The NHL’s second season gets underway on Wednesday as we get a glimpse of five of the eight first round matchups, including two from the Eastern Conference.
Earlier today I took you through each pairing in the West, from the Canucks to the Predators. Now, it’s the East’s turn!
Washington (48-23-11) vs. NY Rangers (44-33-5)
It was a tough season for the Washington Capitals, as their big three of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Semin each saw dramatic drops in their offensive output and the team finished…wait, hold on a second. Those three each saw their point totals drop off big time and the Caps still finished first in the East and second overall? Oh boy, the Rangers have their work cut out for them! The Capitals committed to team defense this year and it paid off for them in a big way, but will it mean playoff success? New York might have something to say about that! It’ll be up to Henrik Lundqvist to hold off what is still a high-powered Capitals offence through the course of this series and give his team a chance to hopefully chip away at the inexperience of Washington goalies Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth. That inexperience between the pipes could be the Achilles heel of the Capitals.
Philadelphia (47-23-12) vs. Buffalo (43-29-10)
The Philadelphia Flyers present an enigma of sorts for me heading into these playoffs – they’re a team with a potent offence, pretty solid defense and what has been steady goaltending for most of the season, yet they went 7-7-6 from the start of March until the end of the schedule. During that stretch, they lost to Atlanta three times and of their seven wins, only one came against a team that made the playoffs! That said, the Flyers are a fairly veteran bunch that should be able to rise above the recent struggles and put the entire focus on the task at hand. As for the Sabres, they’ve been playing “playoff hockey” for a few weeks now and will probably be champing at the bit to get going. I know I’ve been harping on the importance of good goaltending in a lot of my series previews, but the play of Ryan Miller will be the difference for the Sabres in this series.
Boston (46-25-11) vs. Montreal (44-30-8)
If you’re not excited for this series, you should probably seek medical attention because there is clearly something wrong. Let’s see: Long Standing Rivalry? Check. Recent Bad Blood? Check. Scores like “8-6” and “7-0” in the season series? Check! This matchup has the potential to be the nastiest series of them all, if nothing else. There’s a good battle in goal between Carey Price and Tim Thomas, Hal Gill and Zdeno Chara are the towering blue liners of each club, both clubs have a good mix of players up front…I’m excited to see how this series plays out. The difference might be the “edge” that guys like Milan Lucic play with that the Habs might not have an answer for.
Pittsburgh (49-25-8) vs. Tampa Bay (46-25-11)
Still no Sidney Crosby for the Penguins, who face a tough competitor in the Tampa Bay Lightning in their opening round pairing. In all, Crosby missed exactly half of the season (41 games) and it’s not known when he’ll be back. Despite missing their captain (and Evgeni Malkin) for that extended period, the Pens still managed to win 49 games this season which shows you that they’re a team with extreme depth. Speaking of depth, the Lightning also have plenty of secondary scoring as well – in behind guys like Steve Stamkos, Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis are guys like Simon Gagne (17 goals, 40 points) Teddy Purcell (17 goals, 51 points) and Dominic Moore (18 goals, 32 points). If the Bolts want to pull off the upset, they’ll have to try and get inside the head of Marc-Andre Fleury and really rely on those secondary guys to go to work!