NHL Playoff Preview: What to Expect



We have a lot of matchups to review, so let’s get right to it.

No. 1 New York Rangers vs. No. 8 Ottawa Senators: The Rangers have been arguably the most consistent team all season long thanks to the play of Vezina trophy candidate Henrik Lun-dqvist and the emergence of young stars Michael Del Zotto, Carl Hagelin and Artem Anisimov, while the Senators have shown resurgence after winning just 32 games a season ago.

The story of the series will undoubtedly be the stingy New York defense against a high-flying Ottawa offense led by offensive defenseman Erik Karlsson. On the other end though, the Rang-ers have some impressive offensive prowess of their own in 41-goal scorer Marion Gaborik and 41-assist man Brad Richards. The Senators simply don’t have the defense to stand up to the challenge, and you have to expect a few blowouts in this series.

Clearly, the Rangers are the top seed for a reason: Rangers in four.

No. 2 Boston Bruins vs. No. 7 Washington Capitals: When Washington moved in front of Ottawa and into the seventh seed last week, Bruins fans had to have been dis-appointed. Instead of facing Ottawa, Boston will have to take on one of the hottest teams in the league led by one of the hottest players in Alex Ovechkin.

In past years, the first or second seeded Capitals have been crushed under the pres-sure to live up to their regular season accom-plishments and have seen Ovechkin, Alex Semin and the like stop offensive production abruptly come playoff time. This year, though, the Caps come in as a No. 7 seed with a point to prove, not a No. 1 seed with a monkey on their backs.

Boston’s defense led by Zdeno Chara and goalie Tim Thomas is one of the best in the NHL. If Ovechkin, Semin and Nicklas Backstrom get going, however, there may not be a better trio of talent in the league. If they don’t show up to play though, the Caps are most likely done for.

For Washington, it’s feast or famine. After beating Boston 3-1 in the season series and win-ning four out of their last five games, I choose feast. The Capitals win it in six.

No. 3 Florida Panthers vs. No. 6 New Jer-sey Devils: It seems like everyone’s upset pick for this year’s playoffs is the Devils over the Panthers, and I’m no different. New Jersey enters the play-offs on a six game winning streak, while Florida enters having won just two of their last ten. New Jersey has amassed 102 points this season to Florida’s 94. New Jersey’s penalty kill is first in the league and its power play is 14th, while Florida’s PK is 25th and its power play eighth.

Frankly, the odds are stacked against the Pan-thers but are not insurmountable. With offensive explosions this season from Kris Versteeg and captain Stephen Weiss, the Panthers remain one of the more dangerous teams in the East.

Still, the prospects don’t look prom-ising for the guys from Sunrise: Devils in five.

No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 5 Phila-delphia Flyers: In a word, these two clubs flat out hate each other, as evidenced by the full out brawl that involved coaches and players alike ear-lier this past month (by the fight’s end, the Flyers were left with no coach and only seven players left on the bench.)

If they were any other team, I’d say it wouldn’t even be close and probably take the Penguins in four or five games. When it comes to Philly though, things are a little bit different. Yes the Pens have everyone’s favorite superstar Sidney Crosby back, and yes Evgeni Malkin is far and away the MVP of the NHL this season, and yes James Neal did score 40 goals to go along with 41 assists, but again, it’s Philly. You can bet there will be more than a few five-minute majors doled out, and that works in the physical Flyers’ favor.

And Philly has some talent of its own as it turns out. Forward Claude Giroux finished third in the scoring race, linemate Scott Hartnell fin-ished eighth in the league in goals and goalies Sergei Bobrovsky and Ilya Bryzgalov are both on hot streaks.

Philly will put up more than a little fight, but in the end, the firepower of Crosby, Malkin and Neal, put together with the stellar play of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, will be too much. Penguins in seven.

No. 1 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 8 L.A. Kings: The Kings will be relying 100 percent on the play of goaltender Jonathan Quick. Quick’s 10 shutouts led the league this year, his 1.95 GAA was second in the league, his .929 save per-centage was fifth and his 35 wins were also fifth. It’s safe to say that Jonathan Quick is the only reason L.A. is even in the postseason right now, and for them to get past the President’s Trophy winning Canucks, he’ll have to be just as good – if not better.

Vancouver will attack the net from all angles, but will be without its top goal scorer in Daniel Sedin for at least the series’ first game. Even with-out Sedin, though, the Canucks simply have too much going for them, and barring 4 shutouts by Jonathan Quick (don’t count it out), Vancouver should take this one. The Canucks win it in 6.

No. 2 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 7 San Jose Sharks: The Blues have been the best team de-fensively all season long thanks to their goaltend-ing two-headed monster of Brian Elliot and Jaro-slav Halak. Elliot leads the league in GAA and save percentage, while Halak is fifth in the league in GAA as well as shutouts. Without a doubt the hardest team to score on this postseason will be St. Louis, and that doesn’t bode well for San Jose.

Home ice advantage will also play a factor in this one, as the Blues are an incredible 30-6-5 at home while the Sharks are just 17-17-7 away from the shark tank. Advantage: Blues. Blues in 5

No. 3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. No. 6 Chicago Blackhawks: Much like the Blues, Phoenix relies heavily on its goalie for its success, and when called upon, that goalie, Mike Smith, delivers. Boasting 38 wins and eight shutouts, Smith has carried the ‘Yotes to the top of the Pacific Divi-sion where they’ll meet Chicago, a team that is trying to return to the Stanley Cup success they had just two seasons ago.

Though Smith is one of the best goalies in the league right now, I think the Hawks’ offense will just be too much. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa…the list goes on, and so do the goals. The Blackhawks win in six.

No. 4 Nashville Predators vs. No. 5 Detroit Red Wings: Detroit in April and May is down-right scary, and the Predators, who lost series in 2004 and 2008 to the Wings, know that. The difference between those seasons and now, how-ever, is that this time the Preds hold the home ice advantage – always important against Detroit.

Even with Nashville’s home ice and the con-stant impressive play of goalie Pekka Rinne and captain defenseman Shea Weber, Detroit’s play-off experience gives them the edge. I think that this time Nashville will put up a better fight than in previous years, but the play of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg can never be underestimated. The Red Wings move on in seven.

Contact Ben Glassman at [email protected]