Who Will Win the Eastern Conference?

Roger HarfordCorrespondent IMarch 31, 2009

WASHINGTON - MARCH 27: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals celebrates a Caps goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 27, 2009 at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

For a couple of weeks now the popular pick for the Eastern Conference's Stanley Cup representative has been the New Jersey Devils.

But after five straight losses, that might be a hard sell.

So let's take a look at the current contenders:



1. Boston Bruins

The Bruins can score. They have four 20 goal scorers in Phil Kessel, Marc Savard, David Krejci, and Michael Ryder. But their true strength is in preventing goals.

They have one of the top three defensemen in the NHL in Zdeno Chara, and Dennis Wideman is fifth in the league in plus-minus.

Tim Thomas leads the NHL in save percentage and goals-against average. Thomas should be well rested for the playoffs due to the outstanding play of backup Manny Fernandez. This makes the Bruins the favorites to represent the East in the Cup.


2. Washington Capitals

Everyone knows about the stars in Washington. Ovechkin leads the NHL in goals and has his second-straight 100-point season. Ovechkin, along with 70-point seasons from Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom, leads the Caps offense. Defenseman Mike Green has added 28 goals of his own.

Goaltending may prove to be the Capitals downfall. Jose Theodore has a goals-against average of 2.80 and a save percentage of .902.  Those numbers just don't stack up to Thomas, Martin Brodeur, Martin Biron, or Cam Ward.


3. New Jersey Devils

Unlike in past years, this team can score goals. Zach Parise has emerged as one of the NHL's top scorers. Patrik Elias has added 31 goals and captain Jamie Langenbrunner has posted a career-high 25 goals as well.

The Devils do still play defense too. They have seven players who have posted a plus-22 or better, including Travis Zajac's plus-35 which is good for second in the NHL.

But the key for the Devils is Martin Brodeur. After missing most of the season with an elbow injury, Brodeur has come back and looked like he never left. And having been in just 25 games this year, Brodeur should be well rested for the playoffs.


Teams to watch

4. Philadelphia Flyers

With six 20 goal scorers, the Flyers have the ability to put up goals in bunches. If it wasn't for Ovechkin, Jeff Carter would be in a dead heat with Parise for the Rocket Richard Trophy. Richards, Gagne, Hartnell, Lupul, and Knuble also have at least 20 goals.

Martin Biron has been solid all season and Antero Nittymaki is one of the better backups in the league. If the Flyers defensemen can avoid costly mistakes, Philadelphia could make some noise in the Eastern Conference playoffs.


5. Carolina Hurricanes

In their last 10 games, The 'Canes have seven wins and 16 points. They are getting hot at the right time.

With a good mix of young talent and veteran leadership to go with a playoff tested Cam Ward in goal, the Hurricanes are a dangerous team and not one to be overlooked.

If the current standings hold, the Flyers and Hurricanes would meet in one of the more exciting first round matchups in recent history. Both teams have solid goaltending and are carrying momentum into the playoffs.