NHL Playoff Schedule 2011: Who to Watch During the First Week of the Postseason
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The NHL Playoffs finally start tonight and some hockey fans can finally take a deep breath because their teams are officially in.
One of the best things about the NHL Playoffs is that it is full of non-stop action and entertainment. Let's take a look at some of the players we must watch in the first week of each series.
No. 1 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 8 Chicago Blackhawks
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The Blackhawks begin to defend their title tonight at 10:00 PM ET in Vancouver. These two teams played each other four times during the regular season, where each team won two games.
Who to Watch: Roberto Luongo
Roberto Luongo has been great between the pipes all season. He played in all four games against Chicago this season. He went 2-1-1 and held a very high save percentage against the Hawks with .938.
Luongo is the key to Vancouver's success in the postseason. As the No. 1 seed, they have home-ice advantage for the entire playoffs. This is key because Luongo is outstanding at home. He won 21 games at home and was defeated a total of 11 times.
His goals-against average in Vancouver is 1.90, which is something that is going to be very hard to deal with for the Blackhawks on the road. In the two games he played in Chicago this season, Luongo was a brick wall. He saved a total 63 of 64 shots, a .984 save percentage.
This series is full of superstars. Toews, Kane, Hossa and the Sedins will make an impact. However, the main player to watch is Robert Luongo.
No. 2 San Jose Sharks vs. No. 7 Los Angeles Kings
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The Sharks and Kings get an extra day of rest. They start their series tomorrow night at 10:00 PM ET in San Jose.
Who to Watch: Patrick Marleau
The San Jose Sharks have the home-ice advantage in this series, and playing at home will come in handy for the Sharks. The amount of points Patrick Marleau produces at home compared to on the road is incredible.
At the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Marleau has scored 26 times and has assisted 23 times. When he plays on the road, he only scored 11 goals and added 13 helpers. His 49 points at home compared to the 24 he put up on the road is very eye-opening.
He also plays very well against the Kings. In six games against Los Angeles, he has scored three times and has assisted five times.
This All-California series is going to be very entertaining. Look for Marleau to be the difference maker.
No. 3 Detroit Red Wings vs. No. 6 Phoenix Coyotes
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Just like in last season's playoffs, the Red Wings and Coyotes meet up in the first round. Last year, the series went seven games before Detroit was declared the winner. The Coyotes travel to Detroit to play their first game of the postseason tonight at 7:00PM ET.
Who to Watch: Ilya Bryzgalov
Even though he is missing the first game, Henrik Zetterberg is going to be a key player in this series. It doesn't matter if he is on the road or at home, he puts up great numbers. But the main player to watch this series is Coyotes goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.
Bryzgalov won 36 games for Phoenix. His goals-against average is slightly under 2.5 per contest and his season save percentage was a solid .921. He is key in this series, because he found success when he played Detroit this season.
Bryzgalov had four starts against the Red Wings this season. He picked up points in each game, winning two and losing two in overtime. Obviously, home teams in the playoffs have an advantage. But in the two games he played the Joe Lewis Arena, Bryzgalov posted a .941 save percentage. Compared to the shaky goaltending of Jimmy Howard, Phoenix has the advantage in goaltending.
Bryzgalov went seven games last season against Detroit. Look for him to take them as far, or maybe even farther, this season.
No. 4 Anaheim Ducks vs. No. 5 Nashville Predators
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Anaheim get the first two games of this series at home. Starting tonight, the Predators and the Ducks face off as 10:30 PM ET in the first round.
Who to Watch: Pekka Rinne
Rinne had a phenomenal season in Nashville. He won 33 games and gave up a little over 2.1 goals a game. His save percentage was a great .930. This season, he went a perfect 3-0 against the Ducks and his save percentage was a very solid .943.
The Nashville Predators are going to go as far as Pekka Rinne can take them. Which could be very far.
No. 1 Washington Capitals vs. No. 8 New York Rangers
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The top-seeded Washington Capitals open postseason play against the New York Rangers tonight at 7:30 PM ET.
Who to Watch: Alex Ovechkin
In the previous slides, I list players who greatly produce against the teams they are playing in the first round. It is not the case for Ovechkin. Alex struggled majorly against the New York Rangers this season. In the four games he played, he went goalless and only recorded two assists. The Rangers won three out of the four meetings.
If Ovechkin wants to finally get to a Stanley Cup final, he must be able to solve Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers defense.
No. 2 Philadelphia Flyers vs. No. 7 Buffalo Sabres
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The Philadelphia Flyers start their journey to get back to the Stanley Cup finals Thursday night in Philadelphia against the Buffalo Sabres at 7:30 PM ET.
Who to Watch: Danny Briere
In the four games Briere played against Buffalo this season, he registered eight points. That is the most points he scored against a single team. Briere tickled the twine three times, and added five helpers. Briere is also going to be a key player when the team plays in Buffalo. Briere found great success on the road, scoring 20 of his 34 goals away from the Wachovia Center.
Briere is going to be the reason if Philadelphia can advance to the Conference semis.
No. 3 Boston Bruins vs. No. 6 Montreal Canadiens
The Bruins host Montreal Thursday night at 7:00 PM ET to each teams first playoff series.
Who to Watch: Milan Lucic
Lucic had a great season. Scoring 30 goals and finishing with 62 points. When it came to playing Montreal, Lucic knew how to solve Carey Price. In the six regular season games he played against the Habs, he scored four goals and added five assists to finish with nine points. He also carried a very high plus-nine rating. Lucic really spread out his scoring. He totaled 33 points at home and 29 points on the road.
Lucic has to be happy that he gets to go up against the Montreal defense. A defense that he scored the most points on in the season.
No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 5 Tampa Bay Lightning
ilya bryzgalov red wings
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The Penguins look to make it three Stanley Cup finals in four years when they open up against the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight at 7:00 PM ET.
Who to Watch: Marc-Andre Fleury
The anchor of the Penguins defense, Fleury, is the key player to watch in this series. The Penguins had the sixth best defense in the league this season, giving up only 2.4 goals a game. They had the greatest penalty team in the league, killing off 86.1 penalties.
Since Crosby suffered a concussion, Fleury has been the key to the team's success. The Penguins played Tampa Bay four times this season, beating the Lightning twice. Fleury's save percentage was .922 and gave up just over two goals a game against Tampa Bay.
The Penguins look for a big series from Fleury. So they can move on and, hopefully, have Sidney Crosby return.