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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Hedberg & Devils Blank League-Leading Capitals

In game two of this season the New Jersey Devils played the Washington Capitals and got smoked in D.C. to the tune of 7-2. In game 21 on Monday night at the Prudential Center, with both teams heading in different directions, the Devils evened the score by shutting out the NHL’s most talented team in a much-needed 5-0 win. It was perhaps their most complete game of the season as four different players tallied goals and Johan Hedberg was rock solid in net to the tune of 30 saves and his first shutout as a Devil.

Jason Arnott scored twice for the winners (bumping his team-leading total to eight) and rookie Mattias Tedenby continued to impress with a penalty shot goal and the primary assist on the winning goal — scored by him and Arnott’s linemate, Patrik Elias. “He said before the game he felt good,” said Elias of the 20-year-old Swede, “he was right.”

With rookie Braden Holtby making his fifth appearance in an NHL game, Elias opened the scoring 5:49 in when it appeared he got the shaft of his stick on a crisp pass from Tedenby during a power play. He admitted to the media that the puck hit Caps’ defenseman Mike Green’s stick and hit off of his pants leg. Arnott doubled the lead at 16:15 when he carried the puck into the zone, fought off Capitals’ defenseman John Erskine and forward Brooks Laich, and then scored on a quick wraparound that had Holtby spinning in his crease.

Tedenby was pulled down by Erskine on a breakaway 1:59 later and he was able to make it 3-0 for his Devils on a penalty shot when he calmly skated in and flipped a backhand shot over the fellow rookie’s glove hand. “I don’t know if it’s good or luck,” he admitted shyly after the game before a media crowd.

Arnott added his second goal of the game 2:43 into the second period, collecting the rebound of Andy Greene’s point shot and sliding it into the net and Dainius Zubrus delivered the final blow when he flicked a rebound into the net after a well-orchestrated 3-on-2 into the Caps’ zone.

To their credit, Washington never quit, and they certainly made Hedberg work for his 15th career shutout. “It felt good,” said the Devils’ netminder. “We needed a win badly and I think the way we played we started something good.” He denied dangerous sniper Alexander Semin’s wrist shot from deep in the slot midway through the second.

The great-eight aka Alex Ovechkin challenged Hedberg 6:10 into the third period with a booming slap shot that loudly bounced off the goalie’s leg pad – right back to the ever-dangerous Ovechkin who quickly fired another shot towards the goal. But his shot rang off the goal post and bounced away, perhaps signaling that this would indeed be the Devils’ night. They’ve now won two in a row at the Rock, a small positive, but something that they can build on, as well as the 5-0 thrashing of the team with the NHL’s best record.

Game Notes: The Devils are honoring their former coach Pat Burns with memorial “PB” patches on their jerseys for the next four home games. Each of the jerseys will then be autographed by the entire team and auctioned off. Proceeds from the sale of the jerseys will be donated in Pat Burns’ memory to La Maison Aube-Lumiere, a cancer hospice in Sherbrooke, Quebec. The team also showed a brief video and held a moment of silence before the game. Elias, Arnott, Tedenby and Greene each had two points in the game; Tedenby led all players with a +3. Ovechkin and Semin led all players with five shots on goal apiece, while Elias and Arnott led New Jersey with four each. Washington defenseman John Carlson led all skaters in ice-time with 27:11, while Henrik Tallinder led New Jersey with 25:23. Ovechkin led all players with five hits, while Devils defensemen Colin White and Anton Volchenkov had a game-high three blocked shots each. New Jersey (6-13-2) is off until Wednesday when they host Calgary (8-11-1) and Washington (14-6-2) is also back in action that same night when they play at Carolina (9-9-2).

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Mattias Tedenby (NJ) – goal (3), assist (2)

#2 – Johan Hedberg (NJ) – 30 saves, win (2), shutout (1)

#3 – Jason Arnott (NJ) – 2 goals (8)

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

Devils Slap Caps Scoring 5 Unanswered Goals

Sorry, no Recap from Devils 5-2 win over Washington on Saturday due to computer issues, but here are my three stars of the game, the line combos/d-pairings and game notes:

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 — Jamie Langenbrunner (NJ) – pp goal (4), assist (11)
#2 — Nicklas Bergfors (NJ) – 2 assists (9)
#3 — Dainius Zubrus (NJ) – assist (5), 71% face-offs (10-4)

Game Notes: The win was number 1,000 for the Devils since moving to New Jersey. Devils defenseman Colin White scored his first goal in 80 games. Washington’s Tomas Fleischmann scored the first goal of the game and has points in eight straight games (7g-3a). Capitals captain Chris Clark played in his 500th NHL game. Andy Greene led all skaters in ice-time with 25:36 and was a game-high +3, Mike Green led the Caps with 23:51 and had two assists. Zach Parise led all players with five shots on goal and scored a goal for the fourth straight game. Rookie Tim Sestito, playing in his fourth career game, got his first career point/assist on fellow rookie Matt Halischuk’s first NHL goal.

Line combos/d-parings:

New Jersey:
Parise-Zajac-Elias
Rolston-Zubrus-Langenbrunner
Halischuk-Sestito-Bergfors
Peters-Pelley-Clarkson

White-Mottau
Greene-Fraser
Salvador-Murphy

Washington:
Semin-Backstrom-Fleischmann
Laing-Morrison-Fehr
Bradley-Perreault-Clark
Steckel-Laich-Gordon

Green-Morrisonn
Poti-Sloan
Pothier-Schultz