Monday, April 11, 2011

Here Comes the NHL Playoffs

We have spent the last few blogs speculating and guessing what the first round playoff matchups might be. Now that some guy I have never heard of has won the Masters, and the Minnesota Wild have closed the door on the Dallas Stars, we can analyze all eight of the first round series. The best  of them are sexy enough to bring  Jason Day's wife to her knees. The worst of them are still better that Tiger Wood's attitude after golfing. 

Eastern Conference

#1 versus #8

How they got Here: Just a few days ago it seemed like the Rangers would be the odd team out in the Eastern Conference. Instead, Carolina shit the bed at home and lost 6-2 to the Lightning and opened the door for the Rangers. Washington took advantage of Philadelphia sputtering to the finish and took over first place in the east. 

Key Player: Chris Drury played his first game on Saturday since February 2. On his first shift, he tied the game and gave the team a much needed lift. Drury has struggled since becoming a Ranger in July of 2007. All of that could change with a deep playoff run. 

Key Stat: All of the Eastern Conference playoff teams had a plus goal differential. All of the Eastern Conference teams that missed the playoffs had a negative goal differential. The Rangers at +35 are slightly better than the +27 Capitals. Goals are going to be the key to this series. Can the Capitals score enough of them? The 224 they scored during the regular season are the least amongst Eastern Conference playoff teams. The Rangers do not bring weak goaltending to the dance, and if the Capitals can't score early, they will get tight and face another early exit.

Prediction: Washington is going to play these games close to match with their new style. The problem is that New York will welcome a series decided 2-1, 1-0, and so on. The Rangers have the better goalie and I will take them in 7.

#2 versus #7

How they got Here: The Flyers were #1 on ESPN's power rankings and seamed to be coasting to the #1 seed. Since the, without Chris Pronger, the Flyers finished 6-6-5 and fell to second place in the East. The Sabres started the season 4-9-2 and didn't win a home game until November. Since January 1, the Sabres earned 60 points, more than any other team in the east. They head to the playoffs on a 8-1-1 in their last 10. 

Key Player: There are some obvious choices, but for my money, I will pick Tyler Myers as the key to the series. Myers was awful the first month of the season and so were the Sabres. Myers was great the last month of the season and so were the Sabres. You could make a case that as he goes they go. If the Sabres are glowing to slow the high scoring Flyers then Tyler Myers is going to have to stand tall in front of Miller. 

Key Stat: The Flyers are 3rd in the league in goals scored per game. Claude Giroux is their leading scorer with 76 points. That is far from an Art Ross total, but the Flyers have 7 other players with forty points or more.  

Prediction: The Sabres are the hottest team in the NHL. I will ride the wave, Sabres in 6. 

#3 versus #6

How they got Here: The Bruins were solid in the regular season basically coasting through the Northeast Division and making many enemies along the way with big, tough, and intimidating play. The are very balanced fifth in goals per game and second in goals against. Tim Thomas should be a Veznia finalist. The Canadians are one of only two teams from Canada in the playoffs and the pressure of that burden will build up with each playoff defeat. The Canadians are seventh on the power play and seventh on the penalty kill. Special teams will play a huge part in this series if the Canadians are to win it. 

Key Player: Zdeno Chara recklessly slamming Max Pacioretty into the now infamous stanchion near the benches at the Belle Centre has helped juice up this often intense original-six rivalry. I expect this series to be intense, physical, and very demanding. P.K. Subban is the key player in this series. He needs to get under Boston's skin while maintaining his cool and avoiding bad penalties. He also needs to chip in offensively and make a difference on the power-play. 

Key Stat: Mike Cammalleri failed to score twenty goals for the first time since the 2007-2008 season. In 67 games played this season, Cammalleri scored 19 goals. Last year in the playoffs Cammalleri scored 13 goals in 19 games. Cammalleri's goal total will be a key stat in this series. He will need to produce for the Canadians to win. 

Prediction: I love the Bruins in this series. I don't know where the Canadians will get goals from. Bruins in 5.

#4 versus #5

How they got Here: The Penguins got here by playing close games and winning them. The Penguins won 10 games in the shoot-out tied with Los Angelas for the most in the League. Despite key players lost to injury, the Penguins scratched and crawled their way to a very impressive  104 points. Tampa Bay returns to the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-2007 season. Steve Yzerman has done a good job putting together a playoff team, and the emergence of Steven Stamkos has helped. The Lightning are riding into the playoffs having won 7 of their last 10 games. 

Key Player: Without Crosby, and without Malkin, the key player in this series will be Jordan Staal. Barley 23 years old, Jordan Staal has already played in 60 playoff games. That kind of experience will be huge against a Tampa team with plenty of players making their first appearance in the playoffs. 

Key Stat: 66. When you say 66 in Pittsburgh it mean one thing, one five letter word, Mario. This season, 66 is the number of points Sidney Crosby had when he left the lineup with a concussion. Second on the team in points is Kris Letang with 50. 

Prediction: Even without Sid, the Penguins have been consistent all year. If Sid comes back, I will feel even better about this pick, Penguins in 7. 

Western Conference

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