The First round matchups are finally set and the playoffs are officially upon us. It was a wild finish to the regular season that saw Washington earn the 7th seed on the very last day, thus avoiding a matchup with the powerful Rangers. We also saw Sniper Steven Stamkos join an elite group of scorers when he potted his 60th goal of the season while only further solidifying himself as the games top pure goal scorer (it also doesn’t hurt to have the gifted Martin St. Louis dishing the puck to you). Now that the regular season is over, let’s wipe the slates clean and take a look at each matchup and try to determine a favorite for each.
#1 NY Rangers vs. #8 Ottawa Senators
No team benefited more through the seeding change that took place on the last day of the season than New York. With Washington finishing seventh the Rangers truly dodged a bullet. Although the Rangers are considered to be one of the top 3 teams league wide, having to play against a skilled team like the Capitals is always dangerous and I’m sure the Blue shirts are happy their getting Ottawa. However, that’s not to say Ottawa will be a pushover, because this team can score goals. Their 249 goals puts them just above that threshold of 3 goals per game, making them an offensively capable bunch. The key to this series will be Henrik Lundqvist, and that should come as no surprise. The Vezina Trophy favorite has been stellar all season and this could be his time to carry his team to that next level. A dominant series by King Henrik could set the tone for these playoffs and make New York the favorites for the cup.
Prediction: Rangers 4 Senators 1
#2 Boston Bruins vs. #7 Washington Capitals
The defending champs may be in for an early test as they face the Capitals. The veteran Bruins are a team that wins games because of two things; their physicality and their depth. No other team in the NHL gets as much out of every line as this team, and come playoff time that makes a huge difference. Also having a former Vezina Trophy winner in net (Tim Thomas) doesn’t hurt. I look for Washington to come out with passion, because just a few weeks back they looked destined to be on the golf course by now. I also look for Alexander Ovechkin to really take over and play his type of hockey. If he can set the tone for his team by scoring goals and laying some big checks he can be the X-factor. That being said the Capitals as a whole may lack the depth and firepower to beat the sturdy Bruins, but this series should bring a lot of excitement for fans.
Prediction: Bruins 4 Capitals 2
#3 Florida Panthers vs. # 6 New Jersey Devils
The story of two teams going in opposite directions is evident here and the upset alert is on. Florida stumbled to the finish and needed a win in their last game, which they got, to cling to the #3 seed. That win got them a matchup with the red hot Devils. Riding a 6 game win streak the Devils have looked strong down the stretch and are showing that they may have a team ready to make a deep playoff run. The two teams split the season series 2 a piece, but I think all the momentum here lies with the Devils. However as I said before, playoff hockey is like a fresh start, records don’t matter anymore. The key in this series will be Ilya Kovalchuk and his ability to create as well as score. Kovalchuk was a point per game player this season and if he can continue that pace he will be pacing the Devils to a route of the Panthers in this series.
Prediction: Devils 4 Panthers 1
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Philadelphia Flyers
And here lies the gem of all the matchups in the Eastern conference. Put quite frankly, these are 2 of the top 5 teams in the NHL and this series will be a heavily contested bloodbath. The last time these teams met over 100 penalty minutes were served up, as well as some key injuries to both teams. I look for that aggression and snarl to be key parts of this series, in addition to the enormous skill that both teams have in abundance. The key in this series, to the surprise of some, will be goaltending play. We know guys like Claude Giroux, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby are going to score, but what we don’t know is how much. If Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury or Philadelphia’s Ilya Bryzgalov can step up and be dominant they will win their team the series. The team that does win this series has a great chance at winning the cup, because I believe this matchup is comparable to a great semifinal where the winner gains that confidence needed to go all the way. I give the slightest of edges to The Flyers because I believe their Goalie Bryzgalov will earn his keep through a dominant performance in a big series.
Prediction: Flyers 4 Penguins 3
Agree? Disagree? Let me hear what you’re thinking!