Wednesday, April 15, 2009
NHL EASTERN CONFERENCE MATCHUPS AND PREDICTIONS
#1 BOSTON BRUINS VS #8 MONTREAL CANADIENS
Much like in the West, the East's 1 vs 8 is a battle of bitter rivals. Boston has returned to relevance with a bang. Behind the stellar net-minding of Tim Thomas (my choice for the Vezina trophy)and the twin towers of power on the blue-line, Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman, it will be hard to score on the B's. Up front they have a nice combo of set-up men Marc Savard and David Krejci. Those two will be dishing to finishers Phil Kessel, Michael Ryder, and Chuck Kobasew. Up in Montreal, the 100th anniversary season that started with so much promise ended with them barely making the playoffs and possible wholesale changes if they exit quickly. Captain, Alex Kovalev did lead the team in scoring but his season overall was a let-down. The Canadiens didn't have a 30 goal scorer and only three players with 20+. Goalie Carey Price's 2.83 gaa is below the standard of what is expected from the young keeper. Andrei Markov will log a ton of ice time and look for the Habs to try and keep the scoring down. With Boston's high powered attack, that is going to be a tall order. Player to watch: Boston's Milan Lucic.
Prediction: Bruins in a sweep.
#2 WASHINGTON CAPITALS VS. #7 NEW YORK RANGERS
The Capitals have the most dynamic player in the game in Alex Ovechkin. He is a lock for MVP in my opinion. His sheer determination on both ends of the ice will serve the Caps well. Defenseman Mike Green is a power play phenom and has an ability to jump into the rush that reminds me of Paul Coffey. Niklas Backstrom, Alex Semin, and crafty veteran, Sergei Fedorov will be key factors in the Caps playoff run. If Jose Theodore can be steady if not spectacular, this team can go a long way. For the Rangers, they had a great start to the regular season but faded. They acquired Nik Antropov from the Leafs and still have a talented group of forwards like Drury, Gomez, Zheredev, Naslund and Dubinsky. Wade Redden will need to focus his efforts on slowing Ovechkin and Henrik Lundquist will need to play at a VERY high level if NY has any chance in this series at all. I think the Caps are just too strong and they have a date in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Player to watch: Capitals Brooks Laich.
Prediction: Capitals in 5 (maybe 6).
#3 NEW JERSEY DEVILS VS. #6 CAROLINA HURRICANES
This series features the red hot Hurricanes and the roller coaster Devils. However, anytime you have Martin Brodeur in net in the post-season, you are the favorite. The Devils are led by 40 goal scorer, Zach Parise who was consistently dominant all season. The addition of the aging Brendan Shanahan will pay dividends late in close games as Shanny has a knack for timely goals. Captian, Patrick Elias has a ton of playoff experience, along with Jamie Langenbrunner and John Madden. The knock on the Devils is they lack a consistent scoring threat from the Blue-line. As for the 'Canes, they rode the red hot Cam Ward all the way to the postseason. The ageless wonder, Ray Whitney led the charge down the stretch. Brining back Eric Cole who was an instrumental part of their Cup win a few years back payed off. Eric Staal is the real deal and this post season could be his coming out party. The health of Rod Brindamour is something the 'Canes will monitor (he finished the year -23). If possible, they will try and keep his minutes down. Player to watch: 'Canes center, Eric Staal.
Prediction: Hurricanes in 7.
#4 PITTSBURGH PENGUINS VS. #5 PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
Let the battle for Pennsylvania begin! These two teams have a very similar approach. Both have high flying offenses and have defensemen wiling to take chances by jumping in the rush. The Penguins are coming off a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals and they have taken steps to improve their club. They landed Chris Kunitz from the Ducks and Bill Guerin (who seems to get traded every year) at the deadline. Evgeni Malkin is certainly an MVP candidate and on most nights, was the best player on the ice. Sydney Crosby gets a lot of negative publicity but the kid can flat out play hockey. If he can take that negative attention and turn it into a positive in his game, then this team is more than capable of a return to the East Finals. The Flyers have a ton of scoring punch up front with Simon Gagne, Jeff Carter, Joffrey Lupul, Mike Knuble, Mike Richards and Scott Hartnell all scored at least 25 goals. The big question mark is can they get enough goaltending from Martin Biron. You have to give the Pens the edge in net with Marc-Andre Fleury and it will take Biron really elevating his game for the Flyers to have success in this series. Player to watch: Penguins, Jordan Staal. He played some great hockey down the stretch and his game is on the rise.
Prediction: Penguins in 5.