Who Will Be the Beast of the East?

Who Will Be the Beast of the East?

Eastern Conference predictions

Round 1:

(1) Washington over (8) NY Rangers

(7) Buffalo over (2) Philadelphia

(3) Boston over (6) Montreal

(4) Pittsburgh over (5) Tampa Bay

Round 2:

(1) Washington over (7) Buffalo

(3) Boston over (4) Pittsburgh

Round 3:

(3) Boston over (1) Washington

Washington (1)      vs.    NY Rangers (8)

Last Cup Win: Washington (never), NY Rangers (1994)

Why the Capitals will win: They aren’t intimidated by the Rangers or their goaltender whom has been known to get in some of his opponents’ heads (see: New Jersey Devils). Washington is also one of the deepest teams in the league and they will wear their undermanned first round opponent down.

Why the Rangers will win: They spanked Washington twice this season (6-0, 7-0) and when they are on their game, the Blueshirts have all of the necessary components to go toe-to-toe with any team in the league; solid goaltending, timely scoring and team defense will lead New York to the upset win over the Caps.

Washington’s most important player: Tempted to say Alex Ovechkin, but it’s Mike Green; if he is healthy and has fresh legs he could bury the Rangers (a team that has taken a penalty or two) with his power play prowess.

New York’s most important player: The soul of the Rangers is Henrik Lundqvist, if he falters, they are cooked. He’s only won two playoff series in his career, but his league-leading 11 shutouts this season tell you that he is capable of shutting down any team in the NHL.

Washington’s biggest question mark: It has to be the goaltending, despite the fact that they won the East with three goaltenders — two of them rookies. Michal Neuvirth will get the nod to begin the series, and that’s probably the right call. He won back-to-back Calder Cups for the Hershey Bears and was victorious in 27 of his 48 starts with the Caps this season.

New York’s biggest question mark: Which version of Marian Gaborik will show up in this series? Will it be the same Gaborik that had only 48 points (22 goals) in 62 games this season or will he become the two-time 40-goal scorer that the Rangers are paying for?

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Washington (Jason Arnott, Mike Knuble), New York (Chris Drury, Ruslan Fedotenko)

PREDICTION: CAPITALS IN 6 — Gaborik and Lundqvist will show up and the Rangers will put up a fight, but Ovechkin will eliminate them with a hat trick in Game 6.

Philadelphia (2)     vs. Buffalo (7)

Last Cup Win: Philadelphia (1975), Buffalo (never)

Why the Flyers will win: Since the start of last season’s playoffs Philadelphia has probably been the best team in the NHL. With the talent on this roster they should walk all over the Sabres, but only if their power play finds itself. This season they ranked 19th in the NHL out of 30 teams, with a putrid 16.6%. Offensive juggernauts that were ranked ahead of them: Buffalo, Colorado, Atlanta, Minnesota and Ottawa.

Why the Sabres will win: They have Ryan Miller and the Flyers don’t; it’s as simple as that. He has won playoff series as the favorite and the underdog in his career, and Buffalo is the hottest team in the league heading into the playoffs. If Miller is at less than 100%, then the Sabres will be in trouble.

Philadelphia’s most important player: Chris Pronger’s presence alone will make a difference in the series, but only if he’s healthy enough to be there. His absence over the final weeks of the season is the reason the Flyers crashed and stumbled out of the East’s top spot.

Buffalo’s most important player: Aside from Miller, it’s Thomas Vanek who very quietly had a solid season — 73 points (32g-41a) in 80 games. If Drew Stafford can get into one of his hot streaks it will make a big difference in the series.

Philadelphia’s biggest question mark: As always since Ron Hextall left, it’s goaltending. Sergei Bobrovsky will start Game 1, but lurking behind him are somewhat proven veterans in Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher.

Buffalo’s biggest question mark: Can Tyler Myers and the Sabres’ defensive corps stop the flock of talented Flyers forwards is a good place to start; also how will smallish rookie Tyler Ennis (who had a real nice season) hold up in a seven-game series against the rugged Philadelphians?

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Philadelphia (Nick Boynton, Sean O’Donnell, Pronger, Kris Versteeg), Buffalo (Rob Niedermayer)

PREDICTION: SABRES IN 7 — Miller shines as Buffalo wins a l-e-n-g-t-h-y Game 7 in Philadelphia.

Boston (3)       vs. Montreal (6)

Last Cup Win: Boston (1972), Montreal (1993)

Why the Bruins will win: Boston’s depth is only matched by Washington in the East as far as I’m concerned, especially when your top three centers are Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Rich Peverley. The addition of Tomas Kaberle really balanced out the defense in Beantown too.

Why the Canadiens will win: If I had to pick one team in the East that would give Boston the biggest challenge, I’d say Montreal. These two teams know each other inside and out with all of their legendary battles throughout time. Also how will Boston react after blowing a three games-to-none lead in last year’s East semi-finals.

Boston’s most important player: Tim Thomas is the easy choice here, if he continues playing the way he did during the season (35-11-9, 2.00 GAA, .938 save %, 9 shutouts), the Bruins should be able to choke-out the sometimes offensively challenged Habs.

Montreal’s most important player: Where were you this season Scott Gomez? Horrible season (7g-31a, minus-15 in 80 games) from one of the veterans on the Canadiens, but during last spring’s run to the East Finals he put up 14 points in 19 games. If he can get on that type of run it would be much appreciated in Montreal.

Boston’s biggest question mark: The Bruins had a great year, but after choking away last season’s opportunity to beat the Flyers in the semis, anything less than a trip to the East Finals would be a failure. It will be interesting to see how they react if they get Montreal into an elimination game.

Montreal’s biggest question mark: Last season’s dramatic run was led by goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who is now with the St. Louis Blues. Now it’s Carey Price’s turn and judging from the season he just had (38-28-6, 8 shutouts) he could be a difference maker, not only this season but for many, many more to come.

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Boston (Mark Recchi (2), Shawn Thornton), Montreal (Gomez (2), Brian Gionta, Travis Moen, Hal Gill, Brent Sopel)

PREDICTION: BRUINS IN 7 – Boston will bend, but won’t break as they hold off the Habs; Nathan Horton, playing in his first playoffs, will have a monster series.

Pittsburgh (4)                vs. Tampa Bay (5)

Last Cup Win: Pittsburgh (2009), Tampa Bay (2004)

Why the Penguins will win: They have an elite goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury and Jordan Staal will not only shut down Steven Stamkos, but he’ll also chip in a few big goals.

Why the Lightning will win: Without Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, the Lightning can focus their attention on solid team defense and timely goals. Whether or not Stamkos and Simon Gagne can score multiple times will be determining factors in the series.

Pittsburgh’s most important player: It will be all of their penalty killers; they led the league killing off penalties at an 86.2% clip and if they can shut down Tampa’s powerful power play the series could be a quick one.

Tampa Bay’s most important player: If he becomes a playoff-beast once again, it will be the league’s second leading point getter Martin St. Louis (99 points). He’s a proven playoff performer (48 pts in 45 games) and if he gets hot the Pens will become postseason spectators.

Pittsburgh’s biggest question mark: If there is a small chance he can play, does Pittsburgh risk everything and put Crosby out there? If Crosby doesn’t play, who else besides Staal is going to contribute offensively?

Tampa Bay’s biggest question mark: In the 2006 playoffs, Dwayne Roloson led the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals and then blew out his knee in Game 1. That was the last time he played in a playoff game, so five years later it’s hard to tell what you are going to get from the veteran netminder.

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Pittsburgh (Chris Kunitz (2), Craig Adams (2), Fleury, Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Alex Kovalev, Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Tyler Kennedy, Michael Rupp, Max Talbot, Eric Godard), Tampa Bay (Vincent Lecavalier, St. Louis, Pavel Kubina)

PREDICTION: PENGUINS IN 7 — The Lightning prove to be a valiant opponent but Fleury will top Roloson in a wild Game 7

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

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Devils-Flyers Postgame Quotes [04.22.10]

Here are some of the postgame quotes after the Devils 3-0 Game 5 loss to the Flyers:

Andy Greene:

Can you put your finger on any one thing that went wrong during the series?

“It’s never just one thing when you get beat like that; it’s a combination of things. Special teams were a big factor, they had some big power play goals and some big stops and vice versa — we didn’t get the goals we needed on the PP and we let in a few goals on the PK, this time of year that’s what it’s about.”

The Flyers dominated you all season, beating you in 9 of 11 games this year, can you explain why?

“No, I don’t know; it’s just one of those match-ups. Like you said, for some reason they did and continued to these last two weeks.”

How disappointing is it to come into a must-win game and you can’t get a goal past Brian Boucher?

“It’s frustrating, we had good chances but we didn’t get one.”

Martin Brodeur:

Talking about the Flyers…

“They competed the whole way through, you have to really give them a lot of credit; even though we have to look at ourselves, that’s for sure, but you can’t overlook what they did.”

When you notice the way that they’re playing, in contrast was there something missing from your side?

“Well obviously; I think the urgency, the desperation. We had it in parts of games, but never full games and that came to haunt us. You look at just the second goal, it’s just a one-on-one and we blocked the shot and the next thing you know everybody collapsed and it’s a shot where two guys, my players, screened me and it went in. These things, in the playoffs, usually don’t happen; you fight through them to get a block or do something. It wasn’t in the cards for us this time around.”

The last two years it’s been the same thing pretty much, are the demons still there?

“Well, again, we’re not doing anything to give ourselves a chance to be successful. This playoff series, all throughout, it was tough; it’s bounces. When you don’t get bounces you have to find a way to get them; I think losing in overtime — that was the killer for us.”

How do you look back on 2010, with reaching 600 wins, the Olympics and now this?

“I don’t know, I guess up and down. The regular season has been pretty good, had a great experience in Vancouver; regardless of me not playing. It’s pretty tough to do, for 12 years in a row to be on top of Canada playing goal; sometimes someone might be better and that’s okay with me. I had a great, great time over there; I took my time to rest and I think it paid off for me in the last stretch of the season. Again, it’s all about playoffs — there will be 29 teams feeling exactly the way I’m feeling right now. There will be one team that will be ecstatic this year; you have to put that in perspective. But at the same time, when you have opportunities and you feel that your organization is making moves to get yourself in a position to be successful, and you fold in five (games), it’s just not right.”

Colin White:

Did the early goal just crumble all of your hope?

“No it doesn’t, you’re chasing again, but at the same time, no there’s a lot of hockey to still be played. To win a game you have to score at least one, so one goal really doesn’t matter.”

Are you shocked by the early exit?

“Obviously yeah; it sucks.”

Do you think you had a team that could go deep? I know it’s only been a few minutes, but do you think the team maybe wasn’t as good as you thought?

“You know what I can’t pinpoint one thing; lots of things go wrong to lose four games in a series. Not just one thing, especially that way — four games to one, we didn’t give ourselves much of a chance.”

What do you think the turning point of the series was?

“Like I said, I can’t pinpoint one thing; we aren’t happy with our performance. That’s the bottom line right now, I don’t make up excuses or reasons why, we just didn’t get it done.”

Peter Laviolette:

What decided the series primarily?

“It’s hard just to say one thing. I thought our PK was real good; we had to use it quite a bit. I liked the way we played 5-on-5; it seemed like it was broken up because there were so many penalties, but I liked what we did 5-on-5 defensively and offensively. I thought our goaltender played extremely well.”

How surprised are you, if surprised at all with the way Boucher played?

“I don’t think we’re that surprised about anything with our game down the stretch, including Boucher. I’ve said it before that in order to get to this position to play in the first round we had to play really well down the stretch; there was a lot of games where I thought he and the team played extremely well. We’ve been in playoff-mode for a long-time, a long time. A month really, then we kind of lost our way a little bit and came back in the last two weeks and had to grind out everything that we did. That prepared us probably a little bit.”

Claude Giroux’s game tonight and his play in the series…

“He had a terrific game. We talked to him this morning, I remember back two months ago, we were talking and he told me that he wanted responsibility; we revisited that conversation this morning with some veterans out of the lineup now. I thought that he responded with a tremendous game, in a big situation — he was a very, very good player for us.”

Can you talk about some of the sacrifices that your team made during this series?

“The amount of shots that we blocked in the series and the guys – I’ll guarantee that Lappy (Ian Laperierre) would have been back on the bench if they had been able to get him stitched up in time. He and (Blair) Betts, all of them, but he and Betts do such a tremendous job; they’re the front line in all of those blocks, (Mike) Richards, (Simon) Gagne. Really I said this before, we’ve been successful because our team is committed to it, it’s been a group that’s shown a lot of heart and a lot of character — to get into the playoffs — and then to get through this first round against a very good New Jersey team and those are examples of it.”

This team was fragile mentally earlier this season, but now it seems like nothing fazes them, what changed?

“There was ups and downs, a lot of things went on with the Flyers this year; even when I first got here we went right down to 14th in the conference, so it was an uphill grind and a battle. You lose some goaltenders along the way, you lose some people along the way, we lost our way a little bit at times. But there was a time from before Christmas right up until the time we had lost a couple of key figures in our lineup, where we were probably one of the top two or three teams in the league — for over a two-and-a-half, three-month stretch – we were playing really well. Then we lost (Jeff) Carter, (Michael) Leighton went down and Boosh came in — once he found his game he seemed to get back on track; and he hadn’t played in a while. You have to give him a lot of credit because he hung in there and has played extremely well. Tonight he looked extremely confident in net, like it wasn’t a question; he was in charge of his crease, he was in charge of the puck and I think eventually we found our way, after the first Carter injury. Our team dug in and started to play better hockey down the stretch; we won some big games and carried that into the playoffs.”

Jacques Lemaire:

Can you sum up your feelings about what happened?

“It’s frustrating not to be, in the next few days back on the ice, playing. I felt that we could have played better; we did not play playoff-hockey. Philly did a lot better job in that department. It is a little frustrating because all along I thought that we had a good team; I didn’t see this team play at their best. I don’t think I’ve seen this team play at their best yet for a period of time — a game here and there but not sustain it.”

Brodeur alluded to something like that; do you think there are players who let you down?

“Did the players let me down? I know some of the guys they give their heart, they played really hard the whole way; so I’m looking more at these players.”

You said that you thought the team wasn’t consistent, what can you point to as a reason why?

“I think it’s what we’ve been asking, we’ve been asking certain things and it seems it wasn’t done; something else was done. It’s like the PP as an example, we had before the game a certain way to do when you get the puck at the blue line, and we had a few PP’s, we had a few — quite a few. We did it once, at a time I asked a player why are we not doing it? And there was no answer.”

Is it frustrating coming into an elimination game and your team can’t score a goal?

“Especially on the PP; I think we had good chances, we moved the puck well. We didn’t get any bounces, everyone could see that. All along the series, the PP we moved the puck well but couldn’t score and I think today was the closest ones that we could get a goal; and we didn’t. Because the bounces, puck doesn’t go the right way, we miss the open net, things like that. But that happens when you don’t have everyone believing in what you have to do to win; that will happen.”

I know you weren’t here the last two years, but do you think this team can’t reach that level of playoff-hockey to get out of Round 1?

“I can’t speak for the past years, this year I mentioned it’s being able to believe in what we’ll do and play playoff-hockey. There’s not ten ways to play in the playoffs, there’s not; there’s one way to play — that’s how we need to play, otherwise we have no chance to win. We didn’t play that way.”

Your captain was very unproductive, what are your thoughts about the way he led the team; he didn’t seem to be inspiring?

“From your view, because you’re outside; I think Jamie (Langenbrunner) is doing a lot of things inside with the guys that even us coaches are not aware of. He’s been a good captain, from day one, so I don’t know why he would turn the other way.”

How much do you want Ilya Kovalchuk back?

“He’s a big piece of this club, you can see what he does — he’s a threat every time he’s on the ice. This will be up to Lou (Lamoriello) and him as far as what they want to do.”

He said he was very enthused about what he learned from you, he was very happy and said he wanted to come back…

“I like to hear that.”

Were the Flyers better than a 7-seed?

“There was what seven games, seven wins difference between them and us during the season. Both teams had a lot of injuries and seven games out of 82 is not a lot. You look at all of the playoffs (series) the difference is very thin; you only have one or two teams that is supposed to be up top and you could see — look at Washington when the playoff started, they had some questions. San Jose is exactly the same thing, and they’re the top two teams — and not by seven games, by more than that.”

Last year at this time you weren’t coaching, after this is this where you want to be?

“This is something I’ve been doing for a long time and I enjoy to be around the players, try to make them play as well as they can play; try to find ways to make them play as a team. It’s a great life that’s why I love it.”

You said they didn’t play playoff-hockey, were you surprised or did you see this coming?

“Not the first game, not the second game, but there were still things that we weren’t doing in these two (games). I thought as we went on we would correct that, and we didn’t. There are little things — battles here, battles there, the sharpness of the individual, being really positive on everything, when you try do certain things, change certain things you have their look that tells you they understand and they want to do it. It was a little lacking there.”

Devils-Flyers Preview

The New Jersey Devils will square off against their division-rivals the Philadelphia Flyers in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs beginning on Wednesday night at Prudential Center. The two teams have met three prior times in the postseason: New Jersey beat Philadelphia in the 1995 (six games) and 2000 Eastern Conference Finals (seven games) and the Flyers bested the Devils in five games in 2004’s opening round.

This past season, Philly dominated the Devils during the six-game season series with a 5-1 edge (outscoring them 20-13), but struggled to make the postseason — qualifying on the season’s final day. “For us it means nothing, for them it means everything; that’s the way you look at those things,” said New Jersey captain Jamie Langenbrunner of the one-sided season series. “They obviously had our number during the regular season, they did things that took us off our game — we’re going to have to address that, we’re going to have to understand the way they play and play accordingly.

Offense: Both teams are filled with goal-scorers who can get hot and carry their teams to a series win. New Jersey’s top two lines will contain any combination of Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Langenbrunner, Patrik Elias, Ilya Kovalchuk and Dainius Zubrus, while Philadelphia will roll out the likes of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, Simon Gagne and Claude Giroux. Both teams also have valuable grinders who could turn out to be the unsung heroes in this series – look for David Clarkson (Devils) and Ian Laperierre (Flyers) to both have an impact at some point during the series.

Edge: Even. As I stated, both teams have some serious firepower when clicking on all cylinders so it will be interesting to see which team (if any) struggles to find their goal scoring touch.

Defense: The Devils have played with a so-called ‘no-name’ defense corps since Brian Rafalski departed for Detroit, but this season they allowed the fewest goals in the entire NHL (191) and they did while their best defenseman (Paul Martin) missed 59 games. The Flyers have a collection of nasty blueliners (Chris Pronger, Braydon Coburn) and talented (Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle) that are all tough to play against. “It’s going to be tough, it doesn’t matter who you play; it’s going to be a tough series,” said Clarkson after learning his Devils would tangle with the Flyers. “A team like that, you know you’re going into war and that’s what we’re going to do in here. We’re going to play team hockey, play great defensively and give everything we have every night.”

The biggest questions facing each squad will be what kind of impact will Andy Greene and Martin Skoula have for New Jersey and will Pronger be able to stay out of the penalty box for the Flyers.

Edge: Philly. Even if the Devils survive this round, chances are that Parise, Kovalchuk and Elias may be worn down from having to deal with Pronger for possibly seven games.

Goaltending: Martin Brodeur and Brian Boucher last met in the playoffs in 2000 when the Devils rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to beat Boucher and the Flyers at Philadelphia in Game 7. Since then Brodeur has appeared in 92 playoff contests and Boucher has only been in four. Brodeur comes into the series maybe as hot as he’s ever been to close a regular season — surrendering only seven goals over seven games, including back-to-back shutouts. Boucher (4-6-1 in last eleven starts) is basically the only goalie left standing in Philly’s crease after injuries to Ray Emery and Michael Leighton, so if he goes down the Flyers will be in deep trouble.

Edge: New Jersey. Brodeur is hot and Boucher, despite winning two of the final three games, is not.

Intangibles: The Flyers come into the series with the NHL’s third best power play (21.5%) and their penalty killers ranked 11th (83.0%). The Devils finished 11th on the PP (18.7%) and the least-penalized team in the league finished 13th on the PK (82.8%). Both coaches — Jacques Lemaire (1995 with NJ) and Peter Laviolette (2006 with Carolina) — have won a Stanley Cup, so they both know what it is going to take to guide their teams to the where they want to be. New Jersey has more experience as far as rings go, but Philadelphia has had more recent success during the postseason.

Edge: Even. The specialty teams will be a wash, but if the Flyers take reckless penalties (as they are known to do) the Devils will have to capitalize to take control of the series.

Prediction: New Jersey in 6. This will be a hard-hitting, nasty series that will leave many players on both sides battered and bruised. “It’s going to be very intense games. I know it’s a big rivalry and the rivalry is going to continue,” said Kovalchuk. I believe Brodeur will steal a game (for the first time since ‘03) in Philly and avoid sending the series back to the Rock for a Game 7.

Dan Rice covers the New Jersey Devils & NHL for NYCSportsnetwork.com. He can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.