It’s playoff time everybody!
The Eastern Conference playoff race waited until the last day of the season to finally come into focus, but now that it has, there are four great first-round matchups awaiting us.
There’s a story for every team.
For the Washington Capitals: Will the Caps’ tremendous offense be able to outscore every team?
For the New Jersey Devils: How will Ilya Kovalchuk perform in his second career playoff series?
For the Buffalo Sabres: Will Ryan Miller continue his brilliant season?
For the Pittsburgh Penguins: Are the pieces in place for a repeat?
For the Ottawa Senators: Can Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson keep up their fantastic second half production?
For the Boston Bruins: Can rookie goaltender Tuukka Rask out-duel the league’s best goalie?
For the Philadelphia Flyers: Will Brian Boucher be able to carry the playoff load?
For the Montreal Canadiens: Can Jaroslav Halak take down the league’s best offense in his first playoff action as a No. 1 goalie?
As always with the playoffs, a lot of goalies will be on the hot seat; but let’s look at these matchups a little more.
Regular Season Series: Tied 2-2.
The Caps lead the NHL in scoring with an amazing 318 goals. They boast an impressive seven 20-goal scorers.
Not to mention Washington has a man by the name of Alexander Ovechkin, who is coming off his fourth 50-goal season.
With players like Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green backing up Ovechkin offensively, the Capitals don’t have much to worry about.
Washington is willing to let in a few goals per game, because it will probably average at least four in return.
The Canadiens, on the other hand, have the league’s second best power play at 21.8 percent. Unfortunately, they are second to the Caps who are scoring at 25.4 percent with the man-advantage.
Despite his brilliant season in goal and his .924 save percentage, Halak really does have his work cut out for him.
But to be fair, Montreal does have a well-balanced team that could pull of an upset…in one game.
Series Prediction: Washington 4-1—Ovie & Co. light up the Habs and cruise to the Conference Semis.
Regular Season Series: Philadelphia 5-1
The Flyers waited until the last possible play to secure their playoff position and grab that seventh spot—and the first round will not be easy for them.
Starting in goal for the Devils will be none other than Martin Brodeur, who will be looking to overcome last year’s bad first-round loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Zach Parise, fresh off an Olympic silver medal, has become a much more complete goal scorer this season and will look to continue that in the postseason.
Adding Kovalchuk probably doesn’t hurt the Devils that much either.
But Philly has dominated the season series and has the scoring to pull of the upset. Mike Richards and Jeff Carter will be expected to score early and often.
Chris Pronger’s play on the blue line is going to make or break the Flyers, who will look to the veteran to get them through the tough situations they are sure to find themselves in.
Series Prediction: New Jersey 4-2—Brian Boucher struggles to find his form against a hungry New Jersey team.
Regular Season Series: Boston 4-2
This is probably the most evenly balanced first-round series in the East.
Miller has led the Sabres all season long. His showing at the Winter Olympics shows that he can win big games all by himself.
Tyler Myers’ first playoff series will be a huge test for the potential rookie of the year. He will be counted on to play well on both sides of the puck and log some serious minutes.
Unfortunately, Buffalo has been hit hard by the injury bug as of late. Tim Connolly and Jochen Hecht might not me 100 percent and Drew Stafford will be out indefinitely with a concussion.
But Boston is no stranger to the injury bug.
Superstar Marc Savard is still recovering from the grade two concussion he suffered in early March and will probably miss the series.
However, if Rask can continue his big rookie season, the Bruins might just pull of the upset.
Series Prediction: Buffalo 4-3—Miller’s play and Rask’s inexperience prove to be big factors as Sabres barely escape to Conference Semis.
Regular Season Series: Tied 2-2
The Pens will be looking to return to the Stanley Cup Finals for a third straight season and certainly ready to do it.
Evgeni Malkin may not have had the season Pittsburgh fans were hoping for, but Sidney Crosby has emerged as one of the league’s best goal-scorers.
Marc-Andre Fleury finished with numbers very similar to last season’s, but was a little shaky down the stretch.
Every fan in Ottawa was interested to see how the team would finish this season after parting ways with Dany Heatley in the offseason.
The streaky Sens have done very well for themselves behind the strong play of Spezza and Alfredsson. The duo has combined for 46 points in Ottawa’s last 19 games.
Goalie Brian Elliot certainly has the ability to outduel Fleury, but his lack of playoff experience may come back to haunt the Sens.
Ottawa has also lost fourth-leading scorer Alexei Kovalev for the playoffs with a torn ACL.
Series Prediction: Pittsburgh 4-2—Defending champs use skill and experience to outlast the inconsistent Sens.