It’s that time of year, when anyone who hasn’t managed to completely abandon social responsibility goes into hibernation for several hours a couple times a week. The NHL playoffs are here.
1: New York Rangers vs 8: Ottawa Senators
The Rangers have the advantages in goaltending, in playoff experience, penalty kill and in team toughness. That’s not to say the Senators are pushovers, but the Rangers had 10 more fighting majors than the Senators. The Senators own a noticeably better powerplay, a more powerful offense overall, and better leadership. Age is roughly the same with the Senators have a larger spread between their players ages.
On paper the Rangers should win this series handily. Unfortunately we don’t know how healthy Lundquist is (again) and the Senators won the regular season series against the “superior team”.
2: Boston Bruins vs 7: Washington Capitals
Can you say goalie issues? I knew that you could! The Boston Bruins still have a healthy Tim Thomas and that’s a damned spiffy thing to have. Unfortunately between the two teams there are two goalies who have never played an NHL playoff game (Khudobin, Holtby), one goalie ineligible to play at all (Turco), and count ‘em three goalies currently injured (Rask, Vokoun, Neuvirth) which makes for exciting times for the coaches. For the Capitals who were likely to find themselves out matched in goal anyways, it makes it worse that their likely starter Brayden Holtby has just 21 NHL games (14-4-3) to his name, and none of them playoff games and only seven of them this season.
The Capitals won the season series against the Bruins, on the other hand three of those games came during that ice defiling slump they were in. The bad news for the Bruins who have since resurrected their team identity is that the Capitals have Backstrom back. On paper I thin almost anyone has to give this series to the Bruins, but the Capitals won’t make it easy.
3: Florida Panthers vs 6: New Jersey Devils
These two teams are both making their return to the second season. The Sons of Sunrise as an organization haven’t been in the playoffs in forever, but Brian Campbell and Kris Versteeg lifted the Stanley Cup together, Samuelsson, Sturm, Bergenheim, Kopecky, Madden, and Jovonovski bring in another 500 or so games of NHL playoff experience as well. The Devils have an odd mix of experience and new blood, Broduer has been there and done that. but almost no one else has seen even the conference finals. Most haven’t made it out of the first round. Ilya Kovalchuk who should be on the Hart Trophy short list has only played in one playoff game in which his team won. Zach Parise hasn’t seen the second round of the playoffs since his second year in the league, and he wasn’t expected to be a cornerstone of the team then. Adam Henrique is of course a rookie, and even though he probably deserves the Calder Trophy, he hasn’t played even one professional playoff game and none since the Memorial Cup run a few years back.
The goals for department favors New Jersey slightly, the goals against is a dead heat. The penalty kill is a walkoff for the Devils, but the Panthers hold the edge in the powerplay. The Panthers both generate and give up more shots than the Devils. This series will probably go the distance, with more playoff experience on the Panthers side, unless MB30 looks like the guy of 10 or even 5 years ago, you should not be shocked if the Panthers advance after their first ever division title.
4: Pittsburgh Penguins vs 5: Philadelphia Flyers
There will be no love in these games. Not unless its a love of winning and rubbing ones opponents face in it. The teams hate each other, the fans would cheerfully massacre the other cities, and the coaches aren’t over fond of each other either. This will be as compelling to watch as last year Boston vs Montreal series, and should be the best opening round matchup in either division.
With the relative tightness of the race, this series will come down to guts and discipline. The Penguins are better at home, the Flyers better on the road. The powerplays have identical proficiency, the penalty killing edge is in the Penguins favor, the teams delivered an identical number of hits, and the Flyers blocked more shots. While neither Bryzgalov nor Fleury did anything they wanna brag about in the last few days of the regular season, neither one had a bad March with the edge going to the Flyers keeper. Fleury has been to the promised land and Bryzgalov has not. That said, Bryzgalov has the better post season save percentage, and Bryzgalovs career save percentage against the Penguins is much, better than Fleury’s against the Flyers (.930 vs .901).
As Jim Ross would say, this one fixes to be a good old fashioned slobber-knocker.