The NHL season is finally over and the playoffs are set. The Eastern Conference lineup features a few perennial favorites as well as a resurgent New York Rangers team.
#8 Ottawa Senators (41-31-10) vs. #1 New York Rangers (51-24-7)
The Rangers surprised everyone this season by capturing the number one seed in the playoffs and the second best record in the league. They are entering the playoffs on a two game losing streak, however. The Rangers benefited from the outstanding play of right winger Marian Gaborik, who led the team in points with 76 (41 goals/35 assists). Gaborik also notched a +15 +/- rating. Their penalty killing percentage could have been better (86.2%), but as long as they keep left winger Brandon Prust, who led the team in penalty minutes with 156, out of the box they won't have to deal with it.
The Senators nearly averaged three goals a game (2.96) and had a power play success rate of 18.2%. Center Jason Spezza led the team with 84 points (34 goals/50 assists) and was one shy of the team lead in goals behind left winger Milan Michalek.
Prediction: The Rangers are the number one seed for a reason. They don't have a single weak line, they spread he puck around decently, and they rarely give up a lead after the second period. This series is all Rangers, who will win it in five.
#7 Washington Capitals (42-32-8) vs. #2 Boston Bruins (49-29-4)Boston is simply an offensive powerhouse. The top six scorers on the team scored 20 or more goals. Defenseman Zdeno Chara led the team with eight power play goals. Centers Tyler Seguin and Patrice Bergeron both had +/- ratings over 30. On top of all that, Boston never lost a game all season when leading after the second period.
Washington was not as good. Their goals for and goals against average per game were nearly identical. Superstar Alex Ovechkin only scored 65 points this season and had a +/- of -8. Five of the six top scorers on the team had negative +/- ratings. However, they did post a .962 winning percentage after the second period and no player on the team clocked in more than 95 penalty minutes.
Prediction: The Caps will be moderately challenging, but if Boston has the lead after the second intermission more than not, Ovechkin and company will be exiting the playoffs early. Washington will have to play nearly spotless defense and not give up any power play opportunities. However, Boston will simply outshoot them. Boston takes this series in six.
#6 New Jersey Devils (48-28-6) vs. #3 Florida Panthers (38-26-18)
Florida barely scooted into the playoffs and earned the number three seed for simply being the least horrible team in the Southeast Division. Their season was lackluster at best, as only three of their players scored more than 20 goals. Their penalty killing percentage was sub-par (79.5%). It's hard to imagine that they are the best team in the division.
The Devils on the other hand had a pretty good season. LW Ilya Kovalchuk led the team in points with 83, including 37 goals and 46 assists. Ten of those goals were power play goals. They posted a winning percentage of .727 when scoring first, and their top three scorers all scored 30 or more goals. However, one of those scorers, right winger David Clarkson, did end up in the penalty box for 138 minutes.
Prediction: New Jersey is going to show the NHL that just because a team won a division doesn't mean they deserve the seed they get. The Devils will score early and often, and Florida simply will not keep up. This will be my only predicted sweep. The Devils in four.
#5 Philadelphia Flyers (47-26-9) vs. #4 Pittsburgh Penguins (51-25-6)
This will be the series to watch for sure. These two teams hate each other and they're not afraid to express it, mainly with ridiculous body checks. Pittsburgh had an impressive 3.33 goals per game average versus a 2.66 goals against average. They also had a nearly 20% power play success rate. Center Evengi Malkin led the NHL in points with 109, including 50 goals and 59 assists. Malkin, along with left winger James Neal, combined for 30 power play goals, 12 and 18 respectively. The Pens didn't go to the sin bin much either as no player had more than 87 penalty minutes.
Philly recorded an identical power play percentage as Pittsburgh (19.7%) and right winger Claude Giroux was the third highest points scorer in the NHL (93 points, 28 goals/65 assists). Philly posted a .892 winning percentage when they had the lead after two periods. Left winger Scott Hartnell scored a team high 37 goals, but spent 136 minutes in the penalty box. However, Hartnell's penalty time was easily eclipsed by center Zak Rinaldo, who spent 232 minutes in the box even though he averaged only seven and a half minutes of playing time a game.
Prediction: It wouldn't surprise me if some serious injuries and a few fines come out of this series. The Flyers will rack up penalty minutes trying to knock out Malkin, Neal, and the freshly healed Sidney Crosby while the Pens go behind them and score power play goals. This series will go seven games, and Pittsburgh's efficiency on power plays will be the difference. Pens in seven.
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