NHL First Round: The Journey Begins

Nucks IceMan@nucksiceman@twitter.comCorrespondent IApril 14, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 07:  Chris Drury #23 of the New York Rangers celebrates his second period goal against the Montreal Canadiens on April 7, 2009 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

It’s been said that the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in ALL sports. When you look at how many rounds and games a team must play, and everything that must fall into place, it makes a lot of sense.  Health of the team, positional play by key members, the team being in synch, depth, coaching, special teams, there are so many facets that have to click on all cylinders in order for the success to take place.

So how do the teams, four groups (eight teams) in each conference match up and who looks like they will make it to the second round?  Who’s coming in on a roll and who is staggering in?  Let’s have a look at the Eastern Conference first.

Never mind where any of these teams finished, its how they match up that counts.

Boston vs. Montreal -  Boston owned Montreal this year losing only once to the Habs.  The Bruins are big and bad, best GA in the NHL, 12th best PK and 4th best PP.  Another key stat, that had the best 5 on 5 F/A in the NHL and finished strong going 7-2-1-0 in their last 10 games.  Too much offense for the Habs to handle (7 Boston players scored 20+G’s); just barely made it into the playoffs, and the goaltending (21st) just is not good enough.  Chara is a key shut down guy, Thornton and Lucic's physical play will wear down the Habs D.  Boston with home ice advantage in 5, just too good.

Washington vs. NY Rangers - When you have a player like Ovechkin, you have that offensive punch that is hard to match.  You throw in Backstrom, Semin, and a future Norris trophy candidate in Mike Green who scored 31 goals from the D position and the Rangers will be hard pressed to match that.  What the Caps may have trouble doing is keeping the puck out of their net, as they finished 19th in GA.  Jose Theodore does not match up well with 6th place Henrik Lundqvist.  Scoring on the PP for the Caps may prove to be more than they bargained for as the Rangers had the best PK in the league, as opposed to the Caps who came in at 17th.  The Rangers top scorer was a trade day pickup in Nik Antropov with 59 points.  Hey NY, Ovechkin scored 56 GOALS.  In the head to head series, the Caps 3-1 and have home ice advantage. 

The only way Washington loses, is if that pest Sean Avery, takes Ovechkin off his game, and Lundqvist steals a couple, otherwise Capitals in 6.

NJ Devils vs. Carolina - This could be the surprise, because really, with parity so apparent these days, that’s all it would be.  Carolina comes into this series with the second best, last 10 game wins record in the NHL (8-2).  They also have won 3 out 4 meetings with the Devils.  Key here is Martin Brodeur’s goaltending (NJ - 4th best to Carolina’s 8th).  Special teams are a wash really, PP - NJ - 15th, Canes - 18th and the PK - Canes - 19th, NJ - 20th.  NJ has home ice advantage.  Both teams have talent and leadership - NJ - Parise, Elias, Langenbrunner, Zajac, Gionta, Rolston, and Madden Shanahan.  Canes - Whitney, Staal, Ruutu, Brind’Amour, Cullen.

NJ is heading into this round on a losing note (4-5-1), and have not been playing well, so the Canes in 7, unless Brodeur steals the show. 

Pittsburg vs. Philadelphia - This will be a tough physical series and even before the Pens knew who they were going to meet, they added that toughness on trade day, looking ahead.  Craig Adams from Chicago, Chris Kunitz from the Ducks, and Bill Guerin from the Islanders.  The Pens offense is really a couple of big play guys in Crosby and Malkin.  Sure they have some good parts in Staal, Sykora, Fedotenko but they’ll need all the bang and crash guys to be front and centre against the Flyers. 

Pittsburg comes in on a 7-2-1 and Philly with a 4-5-1 and 2 loses in their last 3 games.  Those two loses cost them home ice advantage and they have not been playing well going down the stretch, unlike the Pens.  Their goaltending is matched up, Philly 16th, Pens 17th.  PP is no contest with the Flyers 6th, Pens 20th but the PK - close, Flyers 6th, Pens 8th.   Head to head the Pens are 4-2.  Philadelphia’s scoring is spread out with two 20+ and four 30+ G scorers. 

This will go 7 games, with the better 5 on 5 F/A (6th) and home ice advantage in Pittsburg deciding it

The Western Conference, tomorrow.