alexander Ovechkin takes the ice. And if last year is any indication, Washington is quite capable of losing an opening round series as a 1 seed. We'll see some good hockey in this one.

Nasty Factor: 4
-This series doesn't have the history that other matchups boast. Plus, neither team was among the top 10 most penalized during the regular season.

Prediction: New York in 7 games.
-This is a closer matchup than you might think. During the regular season, Washington ranked 4th and New York was 5th in goals allowed per game, separated by a margin of only 0.05.  New York actually scored more. In a series this close, I give the edge to the better goaltender. Even though D.C. really really needs this, the Capitals fail to make up for the woes of the Nationals, Wizards, and Redskins.

#2 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #7 Buffalo Sabres

Notes: The Flyers are the defending conference champions, but go into the playoffs only 3-4-3 in their last 10 games. Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller is coming back from an injury that kept him sidelined for much of the season.

Excitement Factor: 3
-This series shouldn't be close. Expect some remarkably unremarkable games.

Nasty Factor: 5
-Both teams have some hard hitting defensemen. Expect some big checks and lots of penalties, but not too many scuffles or fights.

Prediction: Philadelphia in 5 games
-The Flyers are without a doubt the better team, and the Sabres lack the firepower to turn this into a real series. This one should be business as usual for Philadelphia.

#3 Boston Bruins vs. #6 Montreal Canadians

Notes: Boston hopes to replace images of their 2010 playoff collapse with some new 2011 memories, while the Canadians are looking for another surprise run deep into the playoffs.

Excitement Factor: 9
-Every time these two teams meet, we wind up with great hockey. 

Nasty Factor: 10
-These teams hate each other. And I'm sure no one has forgotten the infamous Chara hit that happened in March. There will be penalties and scraps galore. 

Prediction: Boston in 6 games.
-Tim Thomas is too much for Montreal, and Boston's increased scoring-power finds ways to get the puck past Carey Price.

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs.  #5 Tampa Bay Lightning

NotesSidney Crosby has not yet been cleared for contact and most likely will not play, adding to the injury woes of the already Malkin-less Penguins. Tampa Bay enters the playoffs with the #2 (St. Louis, 99) and #5 (Stamkos, 91) top scorers of the regular season.

Excitement Factor: 10
-What a matchup we're in for. Only 3 points separated Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay in the regular season standings.

Nasty Factor: 6
-Pittsburgh was the second most penalized team this season, while Tampa Bay was close to the other end of the spectrum. Still, when a playoff series is close, as this one should be, things tend to get a bit nasty.

Prediction: Tampa Bay in 7 games
-Pittsburgh has done well to overcome its injuries, but playoff hockey requires superstars. Tampa Bay has theirs; the Penguins don't.

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