Ranking the Eastern Conference
To start the year I previewed the Eastern Conference. In the end, I nailed seven of eight playoff teams (though the order was out of whack).
Now at the end the season, I will take a look at the eight teams in the hunt for the Prince of Wales trophy, and a trip to the chance to play the best of the West to win Lord Stanley's Cup (Western preview tomorrow).
I'll break down each part of the team: forwards, defense, goalie, special team, and highlight the most important person to the team in question in their playoff run starting from No. 8 to No. 1.
Without further ado, on to the rankings!
8. Montreal Canadiens
Regular Season Record: 41-30-11, 93 points
If this is how I look and feel at 100, please go ahead and end me at 99 years.
A season that started with a ton of promise in what looked to be a stacked lineup has led to a terrible free fall of epic proportions. With a 27-11-6 record just over the halfway mark, they would go on to finish 14-19-5 the rest of the way, which included a trip to the unemployment line for head coach Guy Carbonneau.
Likely the last year for this Habs team, with 10 unrestricted free agents (Alex Tanguay, Alexei Kovalev, Saku Koivu, Robert Lang, Tom Kostopoulos, Mathieu Schneider, Francis Bouillon, Mathieu Dandenault, Michael Komisarek, Patrice Brisebois) and five restricted free agents (Chris Higgins, Tomas Plekanec, Kyle Chipchura, Guillaume Latendresse, Matt D'Agostini) year 101 should be down right nasty.
Offense: The Habs came into their centennial with an offense that looked overpowering, with the likes of Alex Kovalev, Saku Koivu, Robert Lang, and the Kostitsyn brothers.
Things didn't go quite as planned, though.
Kovalev had his struggles, Lang ruptured his Achilles near the midpoint of the season, and the Kostitsyn brothers may be in some legal trouble. Despite this, they still managed to land in the top half of the goals scored category.
Defense: Their defense seemed steady enough with the likes of Patrice Brisebois, Roman Hamrlik, Mike Komisarek, and Andrei Markov, but something was missing. That gap was filled with the deadline acquisition of Mathieu Schneider, helping add more defensive responsibility and a better breakout pass to their blue line.
Goaltending: Their goaltending started out well enough but faltered quite impressively as former phenom Carey Price began to show some chinks in the armor.
Now, you have to wonder if GM Bob Gainey would like to give back the second round pick for goaltender Crisobal Huet. The argument may continue for a while as to whether Price was rushed, but hindsight is always 20/20.
It won't get easier for Carey next year, as the team is largely gone, UFA's.
Special Teams: The power play, thought to be a strength of Montreal going into the season, struggled mightily due to the loss of Mark Streit to the Islanders in the offseason, a move no one thought would be so impactful. Gainey's acquisition of Schneider at the deadline helped make their power play a respectable 11th at the end of the season, clicking at 19.3 percent, but still, not where expected.
The penalty kill, however, clicked along at a similar rate all season, hovering between 10th and 15th before ending at 10th in the league, denying over 82 percent of the chances.
The number would likely be better if not for Price's poor numbers.
Most Important Person: New head coach/GM Bob Gainey. By firing Carbonneau, he put his neck squarely in the chopping block for any changes to come.
So far, things aren't looking good for Bob. Since his taking over of coaching duties, the Habs went 5-6-4. A first round blow out should mean a large roster overhaul in the offseason. You should also expect a large front office overhaul.
7. New York Rangers
Regular Season Record: 43-30-9, 95 points
Another fall from grace.
The New York Rangers feature a drastically different roster this year, after GM Glen Slather played "Flip My Franchise" during the offseason, jettisoning stars like Sean Avery, Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, and Brendan Shannahan in favor of some fresh faces with more offensive upside like Nikolai Zherdev, Markus Naslund, and Wade Redden.
What Sather got was extremely disappointing, to say the least.
The Rangers were on cruise control, coasting through perfectly until Dec. 13, where they peaked with a 20-11-2 record. Then, the bottom fell out.
By Feb. 24, coach Tom Renney had been fired after going 11-12-5 in that short time span. Ex-assistant-cum-head-coach John Tortorella was brought in to try to right the ship, and he did so somewhat ably, going 12-7-2 the rest of the way.
However, the original free fall, combined with the surge of the Penguins and Hurricanes, left the Rangers battling for Montreal and Florida for the final playoff spot going into the last week of the year.
Offense: Five years ago, this team would have been scary. Markus Naslund, Scott Gomez, and Chris Drury would be a top line few could compete with.
That was then. This is now.
Neither of those three topped 60 points, with Nik Zherdev tying for team lead in points with Gomez at 58 a piece. Not even the deadline acquisition of Nik Antropov helped much.
There is little to no secondary scoring to speak of. Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky both topped the 40-point plateau and usually patrol with a re-acquired Sean Avery, but beyond that, no forward has more than 20 points.
As a matter of fact, the Rangers ranked 24th in the league in goals for, only scoring 210 on the season. That's just over two-and-a-half goals per game, by far the lowest of any team in the playoffs.
Defense: What a waste of money. Wade Redden signed a huge, long contract at the start of the year and lived up to zero of it. Once again, it's Sather living in the past.
The only true shining star on the defense was Marc Staal. Michael Rozival was steady, but not worth the also excessively large contract he was signed to in the offseason.
Goaltending: King Henrik is the man on this team. He is what Roberto Luongo has been to the Canucks and Panthers in prior seasons. His numbers show exactly how little help he received in his season.
Despite a 2.43 GAA, .916 save percentage, and starting in 70 games, he could not crack 40 wins (38-25-7). If he'd had any offensive help, he'd be winning the Vezina this year.
Special Teams: Predictably, the Rangers power play is putrid. Clicking at a 13.7 percent success rate, they ranked 29th in the league during the regular season.
Conversely, their penalty kill was ranked No. 1 in the league, killing 88 percent of the chances against it.
This is a combination of good defensive play for the likes of Staal and Rozival, decent defensive play up front from Gomez and Drury, who occasionally see PK time, and the stellar goaltending of Lundqvist.
Most Important Person: Henrik Lundqvist. The man who has carried this team all year can't afford to let up now, especially in the first round while facing the high powered Washington Capitals. If you try to get into a scoring match with them, you just won't win.
6. New Jersey Devils
Regular Season Record: 51-27-4, 106 points
Consider me shocked.
Martin Brodeur, the face of the New Jersey Devils, went down with an injury for almost the first time in his 15 years. Those who hate the Devils celebrated, thinking this would be the end of their reign.
They said nay.
Long time backup Scott Clemmensen came in and did a stellar job of playing Marty, winning 25 games with a 2.39 GAA and a .917 save percentage.
A rejuvenated offense, brought about by the offseason signing of Brian Rolston, added more depth, which allowed head coach Brentt Sutter to open things up a bit, scoring more goals than the Devils had in a while (244 to be exact).
The basic idea of defense first still remained, but New Jersey finally joined the new NHL in bringing in some offensive weapons to go along with Zach Parise.
Offense: The Devils had a surprising dearth of offensive talent, especially given it's well-known defense first history.
The leader of the gang was homegrown product Zach Parise, putting up 94 points and landing five goals short of 50, putting him three short of tying Brian Gionta's club record of 48, and leaving him two shy of setting a record for most points in a season, held by Patrick Elias.
Elias and Gionta are still working away in Jersey, putting up 78 and 60 points this year, respectively. Jamie Langenbrunner enjoyed a career year with 69 points, Danius Zubrus quietly scored 40, and Brian Rolston made his return to the Swamp with 32 points in 64 games. Oh, and then there's the breakout year for Travis Zajac, 62 points.
The return of Bobby Holik meant a return to defense on the bottom two lines. He, John Madden, Jay Pandolfo, Michael Rupp, and a signed Brendan Shannahan brought a veteran defensive presence to the club.
Defense: The cracks in the armor finally began to show after 20 years. The usually solid depth and defense of the Devils, an effective machine that along with the Red Wings could be seen as a model of consistency showed some breaks in the cogs.
Younger, less talented d-men like Johnny Oduya and Paul Martin, plus vets like Bryce Salvador and Colin White, normally 5-6 pairings, are forced into top-line minutes. While serviceable, they are no where near the Neidermeyers or Stevenses.
Goaltending: Scott Clemmensen had 25 wins for the New Jersey Devils this year. That, however, does not matter. The goalie with 19 wins does.
He also has 557 in his career. He missed 51 games with a shoulder injury, very much unlike him. Also unlike him, his numbers down the stretch. Since March 22nd he is 4-6-1 with a 3.29 goals against average and a .880 save percentage. Perhaps age is getting to him?
Special Teams: The power play was pedestrian, ranking 15th in the league, converting on 18.9 percent of chances. They were somewhat effective, but ultimately unspectacular.
The lesser players on the back end, from less Brodeur and the blue line, led to a rather disappointing 21st ranked penalty kill, stopping 79.9 percent of chances against.
Most Important Person: Martin Brodeur. If the Devils want to have any success at all in these playoffs, it fall on his shoulders. He simply must play better.
The defense is starting to show cracks and the offense has dried up. Until they can find some spark, Marty must steal games. If he doesn't, it will be another quick offseason.
5. Washington Capitals
Regular Season Record: 50-24-8, 108 points
Riding to the top of the South on a Rocket.
Alex O did it again, though not quite as well as last year. He led his team to the top of the Southern Division, scoring 56 goals and 110 points. He'll once again claim the Rocket Richard trophy for best goal scorer, but the story isn't quite as special this year.
Last year, coach Bruce Boudreau came in during the year and righted the ship with Ovechkin as his co-pilot. The two led an impressive charge up the standings boards before finishing the miracle season as the No. 3 seed.
This year, they did themselves one better, claiming the No. 2 spot and getting another banner to hang from the rafters. Ovechkin powered his way through, but this time he had an impressive supporting cast backing him up.
Youth was finally served in the nation's capital, and the kids on the ice hope to continue that trend into the playoffs.
Offense: Oh, we all know of the Great Eight. He Who Has Fire Gloves. This year, though, it wasn't just about him.
Mike Green continued his torrid pace of putting up points, scoring 73. Alex Semin had a breakthrough year, putting up 79. Alex Backstrom did him a few better, going 83. All in all, the Caps were dangerous and showed it, scoring the third most goals in the league at 272.
Even lesser lines contributed fairly well, with six other forwards having at least 30 points, including grizzled vets Sergei Federov, Michael Nylander, and Viktor Kozlov (who had 40).
Also shining were youngsters Brooks Laich (23-30-53) and Tomas Fleischmann (19-18-37). The one thing that is bothersome about all of them, though, is the negative in the plus/minus column. Either you believe in the stat or you don't, though.
Defense: Their defense is... well... what defense?
Defensively, Milan Jurcina and Shoane Morrisonn remain the biggest shut-down threat the Caps have.
Outside of that, who? Jeff Schultz? He's adequate. Mike Green? He's all flash, though he's a very bright flash.
The Caps are front-loaded and beyond that, blue line back, they're not that impressive.
Goaltending: Jose, Jose, Jose.
Yes, you were once an MVP, but now look at you.
Sure, you had 32 wins, but a 2.87 goals against average? And a .900 save percentage? That's just pitiful.
Washington would have been better off keeping Huet, who was much more solid in their playoff run last year than Theodore likely will be. Who knows? I may be surprised. All I know is if I'm a Caps fan, I'm worried.
Special Teams: Almost assuredly known, the Capitals have one of the best power plays in the league. As a matter of fact, they have the second best power play in the league with a 25.2 percent success blow. Helping this was the 46 power play points from Ovechkin and the 38 from Mike Green.
The teams penalty kill, however, wasn't quite so nice. Though they denied 80.6 percent of the chances, that was still only good enough for 17th in the league.
If they meet a team with a good power play, they could be in trouble.
Most Important Person: Jose Theodore. I know, you may be shocked that it's not Alex the Great, but looking at Theodore's stats should worry the casual Caps fan.
He needs to play solid, be the MVP he once was, if the Caps have any hope at all of coming out of the East. You can't expect to outscore a team like Carolina or Pittsburgh four out of seven games, and you can't expect to be able to break the Bruins defense four out of seven times.
Without Theodore improving, they are sunk quickly.
4. Philadelphia Flyers
Regular Season Record: 44-27-11, 99 points
Perhaps the deepest, but least flashy, teams in the East lies in the city of Brotherly Love.
Thought to be the lead in the East after the poor start by the Penguins and the injury to Marty Brodeur, the Flyers kept churning along throughout the season, riding minimal peaks and valleys into what looked to be home court help in the first round.
A slow end to the season, going 11-10-2 since March 1, cost them the fourth spot. Normally that wouldn't matter, as they would still likely be the favorites if not for their first round opponent, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Offense: When I spoke of depth on the Flyers, I was not kidding. Twelve forwards either have or are over 20 points for the regular season. Those include Jeff Carter (84 points), Mike Richards (80 points), Simon Gagne (74 points), Scott Hartnell (60 points), Joffrey Lupul (50 points), and Mike Knuble (47 points). Any combination of the six make for a very dangerous top two lines.
A whole list of possible players, including a returning Daniel Briere, make up a defensively responsible third line that has the potential to also put up decent numbers should the top two be shut down for the game.
A traditional Philly fourth line with face punchers and PIM munchers like Dan Carcillo, Riley Cote, and Aaron Asham make the Flyers a team that will leave any team they play sore on the golf course or banged up going into round two.
They may not be your grandfathers Broad Street Bullies, but they're not a walk in the park.
Defense: The defense features a blue line with decent fire power. Kimmo Timonen, the true leader on the team, with 43 points. Braydon Coburn with 28, Matt Carle (coming from Tampa in an early season deal) at 26. Andrew Alberts, Randy Jones, and a rotating cast of characters round out a steady back end.
Goaltending: Martin Biron played rather inconsistently all season, leading to a brief toss up for coach Todd Richards as to who his starter should be in Biron or backup Antero Niittymaki. In the end, Biron won, but he has to step his game up.
Special Teams: A team with such scoring should have a potent power play, and the Flyers do, standing sixth overall in the regular season with a 22.4 percent rate of conversion.
The penalty kill, ranked sixth with an 83 percent denial rate, is troublesome for two reasons. One, it's extremely effective in stopping opponents from getting pucks on the net, and two, the likes of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Simon Gagne are all threats to break off for a short-handed goal, with 15 split among the three of them.
Most Important Person: Martin Biron. Inconsistency during the year led he and backups having a brief open starter competition. Eventually, Marty won back his job, but unspectacular play should be a concern to Flyers fans, as should a slow end to the season (which saw them lose home ice advantage in the first round on the final day).
Biron's regular season stats (2.76 GAA, .915 save%) show the story of his season: inconsistency.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins
Regular Season Record: 45-28-9, 99 points
A Tale of Two Seasons.
That's the story for the Pittsburgh Penguins. There was an AD and a BC. We can call it Awaiting Death and Bylsma Coach. Not the most clever, but still true.
In the AD, coach Michel Therrien had the Penguins playing conservative hockey. Perhaps to cover the injuries to Ryan White and Sergei Gonchar on the blue line, two-thirds of his best defense, or perhaps because it worked last year. Either way, it wasn't working this year.
At the time of Therrien's departure on Feb. 15, the Penguins were a disappointing 27-25-5 and out of the playoff picture, including going 12-19-2 since Dec. 1.
After a 6-2 loss to the Maple Leafs, the change was finally made, and Dan Bylsma was promoted from the AHL to the NHL, and went on to take the Penguins on a wild ride, going 18-3-4 in 25 games, second best in NHL history.
Forwards: The Penguins up front feature what no one else in the NHL has, two 100-point scorers. Perhaps most unique about this feat is that they both center their own lines.
Sidney Crosby (you may have heard of him) spent most of the season with rotating line mates of Miroslav Satan, Ruslan Fedotenko, Pascal Dupuis, and Max Talbot, depending on what dice Mike Therrien rolled that night.
Occasionally, Sid was partnered with second line center and Art Ross winner Evgeni Malkin, who spent most of his time with Petr Sykora and a rotating cast of characters on-wing, including Fedotenko and briefly Matt Cooke.
A whole host of players came in and out of the line up with injuries, poor play, and coaching decisions dropped players in and out of favor. Finally, changes were made.
Therrien was fired and Bylsma implemented an attack first strategy, playing to the Penguins strengths. The return of Sergei Gonchar no doubt helped and the trades bringing over Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin made a forward-shallow Penguins team suddenly very deep.
Kunitz and Guerin, with Crosby, helped him come alive, scoring 25 points in 17 games. Malkin's second line faltered slightly, being a small concern as Petr Sykora has shown a bit of trouble transitioning to the new system.
The hope remains that Fedotenko on the left will continue to show his playoff spark from his Tampa years. Should any fail, Miroslav Satan is back from Wilkes Barre/Scranton.
And then there's the third line of Cooke-Jordan Staal-Tyler Kennedy. Since the deadline, they have had a part in 20 goals in those 17 games.
Defense: The blue line is steady, though not the deepest at first blush. Shallow all year long with the 52 absence of Sergei Gonchar, they did their best to patch up holes until their silent leader returned. Trading Ryan Whitney seemingly made the depth a little lower, but the return of Phillipe Boucher (acquired in a midseason trade) and his quick mesh with Bylsma's system helps fill out a roster that includes key player Brooks Orpik, PK specialist Hal Gill, steady Mark Eaton, under-appreciated Rob Scuderi, and a young Kris Letang, who has a smart offensive mind and plays bigger than his 5'11" frame portrays.
Goaltending: As long as Marc-Andre Fleury remains healthy, the Penguins are set in net. Since Bylsma's hire, Fleury has gone 16-3-4, with a 2.52 goals against average, and a .910 save percentage in 23 games. Backup Mathieu Garon is slightly concerning, going 2-1, and an additional appearance for a 2.91 GAA and .894 percent.
Special Teams: The power play continues to be a puzzling struggle for the Penguins. A team with nine players over 30 points on the season should be ranked higher than 19th at a 17.2 percent conversion rate.
The return of Gonchar helped, with 13 of his 19 points in 25 games coming on the power play, but it still remains an uninspired passing fest.
Their penalty kill, however, is a strength. Jordan Staal, Matt Cooke, Pascal Dupuis, Max Talbot all provide a steady forward presence and Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi form a very good partnership for the kill.
Mark Eaton also stays steady, playing sound positionally and blocking shots on a top-notch level. The occasional Gonchar appearance, underrated in his defensive prowess, adds the worry about a potential short handed chance.
Most Important Person: Interim head coach Dan Bylsma. After taking over for head coach Michel Therrien, his changes of the teams approach of attack and defense made an immediate impact.
The shrewd moves in trades by GM Ray Shero also changed the mold of the team. Bylsma has rarely faced adversity, however. How he handles his team being down in a series, and what changes he makes from there, will determine how far the Penguins go and whether or not he returns next season.
2. Carolina Hurricanes
Regular Season Record: 45-30-7, 97 points
Another coaching change brought about another impressive turn around.
The Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup back in 2005-2006 and the team seemed primed to go on a few deep runs. Injuries, trades, and age conspired against them, however, as they haven't made the playoffs since then.
This season seemed no different around Dec. 4, as the Hurricanes languished outside of playoff contention with a 12-12-2 record. Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherord made a decision, then. Out with the old, in with the...old?
He fired current head coach Peter Laviolette and re-hired former head coach Paul Maurice, who took a young Hurricanes franchise to the Cup Finals back in, where they were quickly dispatched by the Detroit Red Wings.
What did Maurice do for the Hurricanes? Take them to a 33-18-5 record the remainder of the season and slide them back into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed.
Offense: Another very deep team, with seven players scoring 30 or more points. In addition, Erik Cole has potted 15 points in 17 games since coming back to the Hurricanes at the deadline (giving him 42 between Carolina and Edmonton), and in 27 games, Jussi Jokinen has added 11 points, giving him 27 in all between here and Tampa.
The puck possession and attacking scheme employed by Maurice in his return has allowed players like Cole, Ray Whitney (25+53-77), Tuomo Ruutu (26+28-54), Rod Brind'Amour (16+35-51), Sergei Samsonov (16+32-48), Matt Cullen (22+21-43) to put up big numbers. Eric Staal, though not having his best numbers year, also returned to a near elite form with 40 goals and 35 assists.
In Whitney, Staal, Ruutu, Cole, Brind'Amour, Samsonov, Cullen, Jokinen, and Cole, they have nine players who have great potential to score at any time on the ice. Three lines that other teams have to be on their top form against.
Defense: Relying on puck possession with the likes of Anton Babchuk, Joe Corvo, Joni Pitkanen, and Dennis Seidenberg, the Hurricanes defense is tough to play against.
The foursome above are smart with their puck movements, and are lethal from the points, each putting up 30-plus points. Babchuk has blossomed, finally finding his NHL stride since Maurice took over. Corvo's also putting up extremely impressive numbers, with 14 goals, 24 assists for 38 points.
Goaltending: Cam Ward has been steady all season, posting similar numbers before and after the coaching change for a season long total of 39-23-5, 2.44GAA, and .916 percent. The big turn around, once again, was the increased offense with the newly acquired players and the new coaching philosophy.
Cam Ward has found his stride. It could be trouble.
Special Teams: The regular season power play was nothing special, as you look at the numbers, ranking 18th with a 18.7 percent conversion rate.
However, the coaching changes and addition of Ron Francis as power play coach has increased it's potency, as evidenced by the 62 power play points between the big four defensemen alone.
The PK was equally unimpressive, ranking 17th at an 80.4 percent denial rate. The lack of true shutdown defense, outside of Tim Gleason and Niclas Wallin, are what harm the effectiveness of the PK.
Most Important Person(s): Hurricanes Blue Line. Paul Maurice's new approach took the onus off of defense, and making Ward the key backbone, and put it on the offense and puck movement.
Ward's shots against came down, the time in the offensive zone increased. This led to improved offense, and the impressive turn around. It also led to the previously mentioned impressive numbers put up by the blue line.
As long as they can control the game, they will win.
1. Boston Bruins
Regular Season Record: 53-19-10, 116 points
The Beast of the East.
I hated to use the cliche, but there really is no other way to describe the Boston Bruins.
Last year, under coach Claude Julien, they found a way to surprise everyone and sneak into the playoffs, almost upsetting the No. 1 seeded Montreal Canadiens once there.
This year, they added to their team with some offseason signings that looked to have potential for success or potential for failure. They signed former Coyotes pick Blake Wheeler, took a flyer on Michael Ryder, and inked Stephane Yelle to a one-year deal.
What they found with the season that came was a deep, deep team with talent to spare. Depth was found in plenty, from forward to defense to goal.
They were primed for a run and look to be on the verge of it.
The scary thing is, with only six unrestricted free agents this year (Mark Recchi, Stephane Yelle, PJ Axelsson, Steve Montador, Shane Hnidy, and Manny Fernandez) and three restricted free agents (Phil Kessel, Byron Bitz, and Matt Hunwick), they could be back next year.
Offense: A very deep team, the Bruins feature nine forwards with 30 or more points (Marc Savard, David Krejci, Phil Kessel, Michael Ryder, Blake Wheeler, Chuck Kobasew, Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron, and PJ Axelsson), and that's not counting trade deadline pick up Mark Recchi who has 16 points in 18 games.
The only concerns for the Bruins on offense are health and youth. Savard has struggled a bit down the stretch, making one wonder if he's tired or possibly injured.
Also, Patrice Bergeron potted 39 points in 64 games but was once again bespeckled by injuries.
Youth was served this year in Boston, with four 20 somethings in Phil Kessel (21), David Krejci (22), Milan Lucic (20), and Blake Wheeler (20), combined for 220 points.
If they don't continue that production into the playoffs, the Bruins could face some issues. All signs point to that not being a problem, however.
Defense: Zdeno Chara is a freak. He's huge, he has a terribly hard shot (clocked at 105.4 MPH during the All-Star Skills Competition) and eats up minutes, fourth in the league in time on ice at just over 26 minutes per game. His 50 points were very impressive, and not to be left out is Dennis Wideman, also potting 50.
Rounding out the blue line are defensively able Mark Stuart, Shane Hnidy, Aaron Ward, and Mike Huntwick. The only potential problem is that none of those four are as offensively capable as Chara and Wideman.
Goaltending: Tim Thomas is likely going to win the Vezina. His numbers (36-11-7, 2.10 GAA, .933 percent) are ungodly. He earned the new contract he just signed, and you couldn't even pick the guy out of a line up if you tried! He's the every man's professional athlete.
Should Thomas go down, Manny Fernandez is very capable, as is Tuuka Rask in the minors throwing fits.
Special Teams: The Bruins power play ranked fourth in the league during the regular season, converting 23.6 percent of the time. Helped by the 28 power play points scored by Chara and the 25 notched by Wideman, they are formidable from the blue line in.
The penalty kill ranked surprisingly low for such a strong team, only 12th in the league. They denied 82.4 percent of the chances afforded to the other team, but you'd expect this from a team with such defensively capable forwards as Stephane Yelle, Shawn Thornton, and Marco Sturm.
Most Important Person: Tim Thomas. With the potential for facing the likes of the Capitals, Hurricanes, Penguins, and Flyers, Thomas will have to be essential. They are too deep and Chara can only play for so long. It'll be up to him to be the proverbial last line of defense in the end to save the game.
First Round Predictions
No. 1 Boston Bruins vs. No. 8 Montreal Canadiens:
Boston should have no problem dispatching the Canadiens as quickly as possible, though tempers should flair up more than once.
Look for one or two key Bruins to come out of this series looking sluggish and harmed from cheap shots or general rough play by the Habs when games start to get away from them.
The old, "If Not Us, Not Them" mentality will be seen. All that being said, Bruins still win in five.
No. 2 Capitals vs. No. 7 Rangers:
The Caps face the low seed that is their counter. Washington has a dynamic offense but relies heavily on their power play to get their work done. They will face the Rangers, owners of the best penalty kill. Something has to give, and it will eventually be the Rangers and their lack of offense.
Capitals advance in six.
No. 3 New Jersey Devils vs. No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes
A matchup that is most ripe for an upset. Marty, and the Devils' struggles down the stretch against the red hot play of the Hurricanes makes one think the numbers in front of the names should be flipped.
The Hurricanes offense came alive at the deadline, should have no problem blowing by the Devils.
Hurricanes in 5.
No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 5 Philadelphia Flyers
This should be a good one. These two teams hate each other. The Penguins won the regular season series 4-2, and I don't see much being different here.
While probably the most evenly matched series in the East, the deeper Penguins team will eventually break through on Martin Biron, no matter how well he plays.
Penguins in six.
Projected second round matchups:
No. 1 Bruins vs. No. 6 Hurricanes
No. 3 Capitals vs. No. 4 Penguins