Stanley Cup Playoffs: Five Predictions for Washington vs. New York Rangers
The most wonderful time of year has arrived. The Stanley Cup playoffs are upon us.
Your Eastern Conference Champion Washington Capitals will take on the eighth seeded New York Rangers. Wait...you ask, the Caps won the Eastern Conference? Yes, the team that endured an eight game losing streak in December which was chronicled on HBO's 24/7 and sent head coach Bruce Boudreau into a profanity laced tirade, rebounded by winning the Winter Classic on New Year's Day then posted a record of 27-10-5 in its last 42 games.
The Caps enjoyed a nine game win streak from February 6, 2011 - March 16, 2011.
The club finished the season 8-2-0 in its last 10 games which gave the team the momentum to catch and pass the Philadelphia Flyers and win the conference.
The New York Rangers were a Jekyll and Hyde team for most of the season. Injuries to key members of the team played a role in the club going in and out of contention on almost a daily basis. The club went 21-19-2 in its last 42 games. The Broadway Blueshirts enter the playoffs 5-4-1 in the last 10 tilts.
The best of seven series begins on Wednesday April 13, 2011 at 7:30pm in Washington.
Here are five predictions for the first round series, including which team will advance to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Prediction 1: Henrik Lundqvist Will Pitch One Shut out in the Series
New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist shut out Washington twice this season on his way to leading the National Hockey League in shut outs with 11.
He shut out other NHL heavyweights such as Boston, Philadelphia, and Vancouver, during the season, as well.
"King Henry" is a world class goaltender who gets better with each season. The 29-year-old native of Are, Sweden finished the 2010-2011 regular season fifth in games played with 68, sixth in wins with 36, seventh in the league with a 2.28 goals against average, and seventh with a .923 goals against average. He has been, arguably, New York's best player game in and game out and is being mentioned as a Vezina Trophy candidate.
Henrik Lundqvist has the ability to win games by himself. It says here he will win at least one game and it will be by a shut out.
Prediction 2: Washington's Jason Arnott Will Be a Power Play Sniper
The Capitals traded with the New Jersey Devils for Jason Arnott for two reasons. First, he has his name on the Stanley Cup. Arnott was a key member of the 2000 Devils when they won hockey's holy grail. The second, is for his prowess on the power play.
In 106 career Stanley Cup playoff games, the 6 foot, 5 inch, 220 lbs. forward has scored 30 goals. At first glance that number does not jump out at you but when you look further, you will see that 14 of those 30 goals have come on the power play. During the 2010-2011 season, Arnott scored 17 goals with 4 being on the power play. Every team in the National Hockey League would love to have that type of production out of one its key players, especially in the playoffs.
Washington finished the season with the 16th best power play, however, that power play operated over half the season without Arnott. With him, look for the Caps to be among the league leaders in that category during this series.
Prediction 3: This Will Be Ranger Artem Anisimov's Coming out Party
For the Rangers to win the series, they will need big contributions from their star players such as Chris Drury, Brandon Dubinsky, and Marian Gaborik. The team will also need their role players to step up and perform outside of their comfort zones. One such player needs to be, and will be, Artem Anisimov.
Anisimov is just 22 years of age but his speed, shot, and creativity with the puck, have put him ahead of most of his teammates when it comes to possessing high end skills. He is on the verge of becoming a star in the National Hockey League and it all begins with this series.
The Russian born youngster is in his second full season with the Rangers. In 2010-2011, Anisimov finished fifth in team scoring with 18 goals and 26 assists totaling 44 points. For his career, he has averaged almost one half point per game. Very good production for someone who has only two seasons in the NHL under his belt.
Playoff hockey in New York is the big stage. Look for Artem Anisimov to be a big performer for the Rangers.
Prediction 4: Capitals Michal Neuvirth Will Be the Main Man in Goal
During the 2010-2011 season, Washington played three different goaltenders, Semyon Varlamov, Braden Holtby, and Michal Neuvirth. Neuvirth received the bulk of the playing time among the three.
Neuvirth emerged as the go to guy in the crease. He led the trio of netminders with a 27-12-4 record while compiling a 2.45 goals against average and a .914 save percentage.
Early in the season, it was thought that goaltending would be the Capitals Achilles heel but with the emergence of Neuvirth along with the team's new commitment to a more defensive approach to the game, Washington became a more responsible team in the defensive zone. The Caps allowed just 197 goals. Only Boston allowed fewer goals with 195 among Eastern Conference teams. Gone are the days when the forwards and defensemen could be sued for non-support when the puck was in the Caps zone and when needed, the 23-year-old Neuvirth was there to come up with the big save.
Neuvirth is technically and fundamentally sound. He does not waste movement in the crease, stays square to the puck, and challenges shooters with his positioning in the crease.
Washington's two other puckstoppers, Semyon Varlamov and Braden Holtby, are more than capable to step in should Neuvirth falter. Neuvirth has more playoff experience as he has been on the winning side of the last two American Hockey League Calder Cup Championships. He knows how to win. He will the goaltender asked to win for Washington in this series.
Prediction 5: The Series Winner Will Be...
With strong goaltending expected from Michal Neuvirth, a renewed commitment to team defense, and the fire power brought to the ice from the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Mike Knuble, Jason Arnott, and Mike Green, the Washington Capitals will win this first round series versus the New York Rangers.
Ranger netminder, Henrik Lundqvist will need as much defensive and offensive support as his teammates can muster. Unfortunately, with Marian Gaborik and Chris Drury just returning from injury and the loss of Ryan Callahan to a broken leg, King Henry will need to win a game by himself. He will do so but it will most likely be the only game New York wins.
Washington will win this series in five games.