NHL Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

By – Jason Fryer

(8) Ottawa Senators vs. (1) New York Rangers (Regular Season Series Record: Ottawa won 2-1-1):

Senators vs. New York Rangers

The Rangers had a tremendous 2012 as they tied for the second most points in the NHL and are setup to get past the 1st round of the NHL Playoffs for the first time since the 2007-2008 season. The Rangers have a solid group of forwards which is led by All-Star Marian Gaborik (who finished 3rd for the most goals in the NHL with 41) and also includes former Stanley Cup Champion Brad Richards (Tampa Bay), Derek Stepan, and Captain Ryan Callahan. The Rangers defense, which was great all year, has been led by Michael Del Zotto (who finished 18th in points), Ryan McDonagh (who had a +25 which was 11th best in the NHL), and All-Star Dan Girardi.

As good a year as those players have had, it’s because of New York’s Goalie, HenrikLundqvist, why they have home ice throughout the entire Eastern Conference Playoffs. Lundqvist finished the season with 30 wins (3rd most in the NHL), a .930 save percentage (3rd), 1.97 GAA (4th in the NHL), 8 Shutouts (3rd in the NHL) and should win the Vezina Trophy (as the leagues best goalie) after the season.

As good as the Rangers are, the Senators shouldn’t be taken lightly as they have the capability of not only winning a few games, but have the capability of win the series. The Senators had four forwards that record more than 45 points throughout the season: Jason Spezza (who had 50 assists and 84 points), Milan Michalek (60 points), DanielAlfredsson (had the teams second best +/- during the season (+16)), and Nick Foligno (47 points). The Ottawa offense has the capability of scoring a lot of goals throughout the playoffs and in addititon to their great offense, they have a very good group of defensemen.

Their defense is led by star defenseman Erik Karlsson who had 78 points which was 25 more points than the next closest defensemen, in addition to former Stanley Cup Champion Sergei Gonchar (Penguins), and FilipKuba (who had the 4th best +/- in the NHL (+26)). The key to the Senators playoffs is Craig Anderson as he recorded 33 wins to go along with a 2.84 GAA during the season. If Anderson plays like he did a few years ago when he played for Colorado and stooped 51 shots in San Jose, the Senators will have a chance to win this series.

Prediction: Rangers in 6

(7) Washington Capitals vs. (2) Boston Bruins (Regular Season Series Record: Washington won 3-1):

Washington Capitals vs. Boston Bruins

What a turn of events for the Washington Capitals from the last few seasons to this year, as they went from winning 4 straight division and recording at least 107 points in three straight years to barely making the playoffs and recording only 92 points. During this time, (when the Caps were heavy favorites), they were only able to reach the 2nd round twice during this span and were never able to get past that round of the playoffs. With all of the dominant forwards on the Capitals roster, its surprising that they weren’t able to have one forward record at least 70 points. Washington is led by Alex Ovechkin (who recorded 65 points), along with Alexander Semin (who had only 54 points last year), Marcus Johansson, NicklasBackstrom, Brooks Laich, and Joel Ward (who had the teams best +/- (+12).

On the other hand, the defense of the Capitals was solid this year as they had Dennis Wideman (who led all Capitals defensemen with 46 points), John Carlson, Karl Alzner (who led all Washington defensemen with a +11), and Mike Green. Lastly, the Capitals have two solid goaltenders one older (Tomas Vokoun), and one younger (Michal Neuvirth) to choose from. If the Capitals want to have a chance in this series, there going to have to score a lot of goals and get great goaltending from either of the 2 goalies.

The reigning Stanley Cup Champions (Boston Bruins) once again had another tremendous season, finishing with 102 points and winning their division once again. Boston had a lot of great scorers this year but not one player on their roster recorded more than 70 points on the season. Second year forward Tyler Seguin recorded the most points by any Bruins player this year (67) and had the second best +/- in the NHL at +34 (only behind teammate Patrice Bergeron who had a +36) throughout the season. In fact, the Bruins have the top 5, (and 6 of the top 8) +/- players in the entire NHL. In addition to Seguin and Bergeron, the Bruins had a few other great forwards on their roster which include David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, and Rich Peverley.

In addition to those players mentioned above, they also have a lot of great defensemen on their roster which is led by Captain ZdenoChara (who has the best +/- amongst all defensemen in the NHL). As good as Chara is, they have a lot of other great defensmen on their roster which include: Joe Corvo, Andrew Ference, Dennis Seidenberg (who had a +27 which is third in the NHL amongst all defensemen), Johnny Boychuk, and Adam McQuaid. If that wasn’t enough, the Bruins have one of the best goalies in the NHL in Tim Thomas who won both the Vezina (Best Goalie) and Conn Smythe (Playoff MVP) Awards last year. This year, Thomas won 35 games (5th on the season) and posed a 2.36 GAA. With the talent on their roster, the 2011 Stanley Cup Champs have a good chance to go back-to-back this year.

Prediction: Bruins in 4

Philadelphia Flyer Mike Richards and Washington Capital Sergei Fedorov
Philadelphia Flyer Mike Richards and Washington Capital Sergei Fedorov face off to open up their NHL Eastern Conference quarterfinal playoff series at Verizon Center. Thanks to clydeorama at Flickr for this great picture.

(6) New Jersey Devils vs. (3) Florida Panthers (Regular Season Series Record: Florida won 2-1-1):

What an incredible year by the Florida Panthers as they went from a team at the bottom of the NHL (recording only 72 points) last year, to a team that won the franchises first division championship (recording 94 points). Florida had only one player record at least 60 points on the season (Tomas Fleischmann recorded 61 points) and two other players have 50 or more points last year in Stephen Weiss (57) and KrisVersteeg (54). If that’s not the reason why the Panthers won the division, then what is? Its there defensemen and goaltending. Former Blackhawk (and Stanley Cup Champion) Brian Campbell, had a incredible year in 2011 by being named an All-Star as he had 53 points on the year (tied for the second most among all defensemen in the NHL). Jason Garrison led all Panther defensemen with a +7 on the year and Mike Weaver (along with Campbell) has been a great veteran help to this team. There defense has been solid throughout the year with 35 year old Jose Theodore. Its quite amazing that this Florida Panther team was able to take over a lot of good teams and win the franchises first division title.

As for the Devils, they have one of the best goaltenders of all time in Martin Brodeur (which I’ll get back to in a few sentences). On the other hand, the Devils feature a few of the best forwards in the NHL in left winger IlyaKovalchuk (who finished the season with the 5th in points in the NHL), along with Captain Zach Parise, Jacob Josefson (who led all Devils forwards in +/- (+10), Patrik Elias and Adam Henrique. As for the teams defensemen, they had a solid year which was led by MarekZidlicky (who was acquired in mid May), to play alongside Adam Larsson, Mark Fayne, Andy Greene, Anton Volchenkov, and Bryce Salvador. As good as those players have been this season, its Goalie Martin Brodeur, whose been such a signature figure of this franchise since the early parts of the 1990's. If the Devils want to make another run at a Stanley Cup, then their defensemen have to step up, Kovalchuk has to continue his dominant play, and Martin Brodeur has to be the Brodeur of the past. This series might come down to the special teams as the Devils had the best PK% in the NHL (89.6%) and the Panthers had the 7th best PP% in the league (18.5%).

Prediction: Devils in 6

(5) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (4) Pittsburgh Penguins (Regular Season Series Record: Philadelphia won 4-2):

Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

There are a lot of great matchups in the first round, but none that come close to this matchup between these in-state division rivals. On April 1st, there was a big hit which resulted in both coaches arguing at each-other and set the tone for what should be an incredibly intense first round series. These two teams are so close that both teams recorded the same PP% on the season (19.7%), which was 5th best in the NHL. First, the Flyers, who had a fantastic season (recording 103 points) after losing both assistant captains Chris Pronger (injury) and Jeff Carter (traded to Columbus and later the LA Kings), along with Captain Mike Richards (traded to the LA Kings). Even with all of the youth on their roster, the Flyers haven’t complained or taken a step back this year. The Flyers are led by star center Claude Giroux who recorded 93 points, which was good for 3rd in the NHL, during the season.

Along with Giroux, they have a lot of other talented forwards in All-Star Scott Hartnell who led the team with a +19, in addition to former Penguins JaromirJagr and Maxime Talbot, Wayne Simmonds, JakubVoracek, Danny Briere, and Matt Read. Even though the Flyers miss Pronger, they still have a solid group of defensmen which include: KimmoTimonen (43 points), Matt Carle (38 points), Andrej Meszaros, Braydon Coburn (+10), and with the two defensemen they traded for at the deadline in PavelKubina and Nicklas Grossmann. As good as the Flyers forwards and defensemen are, its there goaltending that will determine how far they go in the NHL Playoffs. The big offseason for the Flyers began with the signing of IlyaBryzgalov, as the Philadelphia goaltender got off to a good start of the season, struggled during the middle part, and has been playing better as of late. If the Flyers can continue to get great goaltending from Bryzgalov then they’ll become a sleeper team to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup.

The other team from the state Pennsylvania (the Pittsburgh Penguins) feature one of the best core group of players in the entire NHL. Pittsburgh is led by two of the best forwards in the NHL in EvgeniMalkin (who recorded 109 points (the most in the NHL) even though he missed 7 games) and Sidney Crosby (who had a +15 while playing in only 22 games this season). Pittsburgh has a few other great forwards on their roster with All-Star James Neal (who also had 81 points), Jordan Staal, Chris Kunitz, and Pascal Dupuis (who had a +18 on the year). In addition to their great forwards, the Penguins have a good group of defensemen which is led by one of the best defensemen in the league in Kris Letang (who led all Penguins with a +21 while still recording 42 points on the season), along with Brooks Orpik (who had a +19 ), DerykEngelland, Paul Martin, and Matt Niskanen.

Lastly, Pittsburgh has one of the best goalies in the entire league in former number 1 overall pick Marc-Andre Fleury, who had 42 wins (2nd in the NHL during the regular season) and had a 2.36 GAA. If that wasn’t enough for everyone, the Penguins have the best Special Teams in the entire NHL as there the only team during the season that ranked in the top 5 in both PP% (5th) and PK% (3rd best) on the season. With the star power along with both teams being from the same division/state, this should result in becoming one of the best first round series of all time.

Prediction: Penguins in 7

Here's our NHL Western Conference Playoff Previews.

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