NHL Playoff Predictions: Eastern Conference Simulations Post-Deadline Edition
Back in January, when we were at the halfway point of the NHL season, I wrote an article wondering what would happen if the Eastern Conference playoffs were starting at that point. I analyzed the matchups that would take place and predicted who would come out of the conference to play for the Stanley Cup.
Now that we are three days removed from the trade deadline, I figured I would do another playoff simulation. Almost every team in the conference added players to help and, obviously, some of the playoff positions have changed. Teams that were not in the picture in my first article find themselves in, and vice versa.
So if the playoffs were starting just after the trade deadline, who would be in? Would there be any upsets, or would the top seeds dominate?
Find out what I think would happen. As always, let me know your thoughts and predictions.
*Please note that all statistics presented in this piece are as of the end of games on Wednesday, March 2, 2011.
Alison Myers is an NHL and Pittsburgh Penguins Featured Columnist. You may contact her at Alison.Myers@mail.com or follow her on Twitter .
The Top Eight Seeds
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1. Philadelphia Flyers
2. Boston Bruins
3. Tampa Bay Lightning
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
5. Washington Capitals
6. Montreal Canadiens
7. New York Rangers
8. Carolina Hurricanes
1) Philadelphia Flyers vs. 8) Carolina Hurricanes
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The Flyers are second in the NHL with 3.24 goals per game and boast three players with 50-or-more points. They are led by Claude Giroux, who has 58 points this season. He is also first on the team with eight power-play goals and three shorthanded goals.
Danny Briere, who has 51 points this year, has 28 goals and is tied for the Flyers lead in goals scored. That total also puts him ninth in the NHL, in a tie with teammate Jeff Carter.
Briere also leads the Flyers with six game-winning goals.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes put up 2.84 goals per game, which is ranked eighth in the league. Once again, captain Eric Staal is the statistical leader of the team with 60 points. Like Briere and Carter, he too has 28 goals on the season. His 10 power-play goals are fifth in the NHL, and his seven game-winning goals are third.
The Hurricanes also have standout rookie Jeff Skinner. Skinner was drafted last year in the first round and he has made an immediate impact on the team. His 47 points lead all NHL rookies.
Philadelphia surrenders 2.52 goals per game (eighth in the NHL). They have a team plus/minus rating of plus-46 (ranked second).
The Flyers' defensive corps is led by Matt Carle and Kimmo Timonen, who are tied for the scoring lead among Philadelphia defensemen with 27 points.
Andrej Meszaros has a plus/minus rating of plus-24 to lead the Flyers in that category.
Carolina gives up nearly three goals per game (2.95) and the Hurricanes are near the bottom of the league in goals surrendered (23rd). Joe Corvo leads Carolina's defensemen with 33 points, while Brandon Sutter's plus-13 is tops on the Canes. They have a team plus/minus rating of minus-nine, which is ranked 20th.
Cam Ward has spent his entire career with the Hurricanes. He was a part of the 2006 Stanley Cup championship team and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy after going 15-8 with a .920 save percentage and 2.14 GAA.
This year, Ward is eighth in the NHL with 27 wins and he has an overall record of 27-21-8. He has a .920 save percentage and 2.70 GAA.
Ward is backed up by Justin Peters, who is playing in his first full NHL season. Last year, Peters was called up for nine games, when he went 6-3 with a .905 save percentage and 2.83 GAA.
However, Peters has not found winning ways this year. He is 3-4-1 in 11 games with a .879 save percentage and 3.88 GAA.
The Flyers have Sergei Bobrovsky, who is adjusting just fine to North American hockey. He has gone 24-9-4 in 39 games and has a .918 save percentage and 2.46 GAA.
Brian Boucher played 12 games in the Flyers' run to the Stanley Cup Finals last year. He went 6-6 with a .904 save percentage and 2.47 GAA.
So far this regular season, Boucher has gone 15-7-2 in 26 games. His 2.33 GAA is seventh in the league and he also had a .919 save percentage. Boucher is hot right now, having won four of his last five games.
The Flyers struggle on the power play, with just a 16.7-percent success rate that is ranked 23rd in the league. Their penalty kill is just outside the top 10, with an 83.3-percent rate that comes in 11th.
Carolina's power play is somewhat better, as they have converted on 17 percent of their man advantages (20th in the NHL). However, their penalty kill is floundering. Their 80.3-percent penalty kill rate is ranked 23rd in the league.
Flyers over Hurricanes. Although Carolina traded for another member of their 2006 Cup team (Cory Stillman), the Flyers' acquisition of Kris Versteeg and their superior goaltending (they have both a solid starter and a capable backup with winning records) will put them over the top.
2) Boston Bruins vs. 7) New York Rangers
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Boston is fifth in the NHL with 3.08 goals scored in each game. They boast 14 players with 20-or-more points, which includes five players with at least 40 points.
Patrice Bergeron, who has managed to stay healthy after injury struggles in recent seasons, leads the Bruins with 50 points. He is helped out by Milan Lucic, who leads Boston with 27 goals, and David Krejci, who has 38 assists.
Mark Recchi, who is still going strong at 43 years old, has 42 points this year.
The Rangers are 22nd in the league with 2.68 goals per game. Their leading scorer is Brandon Dubinsky, who has 43 points this season. Brian Boyle is the team's goal-scoring leader with 20 goals, and he also has 32 points.
Marian Gaborik has 38 points in 47 games, but he is often out of the lineup with injury issues.
Boston gives up the least amount of goals per game in the league, with 2.27 goals surrendered a game. Their defense is led by Tomas Kaberle, who was traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Kaberle has 39 points this year.
The team's plus/minus leader is Adam McQuaid, who has a plus-27 rating. The Bruin's team plus/minus rating of plus-50 is also first in the NHL.
The Rangers are fourth in the league with 2.43 goals against per game. Dan Girardi leads all defensemen with 25 points, while Michael Sauer is the team plus/minus leader with a plus-11. The Rangers' overall plus/minus rating of plus-13 is eighth in the NHL.
Boston has Tim Thomas, who is one of the NHL's premiere goaltenders. Thomas is 28-8-6 through 44 games, and his 28 wins are fifth in the NHL. His .939 save percentage and 1.97 GAA are ranked first among all NHL goaltenders.
Thomas is backed by Tuukka Rask who is 9-11-1 in 22 games. Although he does not have a winning record, he boasts solid numbers. His .921 save percentage is ninth in the NHL and he also has a 2.66 GAA.
The Rangers have a solid goaltender of their own in Henrik Lundqvist. King Henrik, as he is called by Rangers fans, is 25-22-4 in 51 games. He is eighth in the NHL in both save percentage (.921) and goals-against average (2.34). He is first among goaltenders with eight shutouts.
Lundqvist had a good backup in Martin Biron, who was 8-6-0 with a 2.13 GAA and .923 save percentage. However, Biron broke his collarbone during practice on Monday. He will miss the rest of the regular season and he could miss the postseason.
Should Biron not be able to play in the playoffs, the Rangers will look towards Chad Johnson. Johnson played five games with the Rangers last year, going 1-2-1 with a .919 save percentage and 2.35 GAA.
Boston's power play is just under the top half of the league's best power plays. The Bruins are ranked 16th with a 17.4-percent success rate. Their penalty kill is 15th at 82.1 percent.
The Rangers have a 16.8-percent power-play success rate, which is 21st in the NHL. However, they fare better on the penalty kill. Their 83.6-percent penalty killing rate is ranked ninth.
Bruins over Rangers. The Bruins will be determined to avenge last year's playoff embarrassment, and they have Tim Thomas. If Biron is indeed done for the postseason, Johnson would likely not be able to compete should Lundqvist falter.
3) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. 6) Montreal Canadiens
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Tampa Bay scores nearly three goals per game and their 2.97 average is ranked sixth in the NHL.
They have two of the most explosive scorers in the NHL in Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. Stamkos has 78 points, which is second in the NHL. He also leads the league with 41 goals and 16 power-play goals.
St. Louis has 75 points, which is good for third in the NHL. His 51 assists are ranked second.
Montreal scores 2.59 goals per game, which is ranked 23rd. They are led by Tomas Plekanec, who has 49 points. Brian Gionta leads the team in goals scored with 23 and comes in fourth with 34 points.
Edge: Tampa Bay
Tampa has one of the highest goals-against averages in the NHL, as their 2.98 per game average is in 25th.
Their defense is led by Brett Clark and Victor Hedman, who are tied among the team's defensemen with 23 points. Stamkos leads the team in plus/minus with a plus-nine, and they have an overall rating of minus-15, which is ranked 23rd.
For the Canadiens, Roman Hamrlik is the top offensive defenseman with 30 points this year. Plekanec is the team plus/minus leader with a plus-13, and the team's overall rating of plus-one is 13th in the NHL.
Montreal surrenders 2.53 goals a game, which is 10th among NHL teams.
Dwayne Roloson was traded to Tampa Bay on New Year's Day. Since coming to the Lightning, he has gone 12-7-1 with a .909 save percentage and a 2.63 GAA. He also has four shutouts.
Mike Smith, however, is not the best backup Roloson could have. On decline for the second year in a row, Smith has a winning 10-5 record, but his save percentage (.883) and goals-against average (3.20) are down.
Carey Price has stepped up in Montreal after 2010 playoff hero Jaroslav Halak was traded to the St. Louis Blues. He is second in the league with 29 wins, boasting an overall record of 29-21-6 in 56 games. He is also eighth with a .921 save percentage and third with six shutouts. He has a 2.38 GAA to round out a solid season to date.
Price is backed up by journeyman Alex Auld. Auld has seen limited playing time this year but has gone 5-2-1 in 11 games with a .915 save percentage and 2.61 GAA.
Tampa has one of the top power plays in the league with a 20.7-percent success rate that is ranked sixth. They are 13th on the penalty kill (82.9 percent).
Montreal has a 19.4-percent success rate on the power play and the Canadiens are ranked eighth among NHL teams. They also have a top-10 penalty kill that is ranked eighth at 83.6 percent.
Tampa over Montreal. The Bolts have more weapons on offense, and Roloson has a better playoff track record than Price and Auld.
4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 5) Washington Capitals
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Pittsburgh scores 2.83 goals a game, which is ranked ninth in the NHL. Furthermore, despite the fact that Sidney Crosby has not played since January 5, he remains the team's leading scorer with 66 points. Crosby is currently recovering from a concussion and a return date has not yet been set.
After Crosby, the Penguins are led by Kris Letang, who has 46 points. Letang is also first in helpers with 38.
Washington has not scored as many goals this year, as their 2.62 per game average is ranked 22nd. They are led by their own superstar, Alexander Ovechkin, who has 65 points this year. He also leads the Capitals with 25 goals scored and is first in the league with nine game-winning goals.The Capitals have three players with at least 40 points, while the Pens have just two.
Pittsburgh and Washington both surrender 2.45 goals per game.
Crosby still leads the Penguins in plus/minus with plus-20. Chris Kunitz is second with a plus-14, while Letang also has the highest point total among the team's defensemen. Pittsburgh has a team plus/minus rating of plus-16 (fifth in the NHL).
Washington has a plus/minus rating of plus-11 for 10th in the league. Dennis Wideman is the team's leading defensive scorer with 33 points on the year. Nicklas Backstrom's plus-18 rating leads the Capitals.
The Penguins have 2009 Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury struggled at the start of the season, but he has come into form with a record of 28-16-5. He also has a .917 save percentage and 2.37 GAA.
In 62 playoff games, Fleury is 38-24 with a .911 save percentage and 2.52 GAA.
Fleury is backed up by Brent Johnson, who is in his second year with the team. Johnson is 9-5-2 in 17 games with a .917 save percentage and 2.26 GAA. He is 5-6 with a .929 save percentage and 1.84 GAA in the playoffs.
The Capitals have turned to first year full-time player Michal Neuvirth. Neuvirth has played 38 games in his first season and he is 20-10-4 in 38 games with a .913 save percentage and 2.50 GAA.
Semyon Varlamov has been limited to 24 games, as he is currently out of the lineup with an injury. In his 24 games, he is 10-8-4 with a .923 save percentage and 2.27 GAA. Despite his struggle to stay healthy, both his save percentage and goals-against average are sixth in the league.
Edge: Even for the most part, but a slight edge to the Penguins, as they have a Cup-winning goalie.
Pittsburgh's power play, which is an ongoing issue, is 15th in the league with a 17.5-percent success rate. They have the top-ranked penalty kill and kill off 86.9 percent of their man disadvantages.
Washington's power play is near the bottom of the league with a 16.1-percent power play. However, their 85.3 success rate on the penalty kill is ranked fifth.
Capitals over Penguins. I know it sounds crazy after I gave the Penguins an edge in almost every category. However, I feel that the Penguins rely too much on Crosby when he is healthy. If he does not return, the Penguins will have limited-or-no playoff success.
The Four Remaining Teams
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Now that the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals are "completed", here is who we have left:
1. Philadelphia Flyers
2. Boston Bruins
3. Tampa Bay Lightning
5. Washington Capitals
Eastern Conference Semifinals Matchups
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1) Philadelphia Flyers vs. 5) Washington Capitals
Flyers over Capitals. Bobrovsky may be young like Capitals starter Neuvirth, but he is backed by a more reliable teammate in Boucher. The Flyers also have more offensive depth.
2) Boston Bruins vs. 3) Tampa Bay Lightning
Boston over Tampa. Tim Thomas is superior to Dwayne Roloson and Kaberle will have a will to win after playing on many Leafs squads that have failed to make the playoffs. Another Bruins newcomer, Rich Peverley, will also take advantage of being switched to a contender after he played for the Atlanta Thrashers.
Eastern Conference Finals
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1) Philadelphia Flyers vs. 2) Boston Bruins
In a classic matchup of the Eastern Conference's top two seeds, Boston narrowly grabs the Eastern Conference title from the Flyers. They will participate in their first Stanley Cup Finals since 1990.