The Central division is the toughest in the NHL. Last season five teams from the division made it into the playoffs something no other division in hockey matched. In the division you’ve got dynamic goal scorers Norris quality defensemen, top flight goalies and not a lot of mutual love.

Top Shelf

Chicago Blackhawks

They got edged for a trip to the Finals, and will likely be trading someone pretty soon. Two of their core forwards Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa are closer to the ends of their careers than the beginning, but they are probably the best balanced team in the conference. They’ve got got great forwards, strong defense and adequate goaltending.

St Louis Blues

This team is likely to take a half to a full step back this year. Elliot has never thrived as a number-one goalie, and Jake Allen is still an unknown quantity. That said, they may have the best top three for defense in Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk, and Bouwmeester. They downgrade slightly going with Steve Ott over Vlad Sobotka, but did add Paul Stastny. Jaden Schwartz remains unsigned and doubtless need to do some catching up when he gets back into the fold.

Wild Cards

Minnesota Wild

Mikko Koivu led the team to the playoffs where he, Ryan Suter and the rest waged a fierce battle in the second round with the Blackhawks. Out are Clayton Stoner and Dany Heatley. Goaltending remains as unsteady as ever, but that doesn’t distract this team. Charlie Coyle, Erik Haula, Mikael Granlund and the rest will have to dig deep and pull in some more offense, but this team is capable of laying anyone out.

Colorado Avalanche

The advanced stats and the eyeball test said this team should not have been as dangerous as they proved to be in the regular season last year. It took until the playoffs to prove it. They did lose long time contributor Paul Stastny, and replaced him with the notably older Jarome Iginla. I don’t expect them to fall out of the playoffs, but 112 points again is not that likely. It will be interesting to see how older players like Briere and Iginla adjust to playing at altitude.

The Rest

The Dallas Stars

Finally a return to the playoffs last year. This year among other moves was punting the push and passion of Alex Chaisson for Jason Spezza’s finesse and offense. Anders Lindback will be this years backup in the crease. With a full season under his belt Valeri Nichushkin should be crossing the 20 goal mark this year. Given the changes in the roster, and the injury history of some players, this team a not a lock for the playoffs, but I don’t see them in the lottery.

Nashville Predators

In the off season the Predator made several moves that collectively add up to some big question marks. James Neal an elite sniper was added at the expense of Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. Derek Roy, Olli Jokinen, Viktor Stalberg and Derek Roy were brought in to rearrange the forward group. I have no idea what these players will look like this season, and I don’t think anyone else does either. On the plus side, Pekka Rinne will have a full summer of health under his belt, Seth Jones and the other youngsters have played through the worst of things and the light is indeed brighter this year. Whatever else, the Predators have Shea Weber, and their opponents do not.

Winnipeg Jets

The weak sister of the division, the franchise hasn’t made the playoffs in years. Ownership needs to decide if they are building or breaking down, because what they are doing isn’t going to get them a Stanley Cup. They have a lot of talent in Evander Kane, Blake Wheeler, Zach Bogosian, and Dustin Byfuglien. When you look at the talent level at the top, and an average to above average middle of the roster, you have to wonder if it isn’t either the environment or the players themselves. Without reinforcement, and a strong on ice system, this team is not making the playoffs.

With Mike Fisher’s injury given a preliminary recover time that takes until about the time of the Winter Classic, assuming no set backs, the Nashville Predators are now in dire need of a quality center. Having spent the assets to acquire James Neal and Filip Forsberg in the last fifteen months, the time and the circumstances are right to double down and aim for a playoff position again.

Shea Weber is signed, rested, and should have a chip on his shoulder after another season where he probably should have gotten the Norris, or at least finished second. Seth Jones has spent a year learning the NHL. Craig Smith and Colin Wilson are now tested NHL players who have weathered the storm of disastrous seasons. Most importantly Pekka Rinne is healthy and ready for the hunt.

Out on the coast are the Boston Bruins, for many reasons the team is in cap jail and the situation isn’t going to get better any time soon with Soderberg, Boychuck, McQuaid, and Hamilton all due new contracts next year, and that’s with Torey Krug and Reilly Smith still unsigned right now. With moderate salary increases you’re likely looking at about $12 million in salary minimum between these players. Someone has to go.

Bergeron has a no movement clause and trading him for anything less than 6 first round draft picks, the Holy Grail and a roster player is likely to result in Peter Chiarelli being burned in effigy outside the Garden, (and also lower concessions, ticket sales and merchandise).  Chris Kelly, when healthy, is a great penalty killer, a top shelf checking line center, and the type of all around good dude that teams seek out, unfortunately he finished last season on the shelf, and has a full no trade clause. He’s also not the type of center the Nashville Predators currently need.  Greg Campbell is a fourth line version of Kelly with all the same problems, excepting the no trade clause.

Realistically, that leaves Carl Soderberg who has one season of NHL play to set his value and David Krejci. Krejci has found success with wingers as varied as Milan Lucic Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler, and incidentally lead the NHL in post season scoring. Moving Soderberg has essentially no impact on the Boston Bruins cap situation, it would give them about $2.6 million in cap space, about enough to renew Krug and Smith if the brass turns the screws and risks alienating both players and their agents but not really enough to add a replacement as well.

That makes David Krejci the default candidate, that he’s also the most likely to bring in a quality return is fortuitous for the Bruins. If you use the Phil Kessel trade as a benchmark you will get back a solid return and don’t spend any roster space on it. If you go with something closer to the Joe Thornton trade you retool with a mixed bag. Brad Stuart was the best defenseman on the roster when he arrived, Marco Sturm would play for several seasons and score the winning goal in the Bruins only Winter Classic appearance.

Many observers would say the Boston Bruins and Nashville Predators are both a crossroads. The Predators need to reach and advance in the playoffs if they are to be financially solvent, and grow their fanbase. The Boston Bruins have several talented prospects at center where the risk is stagnation and regression with an speedy return to a system and roster that looks like the 2005-06 roster if they don’t promote one or more players. The NHL and all it’s feeder leagues are better when more teams are competitive.

The right trade for both teams is one where both teams win. The Predators need to reestablish the themselves as a playoff team if they hope to extend James Neal, and you have to be pretty jaded not to imagine fans in Smashville enjoying a line with David Krejci centering James Neal and Filip Forsberg.

It is a truism in sports; football, and hockey most of all that defense wins championships. We’ve seen it year after year. This year it seems to be adding a wrinkle to itself. Powerplays are costing teams games. Not by failing to produce, but by favoring offense so heavily, they aren’t prepared to play responsibly.

The Dallas Stars in game two of their series with the Anaheim Ducks were down two to one in the third. They were on the powerplay. On the ice are Valeri Nichushkin, Sergei Gonchar, Colton Scevoir, Cody Eakin, and Trevor Daley. Gonchar at age 40 is not in any way the skater he was ten or fifteen years ago. Nichushkin is rookie who is not only in his first NHL season, but his first season playing hockey in North America. Facing them were Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Getzlaf, Cam Fowler, and Ben Lovejoy. Either Getzlaf or Fowler deserve watching, and if you fall asleep at the switch with both of them on the ice, you deserve what happens next. The Stars did.

The Pittsburgh Penguins had a lead last night, they went on a powerplay, and lost it. All the momentum they had, and it was notable, the disorder of the Blue Jackets was equally notable. But the Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma, the same man who was in charge of a very mushy team USA roster not long ago, puts out a PP of Malkin, Crosby, Niskanen, Kunitz an Neal against a team that had nine short handed goals in the regular season. The most defensively capable of that group is probably the 34 year old Chris Kunitz. As you know, the BlueJackets scored, the Penguins did not and the scramble began. Momentum was reversed, an the game ended ugly for Penguins fans.

In the first game of their series, the Tampa Bay Lightning faced the Montreal Canadiens.  The Bolts are up 2-1 on home ice, a raucous crowd is making the building shake. P.K. Subban is in the box for slashing.  Onto the ice storm Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, they are joined by Ondrej Palat, Ryan Callahan and completing the unit is Valeri Filppula. We can argue about who the best defender in that group is, its probably Callahan, but it doesn’t matter. They got cute, and got beat by Brian Gionta setting up Lars Eller. To highlight how little offense the pair produced only seven more points than rookie Ondrej Palat, and neither actually surpassed Stamkos who was limited to 37 games and 40 points, while Gionta and Eller played 81 an 77 respectively. While the teams went back and forth scoring on a game that went to overtime, the Lightning never led again, and lost the game.

The Pittsburgh Penguins enter the playoffs this year after being ignobly dumped in last years Eastern Conference Finals. The Columbus Blue Jackets missed the playoffs last year by the slimmest of margins and the city will see NHL playoff hockey for just the second time. The Penguins almost have to win the Stanley Cup this year to protect the jobs of Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma. The Columbus Blue Jackets have had their bench and front office shuffled repeatedly since they were last in the playoffs, and advancing almost certainly means contract extensions not just in the suits but for ice level backbone Sergei Bobrovsky.

Pittsburgh Penguins:

If there is a NHL team or player that gets more attention on or off the ice than the Penguins and Crosby, I’m not sure I know who they might be. The Captain of the Penguins is Sidney Croby, Olympian, 1st overall pick, MVP winner and a regular part of the NHL scoring race, when healthy. Evgani Malkin is another highly talented forward who floats between wing and center for the Penguins, he’s expected to be back on the ice for game one. Which version of the team will we see when the puck drops? The composed heavyweight contender we see in the regular season or the strung-out jobber that has ended their season in chaos more years than not since they won the cup?

Best Players:

Crosby, Malkin and Neal will likely have to carry even more of the burden than normal. Kris Letang, will be in the lineup after recovering from his stroke, but at what percent? His timing will be off, and he’s never been known as a staunch defender.

X-Factor

While pointing at Fleury would be accurate and easy, it isn’t going to be the biggest factor. The Penguins are used to scoring just about at will. When they don’t they come unglued, in this series they are facing one of the best goaltenders in the world with a very mobile defense in front of him. If they can’t solve Bobrovsky early and often and lose their composure they will be watching the second round and not playing it.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets

It would be an overstatement to say they are just happy to be here, but; they are just happy to be here, at least until they hit the dressing room. For an organization without a lot of playoff experience, the roster has quite a bit. 155 games among their forwards alone led by the currently injured Nathan Horton who has a Stanley Cup run behind him, and RJ Umberger one of the teams best known veterans. More importantly there is some playoff experience on their backend with Fedor Tyutin a holdover from the Jacket’s only other playoff experience, Jack Johnson’s resume has been endorsed with some time from his Kings days, and Bobrovsky’s with his time as a Flyer.

Best Players:

Ryan Johansen, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Jack Johnson are the names that spring to mind, but this team could almost be called “starless” simply because of how little media attention the team gets.

X-Factor

Execution. The offensive and defensive stats of the the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t that far apart, just seven goals separated their goals for at even strength in the regular season. Defensively they were again very similar. Once you look at how much better the team did with Bobrovski in net over backup McElhinney, you realize the Blue Jackets aren’t as over matched as some might believe.

Of the two eastern divisions, this one has the most teams who turned in a middling performance last year and put together the points needed to make the playoffs.

New Jersey Devils:

Good news: One of the most changed teams in the NHL since last year, they have a much deeper forward pool than we’ve seen in the Garden state in a long time.

Bad news: The defense is still iffy a lot of games, and we still don’t know what Schneider will look like as the #1 goalie playing full time or even an 50/50 split.

Philadelphia Flyers:

Good news: Claude Giroux is back earlier than expected. The possibly complacent group has been refreshed.

Bad news: A lack of injuries is about the best think that can be said for this “Frankenteam”, the roster is studded by buyouts, players past their prime, journeymen…

Columbus Blue Jackets:

Good news: For the first time in the careers of most of the draft picks on the roster, the team is moving in the right direction.

Bad news: High priced gun slinger Nathan Horton is out for a while, and Vinny Prospal is no longer on the roster, and for good or ill, when Horton returns it will affect team chemistry.

Pittsburgh Penguins:

Good news: The big names are all back; Crosby, Malkin, Neal. The team didn’t have a lot of turnover in the off season, they let go of their trade deadline reinforcements, demoted Bennett (and then they recalled him) but are pretty much the group we saw last year.

Bad news: Goaltending, goaltending, goaltending. Marc-Andre Fleury has been in a state of melt down for a while, Vokoun is out for who knows how long, and Jeff Zatkoff is a complete unknown at the NHL level,.

New York Islanders:

Good news: Lots of growth last year, Casey Cizikas is poised for a good year, Thomas Hickey and Griffin Reinhart will push each other and the rest of the blueline for ice time.

Bad news: in what may become the perennial question; who will play and succeed on John Tavares wing. There is also the question of goaltending.

New York Rangers:

Good news: The defense is the strength of the team. Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi are more blueline gifts than most teams own it.

Bad news: Brad Richards is still an unknown, and how well the coach works with this team is also an unknown, and Henrik Lundqvist’s preseason looked a lot like Marc-Andre Fleury’s playoffs.

Carolina Hurricanes:

Good news: They have all the offense they need to succeed, adding Hainsey will help, and Anton Khudobin is one of the best backup goalies in the NHL.

Bad news: The defense overall is pretty mediocre. Cam Ward hasn’t been healthy of late, and they are in a division that has all sorts of teams that could make the playoffs.

Washington Capitals:

Good news: Ovechkin, Laich, Carlson, Green, Backstrom is enough talent to tilt the ice in most games, adding Grabovski is almost cheating.

Bad news: We still don’t know if this roster can produce for a season and more importantly the post season.

Top three teams:

Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers

These three have the best mix of talent, grit, and balance. It would not be surprising if the Rangers were edged out by another team, but who does that, if at all, is a matter of who is healthiest.  I would not be surprised at all to see five teams from this division make it to the post season.

The 2012-13 season had highs, lows and surprising blows. Sidney Crosby jumped out of the gate and pounced on the scoring lead. Then out of no where a puck breaks his jaw and puts him on the shelf. Elder statesmen Craig Adams and Chris Kunitz led the way appearing in all 48 games while Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Paul Martin and Kris Letang all missed extended stretches. When all was said and done, with their backup goaltender turning in better stats, the Penguins were the eastern conference champions when the final regular season game was played.

The playoffs saw the Penguins escape the New York Islanders in the first round, no thanks to Marc-Andre Fluery who allowed 17 goals in 5 games and turned in his second worst playoff performance. Thankfully, there was Tomas Vokoun. In eleven games, and making his first playoff appearance since his long ago days with the Nashville Predators, Vokoun won six games, carrying the team through the second round against a depleted Ottawa Senators squad and holding the fort in what would prove to be Daniel Alfredsson’s last game in a Senators jersey. Against the Boston Bruins, Vokoun was the most blameless of the teams top players as they were swept out.

Of the core components to start last season, all are returning. None of the playoff reinforcements remain, and a mistake that was made in years past was corrected, Rob Scuderi is back in Pittsburgh. The opening five games of the season represent a chance to jump out on top of their division against not very stiff competition. Not one of their first five games is against a team that made the playoffs last year. The only set of back to backs is the last pair of games against the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers. All five of their opening games are also in the eastern time zone.

Number of days 1-5: 9

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Carolina Hurricanes or New Jersey Devils

Weakest opponent: Florida Panthers

Home games: 3

Projected points: 7+

There are several big questions looming over the team despite their undeniable collective talent. Will the Sochi Olympics cost the team any players lost to injury or fatigue? How much of a distraction will head coach Dan Bylsma’s Olympic coaching duties distract from his job as behind the bench in Pittsburgh? Will the teams official player leaders develop their leadership to a point where Ray Shero won’t feel the urge to bring in two other teams captains to help right the ship for the playoffs? And of course, when the playoffs start, will the team remember how to play in both ends of the ice? Getting to the playoffs is almost a given, even with two more playoff quality teams in the East is almost a given, but recent playoff failures raise the question of their exact nature of their mental fortitude.

For the Penguins:

1: Compusure, composure, composure. If they can’t stay focused on their system of hockey they may as well forfiet. Trying to be more physical than the Bruins or get into their heads just isn’t in the Pittsburgh Penguins DNA.

2: Play together. The Penguins have looked confused and disoriented for both games. Their normal flow of passing, and quick transition has been nonexistant. There is some amazing talent on the team, but no one or two of them are going to beat a playoff tested team that returned 18 of the players who won the Cup two years ago by themselves.

3: Don’t turn over the puck. When you’re playing any team this is important, when your goaltender is not playing well and the other team is firing on all cylnders, its is absolutely crucial.

For the Bruins

1: Don’t take stupid penalties. The Penguins powerplay will not continue to look like the Rangers powerplay, don’t give it any practice.

2:  Press the pace early. With two bad games in the bag the Penguins can not afford to get down early, and keeping them hemmed up in their defensive zone will be the best way of keeping Iginla, Neal, Kunitz and company off the score sheet.

3: Don’t stop pushing. If the Bruins are down 3-2 or up 5-0, they can not afford to allow the Penguins even a sliver of hope, there are a fistful of guys who can singlehandedly win games and for whom a four point night isn’t all that special.

For the Officials:

1: If it isn’t life or career threatening, or a required automatical call, forget the whistles. Both teams have shown a willingness to play physical, and go at it. Let them.

1.5: Call the dives. Please call the dives or the game and the series will get out of hand.

For this drinking game you’ll need two beverages. You mght want to pick drinks mathing your favorite team colors or just the two nearest things you can handle in volume.

First Drink:

Take One Sip:

  • Every time scoring chances are mentioned.
  • An opponent of from the previous round is mentioned.
  • Jarome Iginla and Matt Bartkowski are mentioned in the same sentence.
  • The cameras pan the crowd or the guy between the benches instead of a scrum.
  • You know what a coach/player is going to say in an interview before they say it.
  • Either team gets a five on three powerplay.
  • Don Cherry makes more sense than anyone else the camera has been aimed at in the last ten minutes.

Two Sips:

  • If the trade deadline is mentioned.
  • If Jagr’s time in Pittsburg is mentioned.
  • If any mention is made of the number of Stanley Cup wins a players has.
  • If the Nathan Horton vs Jarome Iginla fight is shown.
  • A goaltending change is made.
  • A pending UFA is mentioned.

Three Sips

  • A full period passes where you don’t hear the name of the junior and or college team any player was drafted from.
  • Anyone says a team is or isn’t getting bounces.
  • The broadcast fails to show a faceoff but cuts in when the puck is already in motion.
  • Two commericals for the smae company play in one commercial break.
  • A period ends with more than a 10 shot difference between the teams.

 

Second Drink

Take One Sip:

  • If Chara’s size is mentioned.
  • If any of Crosby’s past injuries are mentioned.
  • If a backup goaltender is shown.
  • If either Coach is shown standing on the bench.
  • Someone on sicial media says the offials are biased.
  • Someone dangles so much they lose the puck with no one with no help from opposing players.

Two Sips:

  • James Neal or Tyler Seguin miss high and hit the glass with a shot.
  • The broadcaster between the benches asks the guy(s) in the booth if they saw something going on in the game.
  • Someone mentiones “line shuffling”.
  • Any rookie is pointed out (Simone Despres and Beau Bennett for the Penguins, Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski for the Bruins).
  • A general manager or owner is shown.
  • A fairly routine hockey play (faceoff win, goal, or saucer pass, etc) is described as “wizardy” or magic.

 

Three Sips:

  • The Bruins powerplay scores in a game.
  • The Penguins get a shorthanded goal.
  • A too many men penalty is called.
  • A penalty is called that makes no sense.
  • Matt Cooke’s hit on Marc Savard is mentioned.

 

Double Fist (1 sip of each)

  • If the playoff win total of a coach is mentioned.
  • Trades between the teams are mentioned.
  • The age of a player or players are mentioned in relation to how long its been since the teams last played in the playoffs.
  • The regular season series is mentioned.
  • Any player is mentiond for a past award or current nomination.
  • An obvious rule is explained for no reason.
  • Some says the refs have swallowed their whistle.
  • The compressed schedule in the regular season is mentioned.
  • Everytime there’s an obvious dive that goes uncalled.
  • If there is a fight where the combined salary is more than four million dollars.
  • Players or officials are said to be sending a message.

 

Skip a drink if:

  • You find yourself unable to scream coherently at a pinkhat.
  • You start explaining a simple rule like “icing” and take longer than two minutes.
  • You can’t remember which beverage to drink from.
  • Both fourth lines are on the ice.
  • A family member, girlfriend or spouse of a player is shown in the audience.

 

Disclaimer:

You can seriously injury yourself, destroy property, or even die even if your participation in this drinking game is nothing more than water. If you should happen to do something incredibly idiotic and entertaining during this drinking game that makes it to Youtube, TextsFromLastNight or other fun sites; do send a link. It won’t make your life better, but I’ll get a laugh too. No one is responsible for the stupid you commit but you.

Feel free to tweet @PuckSage as you play.

Welcome to the Second Season, unlike most years, the second season for the best teams will run nearly half the length of the regular season.

#1 vs. #8

The Pittsburgh Penguins marched determinedly through the regular season, attempting to keep pace with the western powers. Malkin, Crosby, Letang and other key players all missed games due to injury. Crosby is out least for game one, and Jarome Iginla will be playing in the post season for the first time in almost half a decade.

The Islanders haven’t seen the post season in so long you have to wonder how many members of the staff at Nassau had vaction plans this week and next. Sixteen players will be making their playoff debut, including nearly all of their key forwards, and several of their battered blueliners. From the blueline, only three gentlemen appeared in all 48 games this season; Mark Streit age 35, Andrew MacDonald, and 22 year old Travis Hamonic who’s in his third season for the Islanders.

Players to watch:

With Crosby out, the cameras may actually grace other Penguins, Neal is a human highlight reel, Brandon Sutter is finally making himself comfortable in the NHL, and Chris Kunitz quietly led the team in goals in the regular season.

For the Islanders if you aren’t already a member of the United Temple of Taveres; get familiar. The 2009 #1 overall has outpaced his class across the board, he’s got 20 more goals than the second place goal scorer from his class, and almost three times as many as 4th place. On the backend Vishnovsky and Streit are more than capable of being momemtum changers in any zone.

Edge:

The Penguins should win this series. But that depends on Marc Andre Fleury turning in a useful playoff performence. In the last three years his sv% has been awful, despite reasonable regular season numbers, .834, .899, .891 are useful but only for making sure your team gets plenty of sun. The Islanders have a chance if Nabokov can out duel The Flower.

#2 vs. #7

The Montreal Canadiens had a wretched season last year, and reaped the draft rewards, American rookie Alex Galchenyuk made an instant impact, Vancouver Giants alumni Brendan Gallagher did as well. They’ve had a small downturn since Alexi Emelin injured himself, but they still held on to win the last Northeast division title.

The Ottawa Senators are probably glad they don’t have to make room on the plane for medical records. Overcoming injuries have defined this team this season. Jason Spezza is still out, Erik Karlsson is just back, and the list of who didn’t play all or most games is much longer than the list of those who did.

Players to watch:

P.K. Subban is the most electrifying player in this series, and possibly on all of the Canadian teams, Lars Eller has shown a willingness to get his nose dirty, and Michael Ryder still has one of the fastest releases in the NHL.

For the Senators, Alfredsson isn’t a player you should ever take your eyes off of, Kyle Turris led the team in goals and points, and Gonchar is still a consistent threat.

Edge:

Offensively the difference between these teams is night and day, the Canadiens had the fifth best offense in the regular season, and the Senators the fourth worst. On the other hand the Senators finished second in goals against, while the Canadiens were a pedestrian 14th. Craig Anderson has better post season numbers, and should be able to snatch a game or two, but the Habs should win it.

#3 vs. #6

When it comes to winning the Southeast Division, the Washington Capitals have had that locked down for most of its existance, it seems only fitting they should finish its last season on top. Unfortunately, that’s all they seem to be able to win. Maybe this year with a rejuvinated Ovechkin, a mature Carlson and Alzner, and most miraculously a healthy Green they can turn in a good performence.

Last year the New York Rangers went to the Eastern Conference finals, and but for the skill of Adam Henrique, might have gone further. Some might consider it a problem when their 12th best paid forward leads the team in scoring, especially when that player makes roughly 10% of their highest paid forward, for the Rangers, that’s just the way things are.

Players to watch:

The Caps bost a potent offense, and a bit more grit than they are given credit for, Troy Brouwer was second in goals this season, Chimera had a big season last year, and Backstrom has finally started to round back into All Star form.

While Stepan led the Rangers in scoring, Richards, Nash and Callahan have got to be due for an offensive explosion at some point, right?

#4 vs. #5

The Boston Bruins had a heap of distractions towards the end of the season with bombings, blizzards and forever long pregame ceremonies, which might excuse their poor play if it hadn’t been a season long occurance. The positives for the Bruins are that they are pretty healthy physically. The negative is that no one knows where their collective head is.

The Maple Leafs are making their return to the playoffs. Lots of this team hasn’t played in the playoffs at all, and some who have aren’t all that good in the second season. Lupul and Van Riemsdyk have the most playoff experience, Kessel is a point per game player in the playoffs, but he’ll have to get over his ineffectiveness against Chara and Boston in a hurry to keep that going.

Players to watch:

For the Bruins, everyone is waiting on Soderberg to make his impact felt, but he may well sit, watch Bergeron per usual, and see if Ference and Lucic can keep up their snarl.

The Maple Leafs have woefully underused Grabovski this season, and he might just be the key to winning this series, Kadri and Gunnarsson should also be in your crosshairs.

Edge:

The Bruins played poorly down the stretch, but the Leafs are new as a team to the playoffs, and have a bug in their heads about the Bruins. Expect a lot of physical play and for the team that wants it more to win.