Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Kerrzy's Notebook: NHL Playoff Preview - Eastern Conference

Earlier, I previewed the matchups in the West - now it's time to move to the other side of things and take a look at how things shape up in the East.

The Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators join the Canucks as the only Canadian teams in the running for the Cup - they both face some tough competition right out of the gate. Here's a look at how the Eastern Conference series' look:

(1) Washington vs. (8) Montreal

The Habs had a tough time clinching that playoff spot of theirs and what's their reward? A trip to Washington to face the highest scoring team in the league. If you look at the season series it's not all bad news though - Montreal went 2-1-1 against the Capitals this season, but it will going to take something special for them come out of this series on top. The Caps won 15 more games and scored 101 more goals this season than the Canadiens did and they've got a group of forwards that seem to be able to put the puck in the net at will. In all, Washington has seven forwards with at least 21 goals on the season and defenseman Mike Green is right behind that group with 19. Montreal has a fairly deep group too, but consistency has been an issue this season. Washington goalie Jose Theodore hasn't quite proven that he can be the guy that takes this team to the next level, but fending off the Habs will be a good start.

My Prediction: Capitals in five

Thursday, April 15 at Washington, 7:00 p.m. TSN
Saturday, April 17 at Washington, 7:00 p.m. TSN
Monday, April 19 at Montreal, 7:00 p.m. TSN
Wednesday, April 21 at Montreal, 7:00 p.m. TSN
*Friday, April 23 at Washington, 7:00 p.m. TSN
*Monday, April 26 at Montreal, 7:00 p.m. TSN
*Wednesday, April 28 at Washington, TBD TSN

(2) New Jersey vs. (7) Philadelphia

-The Philadelphia Flyers and the NJ Devils took very different routes to get into the postseason this year - the Flyers got in thanks to a shootout win over the NY Rangers on the last day of the regular season, while the Devils won the Atlantic Division to secure home ice advantage. You might be surprised to hear that Philly beat New Jersey in five of the six meetings between the two clubs this season, but that means nothing now. The Flyers made the East final two years ago, but were ousted in the first round by the Penguins last season - I think that will be the case again this year. They've got talent and they've got guys that can puck the puck in the net, but the New Jersey Devils are a well-oiled machine with all kinds of depth. The addition of Ilya Kovalchuk only made the team stronger, and Zach Parise is due for a big playoff run. In goal, it'll be tough for Brian Boucher or Michael Leighton to win the battle with Martin Brodeur...but it can be done.

My Prediction: Devils in six

Wednesday, April 14 at New Jersey, 7:30 p.m. TSN
Friday, April 16 at New Jersey, 7:30 p.m. TSN
Sunday, April 18 at Philadelphia, 6:00 p.m. TSN
Tuesday, April 20 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m. TSN2
*Thursday, April 22 at New Jersey, 7:00 p.m. TSN
*Sunday, April 25 at Philadelphia, TBD TSN
*Tuesday, April 27 at New Jersey, 7:30 p.m. TSN

(3) Buffalo vs. (6) Boston

-The Boston Bruins beat the Buffalo Sabres in four of their six meetings this season, but none of those games were decided by more than two goals. This will be a tight series that could come down to a showdown between Buffalo's Ryan Miller and Boston's Tim Thomas and rookie Tuukka Rask. As we saw at the Olympics, Miller is a phenomenal goaltender, but Rask was ahead of him in Goals Against Average and Save Percentage to end the season. Both teams are pretty even in terms of offensive depth, with the Sabres taking the edge in 20-goal scorers, and Thomas Vanek is hot heading into the postseason with five goals in his final two games to end the season with 28. The Bruins have been without play-maker Marc Savard since early March, but if they get out of the first round he could be back which would give their offence a lift.

My Prediction: Boston in seven

Thursday, April 15 at Buffalo, 7:00 p.m. CBC
Saturday, April 17 at Buffalo, 1:00 p.m. CBC
Monday, April 19 at Boston, 7:00 p.m. CBC
Wednesday, April 21 at Boston, 7:00 p.m. CBC
*Friday, April 23 at Buffalo, 7:00 p.m. CBC
*Monday, April 26 at Boston, 7:00 p.m. CBC
*Wednesday, April 28 at Buffalo, 7:00 p.m. CBC

(4) Pittsburgh vs. (5) Ottawa

-The Ottawa Senators can do the rest of the playoff teams a big favour if they can knock off the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in their first round matchup, but it'll take a lot for that to happen. The Penguins, fresh off back-to-back appearances in the Stanley Cup Finals, are showing no signs of slowing down as they try to go for two straight Cups. On any given night, Sidney Crosby is capable of victimizing opponents by himself but players like Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg have shown that it is possible to shut him down. Can the Senators do that? Probably. Can they do it for long enough to be the first to four wins? Doubtful. If Jason Spezza is on top of his game, it's possible that the Sens can make some noise in this series, but the goaltending isn't there and I'm not sure that Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher have enough to outshine Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and company. As well, it'll take a big effort for Brian Elliot or Pascal Leclaire to out duel Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury when it comes to goaltending.

My Prediction: Pittsburgh in five

Wednesday, April 14 at Pittsburgh, 7:00 p.m. CBC
Friday, April 16 at Pittsburgh, 7:00 p.m. CBC
Sunday, April 18 at Ottawa, 6:30 p.m. CBC
Tuesday, April 20 at Ottawa, 7:00 p.m. CBC
*Thursday, April 22 at Pittsburgh, 7:00 p.m. CBC
*Saturday, April 24 at Ottawa, 7:00 p.m. CBC
*Tuesday, April 27 at Pittsburgh, 7:00 p.m. CBC

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