Each year, teams and players are often exposed, and unlikely heroes and future stars emerge during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
This season will be no different, and I will go through each Eastern Conference playoff matchup and take a look at a potential stud and dud from each team.
Buckle up, it should be an exciting opening round.
Brad Richards always seems to take his game to another level during the playoffs. The former Stanley Cup champ and Conn Smythe winner will be a handful for the Senators’ defense.
Ryan Callahan will be a non-factor for the Rangers this series. In 20 career games against the Sens, he’s managed just six points and is minus seven. Ottawa has him figured out, or Callahan doesn’t play well against the Senators—either way expect more of the same.
The Ottawa Senators enter the Stanley Cup tournament a Cinderella team. Most experts predicted them to finish near the bottom of the conference.
Craig Anderson will shine this series—he will have to match counterpart Henrik Lundqvist save for save if the Sens are to knock off the top seeded Rangers. In three games against New York, Anderson was 2-1 and posted a 2.29 GAA and .914 save percentage, which included a 3-0 shutout in Madison Square Garden.
Sergei Gonchar will be exposed as a defensive liability as the Rangers will pound him each and every opportunity they get. At 37, his offensive ability is no longer what it once was.
Alexander Ovechkin will raise his game to another level for the Caps. He was strong for Washington down the stretch and scored 10 goals in 16 contests during March—he could be a factor.
Goaltending will be an issue this series, and Boston will find a way no matter who Washington puts in net.
Fellow defenseman Ed Jovanovski is in a similar spot as Sergei Gonchar. The Devils are fast and "Jovo Cop" may have a difficult time keeping up with the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, Patrick Elias and Adam Henrique.
Ilya Kovalchuck has had a nice bounce-back season with 83 points after scoring just 60 the previous season. He appears his old self, which is bad news for the Florida Panthers.
Martin Brodeur has been less than stellar in his last few playoff series. Although he’s had a strong bounce-back season, his best years are behind him. The Panthers could make him look his age.
Evgeni Malkin was a monster for the Penguins this season. He scored his 50th goal in the final game against the Flyers and will continue where he left off. Philly will be unable to stop "Gino" this series.
Goaltending will play a major factor this series and the team that gets more out of their goalie should win. Marc-Andre Fleury has been brilliant at times this season, but only has a .901 career save percentage against the Flyers. If he doesn’t improve, the Flyers will move on.
This could be Jaromir Jagr’s last chance to win another Stanley Cup. The 40-year-old and future Hall of Famer will lay it all on the line and will want to stick it to his former team. In six games against the Pens, he scored five points (four goals and one assist). Jagr could be the X-factor for the Flyers.
Just like Marc-Andre Fleury, Philadelphia’s lya Bryzgalov will have to play well for the Flyers to have any chance of knocking off their arch rivals. Fleury struggles, but Bryzgalov will struggle more.