If the NHL Eastern Conference playoffs were like the NCAA Tournament, everyone’s bracket would be busted. Three of the top four seeds did not make it out of the first round.
Because of all of the upsets there will not be a show down between the President Trophy winning and number one seed Washington Capitals against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The top two stars of the NHL Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby will not meet in the playoff.
One big winner because of all the upsets in the first round could be the Pittsburgh Penguins. They are now the highest seed left in the playoffs and the defending champions as well.
The Penguins get to face the Montreal Canadiens in the in second round after they pulled off one of the biggest upsets in sports history. Montreal came back from a 3-1 deficit to shock the sports world.
The seventh seeded Flyers upset the New Jersey Devils and the sixth seeded Bruins upset the Buffalo Sabers. These two teams hate each other so this should be a great series to watch.
One point to make quickly before we move on to our preview and prediction is that there are four “Original Six” teams left in the playoffs and none of them play each other in this round.
There also could be an all “Original Six” conference final in both the East and the West. For that to happen Detroit and Chicago will have to win their series and Montreal and Boston will have to win their series.
So will it be an all “Original Six” finals in the Eastern Conference. Here is the NHL Eastern Conference Semifinals preview and prediction.
(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (8) Montreal Canadiens
It looks like the Hockey Gods have smiled down on the Pittsburgh Penguins and gave them a wide open road to their third straight Stanley Cup Finals. All the upsets in the East have made the Penguins are the only team left in the Eastern Conference to total over 100 points in the regular season.
Pittsburgh’s stars have shown up in the playoffs with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin combining for nine goals and 13 assist so far in the playoffs. The Penguins stars are not the only players producing.
Sergei Gonchar, Bill Guerin, Chris Kunitz, and Matt Cooke have added seven goals and 15 assists. In the opening round Pittsburgh also got solid play out of Pascal Dupuis and Maxime Talbot who added two goals and six assist.
There are things to for this team to worry about in the second round and the rest of the playoffs. Pittsburgh is undefeated on the road but has a losing record at home in the post season after one round.
If the Penguins want to repeat as champions they will have to play better at home as well as on the road. The only other worry for the Penguins is the slow start by Jordan Staal, Kris Letang and Mark Eaton who have added three goals and three assist but are a combined -7 in the plus/minus.
The former is not as much of a concern as the latter but Staal, Letang, and Eaton played big roles last season on the championship march. Still not winning playoff games at home is more of a worry since Malkin and Sidney are playing well.
Another reason for worry in Pittsburgh is the play of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury has not been stellar in goal only saving 154 out of 173 shots he faced. He also has a .890 save percentage and is allowing 2.75 goals per game. Fleury has to play better if this team has any chance of repeating.
Up next for the Penguins are the Montreal Canadiens who upset the top seeded Washington Capitals in seven games. Talk about putting pressure on your defense, the Canadiens had to deal with Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin in the first round.
Now Montreal’s defense has to deal with Crosby and Malkin. The defense has been solid with Hal Gill showing this team what it takes to win in the playoffs.
The players that led the Canadiens in the regular season have also shown up in the playoffs. Mike Camnallieri and Tomas Plekanec lead this team with nine goals and eight assist.
Andrei Kostitsyn, Scott Gomez, Andrie Markov, and Brian Gionta have added five goals and 12 assists. The plus/minus state is something everyone watches in the playoffs.
Well, Montreal has made that stat questionable. All the players above plus nine others are in the minus. Overall this team is -40 after one round and only six players who played against Washington is on the plus side or at even.
The worst player in the plus/minus stat for the Canadiens is Marc-Andre Bergeron who is at -8 so far and the best is Gill, Ryan O'Byrne, and P.K. Subban at plus one. Montreal will go as far as their goalie can carry them.
In the net for the Canadiens is Jaroslav Halak who has stopped 217 out of 231 shots he has faced. Halak has a .939 save percentage and is allowing 2.49 goals per game.
It happens every year in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a goalie gets hot and carries his team to a magical run though the playoffs. Halak could be that goalie this year; much like Fleury of the Penguins was that goalie last year.
This series is interesting since Montreal just ousted a high scoring team in the first round. On defense the Penguins will be short handed with Tyler Kennedy still out since game for against Ottawa and Jordan Leopold still out with concussion symptoms.
Kennedy more than likely return at some point in this series but Leopold may be done for the season. This series will come down to if the Penguins stars can figure out Halak and can Fleury make enough stops.
The Canadiens have proven they can win on the road after winning three games against Washington on the Capitals home ice. Pittsburgh will have to protect their home ice to win this series.
In the regular season these teams meet five times and the Penguins won four of those five games. I have to believe that Pittsburgh will figure out Halak and score enough goals to move on.
Winner: Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2
(6) Boston Bruins vs. (7) Philadelphia Flyers
Boston ousted the third seeded Buffalo Sabers in the first round to advance in the playoffs. The Bruins got production out of regular season stars and some surprise players.
Mark Recchi, Patrice Bergeron, and David Krejci were three of the top point leaders for the Bruins this season. In the playoffs these players have given Boston seven goals and eight assist.
The Bruins have gotten surprise output out of Miroslav Satan, Dennis Wideman, and Matt Hunwick who have added four goals and nine assist. One player Boston would like to get more production out of is Blake Wheeler.
Wheeler played in all 82 games this season and was fifth on points with 38 for this team in the regular season. In the playoffs, Wheeler has not scored a goal and only has one assist.
In the nets for Boston is Tuukka Rask who has saved 179 out of 193 shots he has faced. Rask also has a .927 save percentage and is allowing 2.18 goals per games.
Playing the Bruins in the second round is the Philadelphia Flyers, who started the upsets in the East by ousting the New Jersey Devils in five games. The Flyers have also gotten playoff production out of their regular season leaders.
Five of the six Flyers point leaders in the regular season are also in the top six in the post season. Philadelphia’s Mike Richards, Claude Giroux, and Danny Briere have eight goals and 11 assist so far.
The Flyers second leading point leaders in the regular season, Jeff Carter who had 61 points for this team is out for the next six weeks after having foot surgery. A player who could pick up some of the slack with Carter out is Kimmo Timonen.
In first round Timonen added three assists for this team and along with Chris Pronger who added two goals and three assist. One player Philadelphia would like to get more out of is Scott Hartnell.
Hartnell had 44 points during the season but in the playoffs only has one assist and is -3 in the plus/minus. In a series that could hinge on the defense the edge might go to the Flyers with Brian Boucher.
Boucher has been outstanding in the playoffs saving 126 out of 134 shots he faced. He also has a .940 save percentage and is only giving up 1.59 goals per game.
These two teams have not met in the playoffs since 1978, which is a drought of 32 years. Boston defeated the Flyers four games to one.
During the season these team met four times with the teams splitting this matchup at two games apiece. When playoff series look to be evenly matched up, I have to go with who has been better between the pipes.
Boucher has been awesome for the Flyers and has the lowest goals allowed average of all the teams still left in the Eastern Playoffs. If Boucher can keep up his level of play, then Philadelphia will find away to win this series.
Winner: Philadelphia Flyers 4-3
The Eastern Conference playoffs have been wild and fun to watch. Let’s hope as hockey fans we get the same treatment in the next round as well. Enjoy the Eastern Conference Semifinals and see you in the next round.