The playoffs are the most glorious time of year for hockey fans, as the playoffs begin and the pursuit of Lord Stanley's Cup begins. There are compelling match ups in both the East and the West, and each series presents interesting story lines.
We will take a look at the Eastern Conference match ups. The West preview will be tomorrow.
NEW YORK RANGERS (1) vs OTTAWA SENATORS (8)
The Sens captured the season series with the Rangers 3-1, and it was a classic match up of the speed of the Senators against the power of the Rangers. Those elements will come into play once again, and I expect the speed and skill of the Senators to continue to pose a problem for the Rangers. The Rangers can counter with skill of their own, and their grit and toughness should be able to wear down the Senators in this series. The Rangers have Henrik Lundqvist in net, and he will be the difference maker in this series.
MY PICK: RANGERS IN 6
BOSTON BRUINS (2) vs WASHINGTON CAPITALS (7)
The big, bad Bruins face the enigmatic Capitals, a team with a wealth of talent that has under performed regularly this season. The Capitals have offensive superstar Alexander Ovechkin, the inconsistent Alex Semin, and they welcome back Nicklas Backstrom, who missed most of the season with an injury. This kind of firepower up front can present problems for any team, but the Bruins will counter with a defense led by Zdeno Chara that can shut down the best offensive threat. The Bruins will have Tim Thomas in net, and if he is on his game, the Bruins should be able to contain the offense of the Caps. For Washington, they open this series without Tomas Voukoun in net, and Michael neuvirth is nursing an injury. This means that Braden Holtby, the third netminder in the Caps stable of goaltenders, will likely start. This cannot be a comforting thought for Caps fans, as he will see a lot of pucks.
MY PICK: BOSTON IN 5
FLORIDA PANTHERS (3) vs NEW JERSEY DEVILS (6)
Florida backed into the playoffs and the Southeast Division championship, winning only 2 of their last 10 games. Not exactly the kind of momentum that a team wants to generate heading into the playoffs. The Panthers are making their first playoff appearance since 2000, and the excitement in Sunrise is palpable. That energy and excitement will carry the Panthers to a couple of wins in this series, but not enough to carry the series. The Devils will bring offensive firepower to the series, led by Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise. Veteran Marty Brodeur will man the pipes for the Devils, and this could be his last run at the Cup, so I expect stellar play from him. In the end, the offense of the Devils will be too much for the Panthers.
MY PICK: DEVILS IN 6
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (4) vs PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (5)
Hide the women and children for this series, because this series will be a war. These two teams don't like each other, and that animosity is going to be reflected in the play on the ice. This series will not be about who wins, but who survives. The Penguins possess all world talent up front, lead by Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. There are strong supporting players in Steve Sullivan and James Neal, and they will play a critical role in this series. The Flyers are not without their talent up front, and Jaromir Jagr, Scott Hartnell, and Claude Giroux will make their presence felt. The Penguins are a bit more talented and deeper on the blue line, and this will help swing the series in their favor. Marc-Andre Fleury and Ilya Bryzgalov will tend the goals, and the edge here goes to Fleury, although Bryzgolov is capable of stealing some games. The Penguins will have to survive the physicality that the Flyers will bring to this series, but I think their talent will eventually eclipse the crashing and banging of the Flyers.
MY PICK: PENGUINS IN 7