Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Round 1: Eastern Conference

This preview will be considerably shorter than my Western Conference predictions, mostly because I don't know quite as much about Eastern Conference teams.

NYR vs. Ottawa

This is going to be one of the most one-sided series' in the entire playoffs. The Rangers showed the entire season that they are an elite team this year. The addition of Brad Richards was actually as important as the offseason hype about him made us believe. Also, it seems that Marian Gaborik might actually be made of something slightly stronger than glass, as he did not suffer a major injury this year. Beyond that, Henrik Lundqvist might as well add "Vezina Trophy winner" to his list of accomplishments. And defense won't be an issue, as everyone on the team is taught to block shots.

Ottawa had a good year. Jason Spezza is having his best season in years and Erik Karlsson will win the Norris Trophy. However, the Senators' strength as a team cannot match that of the Rangers. This will just be the first step for the Rangers' inevitable march to the Conference Finals.

Rangers in 5.

Boston vs. Washington

Boston is the reigning champ, Washington hasn't won anything of note lately. Alex Ovechkin might already be past his prime and it seems that he can no longer carry his team. The Capitals attempt to focus on defense and build for the playoffs seems to have stifled the Capitals scoring with only a small improvement to the defense. Beyond that, the Capitals have to use an inexperienced goalie yet again in Braden Holtby, as Michal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun are both injured.

Boston Tim Thomas, a true playoff warrior last year in addition to an electric offense and a strong defense. There's a reason they won the Cup last year. Even without Horton and with Nicklas Backstrom returning for the Caps, look for the Bruins to take care of business early in this series.

Boston in 5.

Florida vs. NJ

Florida started the season strong, making Dale Tallon look like a genius yet again. However, over the course of the season, things predictably cooled for Florida. Now the Panthers sit in a similar position as the Coyotes. They're in a high seed because the NHL puts the winner of each division in the top 3 spots, but they really don't have the edge in this series. Their offense is below average, their goaltending is nothing to write home about, and their Jason Garrison is the only person I can talk about positively on the defense.

New Jersey isn't the most exciting team in the playoffs either, but at least they have Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, Adam Henrique, and Martin Brodeur to talk about. And at least the Devils have been to the playoffs in the past decade.

Congrats on ending your playoff drought, but this isn't your year. Maybe you can build off this experience for next year.

NJ in 6.

Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia

This is the series that everyone will be watching. How could it get any better? Two great teams that hate each other, have an in-state rivalry, and have seen each other many times before (including in the playoffs). Stars on either side will make these games incredible to watch. The two best players in the league, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, line up next to another star in the making, James Neal for Pittsburgh. Jaromir Jagr, a former Pens superstar has rejoined the NHL on their rival team, the Flyers. He stands next to Claude Giroux and playoff warriors Scott Hartnell and Max Talbot.

The difference between these teams will be goalies. This will be upsetting to Flyers fans, as Philly threw piles of cash at Ilya Bryzgalov to try to feel safe in their goalie position. However, Bryz has proven ESPN right, as they argued that he barely outplayed his backups in the past and that his success was mainly due to the shots he was facing behind a solid defense.

Blowing up the team last summer has not made the Flyers any more playoff-ready and the return of Crosby has made a great team the "team to beat" in the Eastern Conference. I'm looking forward to an entertaining series and I'm looking forward to watching the team I predict to win the Stanley Cup this year make their first step in doing so.

Penguins in 6.

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