NHL playoffs, Eastern Conference scoop

Whatever your playoff tradition is, be it drinking Molson’s, growing your beard to unforeseen human levels or playing Brass Bonanza, the Hartford Whalers theme song during break’s in the action one thing is for sure, for NHL fans this is the best time of the year!

Vancouver comes in to the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the best offense in the league, the highest scorer in the league (Henrik Sedin) and a level of depth and experience that most teams simply can’t match. They play an intriguing first round series against the Chicago Blachawks who after winning the Stanley Cup and being forced to make salary cap cuts in the off-season, backed into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season.

This is just one of eight series that we’ll be breaking down and predicting. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, here are my fearless NHL playoff predictions

We’ll start in the East.

Washington Capitals (1) vs. New York Rangers (8)

If you are somehow in the Greater Washington Metropolitan area and what to see the Capitals play, I’ll give you a tip; look for those game seven tickets now.

In the last three season’s, the Capitals have been involved in four playoff series, with all four of them going seven games. At first appearance, this one appears to be a prime candidate to make this the fifth straight playoff series to go seven games for the Capitals, as the Rangers are #4 in blocked shots and #1 in the NHL in hits, two factors that the Montreal Canadians used to befuddle Washington in its seven game upset of the Capitals last year.

And like Montreal, the Rangers come in with a much better goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist. Still, Lundqvist has started 27 straight games, and that streak will start to add a strain to his game by the end of this series.

The Capitals also come in with a much better defensive mindset then they had last season. No longer are the Capitals a free-wheeling team, but a team that likes to trap and has used this to great advantage, giving up only 104 goals in the last 50 games of the season.

Oh, and the Caps have that Alexander Ovechkin dude. Apparently he likes playing in the spotlight of New York.

Caps in 6.

Philadelphia Flyers (2) vs Buffalo Sabres (7)

Philadelphia has a famous broken bell, but is this the season that they add another cup to that landscape?  Right now, the survey points to no as the Flyers have been abysmal lately, going 1-2-2 over their last five games and giving up 20 goals over that five game stretched.

Frankly, this is a much different defense with Chris Pronger, who still is feared around the NHL. His return will help, but he is not expected to be back till late in the first round.

But I don’t think the Flyers will need him.

The Sabres may be the hot team right now, going 8-1-1 over the last ten, and no one could argue that Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller is level’s beyond Flyers net-minder Sergei Brobroski. Still, I think the Flyers have a better mix of power forwards and ‘burners’ on offense. In the course of this series, the Flyers should physically be able to wear down a Buffalo squad who between Thomas Vanek, Tyler Ennis, Jason Pominville and Tim Connoly, is anything but physical.

Flyers in 5

Boston Bruins (3) vs Montreal Canadians (6)

While Montreal police officers want Zdeno Chara to be sent to the UN’s war commission for his hit on Max Pacorietty that left Pacorietty with a concussion and fractured vertebra in his neck, this one will be settled on the ice. The great philosopher Voltaire once said, “history is nothing more than a tableau of crimes and misfortunes,”and in the end, the Chara case will only be the latest in a long list of ‘crimes and misfortunes’ committed by both teams against each other. The Habs versus the Bruins. The know each other, and familiarity hasn’t exactly breed any type of longstanding friendship as these  two ‘original six’ teams will meet again in the playoffs for a record, 33 time.

But there’s more than even that major sub-plot that makes this one an interesting series. Montreal won the series, but Boston has the more dominant victory, judo chopping the Habs by a 7-0 count on March 24.

At the end of the day, I think this is a much more obvious series to pick then people think. Boston has a deeper and more proficient defense, a better offense, (outscoring Montreal by 30 in the course of the regular season) and a battle tested goalie in Tim Thomas who had the lowest goals against average of any goalie in the league at 2.00, and a league high 11 shutouts.

Is Carey Price still the answer in Montreal? I am still not convinced.

Bruins in 5

Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs Tampa Bay Lightning (5)

If the Habs vs Bruins is hockey equivalent of the Crips versus the Bloods, the Allies versus the Axis, Power Rock versus Easy-Listening then this match-up is the exact opposite of that as these two teams have never met in the playoffs.

Still, this is a very interesting match-up as the upstart Lightning have a powerful, pressing attack, with  some certifiable studs on offense like Steven Stamkos, (45 goals, 46 assists) the shifty Martin St. Louis (31 goals, 68 assists) and Vinny Lecavalier who added another +50 point season. Still, the fact that Tampa, toward the end of the season, almost seemed to concede the Southeast Conference to the Washington Capitals, rather than raise their level of play, makes us wonder about the Lightning fight.

Tampa, also can easily be exposed on the back blue-line, as most of Tampa’s d-men are merely average. There is no one on that squad you would consider to be a ‘shutdown defenseman.’

Oh, and Tampa’s starting goaltender is forty-one year old Dwayne Roloson. Most 41-year-old goaltenders at this point are already considering an early subscription to the AARP, not working on their glove-hand reflexes, and in the playoffs Roloson will be exposed.

Kris Letang is struggling, the Penguins are missing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and without those two key players, the Lightning do seem to hold the cards in terms of talent. Pittsburgh though has stepped into the ring for this type of prizefight before, and in this series, character and the expert coaching of Dan Byslma will allow them to last at least one more round.

Penquins in 6

Eastern Conference Final

Boston over Washington in 7

Despite having the advantage in ‘high-end’ talent with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals won’t be able to find enough holes in Boston’s central defense to knock the Bruins out.

This one will be a marathon, and that marathon may last well in a deciding game seven that  may turn into a double or triple overtime battle of the wills, but in the end, Boston’s goal tendingg tandem Tim Thomas, and the highly capable Tuukka Rask, (who sounds like some type of skin-tissue disease you’d consult a doctor for) will in the end carry the day.

West playoff preview upcoming, keep an eye out for it.

Used with permission of the author.

Based in Washington, D.C. Michael Hoffman has covered D.C. sports for numerous publications and is the Washington Redskins columnist and Washington Capitals columnist for Examiner.com. Hoffman is also an NFL and NHL contributor to Sports Climax.

Copyright ©2011 Sports Climax, LLC

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