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-Canadiens Postgame Quotes [12.16.09]

Here are some of the postgame quotes after Wednesday’s 2-1  win by the Devils over the Canadiens:

Patrik Elias:

Why is it that you and Brian (Rolston) are really clicking right now?

“It’s not just me and Brian; I think that Zharkov is doing a lot to make it fun, to make it successful as a line. We’re playing as a unit, all three guys; you saw that he (Zharkov) made another good play on that goal. He’s working hard and makes smart decisions, and with Brian, we’re just having fun, a lot of communication and just playing.”

Was this a patient game (tonight)?

“I don’t know, I don’t think that’s the way we want to play. Like I said, the power plays, we did a lot of good things in the first period because we drew four power plays in a row, and it didn’t work for us tonight. Not every night is going to be perfect, or its going to work; it kind of affected us, maybe a little bit, for the second period. I think both teams didn’t play as good as we can, but we’ll take the win.”

Vladimir Zharkov:

Can you talk about the play on the game-winning goal?

“I see one guy came to me and the second guy went to Rollie, then it was a 2-on-2. It was a beautiful, very nice; Rollie stopped, wait, wait, wait, he gave the puck to Elias; Elias finished nice goal.”

Are you having fun playing with those two guys, it seems like you have good chemistry?

“Maybe, because I love playing with those two guys; very good passers, you know, Rollie and Elias, but I am young. I played just nine games, you know — these guys help me all the time. We skate very hard every game, but I’ve only played nine games, I’m just a young boy.”

Jamie Langenbrunner:

Talking about the play where he lost the puck and gave up shorthanded breakaway…

“We had a set play on that and it just bounced up on me; I went to pass it and the puck wasn’t there. It’s one of those things, unfortunately that one ended up in our net.”

What are you thinking when that happened?

“Oh spit (laughs). I tried to come back as hard as I can, I tried to force him and it was a good job by Andy (Greene) to force him to his backhand; it just snuck its way through.”

Would it have been worse for you mentally if you lost 1-0?

“Probably; the win kind of hides those kind of mistakes I guess.”|

Ilkka Pikkarainen:

Is that the way you envisioned your first goal happening?

“No, that was a lucky one, but I don’t care how they go in; I’m very happy.”

How does that first one feel, especially in a tight game?

“It feels good, we were struggling in the first period, but in second and third we did better.”

Did you think the shot was going in when you took it?

“No, (laughs) I was really happy it went in though. The goalie helped me a little bit there.”

How good does it feel that the team came out flat and still got the two points?

“Yeah, I’m happy that we got the two points.”

Martin Brodeur:

Scripting this I’d call it strange but true victories…

“Well definitely this one was kind of a weird one a bit, we didn’t play our best game. But we stuck with it and scored a big goal at the end; Patty again comes through for us.”

(Scott) Gomez almost got one (on you)…

“A couple of good shots, he kicked one in (on me). I thought we handled their offense pretty good, we had one breakdown — on one of our power plays — and they got a goal out of that. After that, a couple of screen shots, one hit me in the head in the second period there, but I thought defensively we did a great job against especially Gomer and (Mike) Cammalleri, who’s one of the hottest players.”

How surprised were you that the fans kept booing him?

“Well, it’s like anything, everybody’s demanding on being perfect every night and its all in their rights. We’re there trying our best and some nights it works and some nights it doesn’t and it’s just part of the game.”

No, I meant booing Gomez…

“Oh, I thought you meant our power play in the first period (laughs).”

They booed Gomez every time he was on the ice…

“They’ve got to get over it sometime (laughs), but I think he’s not playing for the Rangers anymore, so it’s not as bad. Even for us (players) I think the sentiment of him being somewhere else is a lot different, but fans are weird that way. I think they care about their team and when a guy goes out and does something like that — unless you’re like Bobby Holik and come back and play for us, they’ll start cheering him again.”

1,029 games — how many of them were like that one?

“Oh, I don’t know; that was kind of boring (out there). It’s a big win.”

Is it a gratifying win knowing that maybe the team wasn’t at its best tonight?

“I think we played a team that’s not doing really well right now, and you know that they’re going to try to keep it simple; they did, they didn’t really do much out there and they didn’t give us much opportunities either. They gave us a lot of power plays, but we didn’t do anything with them and we got a lucky goal on a shot over the net that (Carey) Price mishandled and after that we got kind of a cold shower on them — scoring that late goal, definitely nice.”

Another milestone (for you), what does this one mean?

“Well, durability as I’ve talked about for a few days. That’s what playing a lot of games is, it’s being durable, and it’s being successful; because if you’re not, the coach doesn’t put you in there. I’m definitely happy that it’s passed, we get to the next game and it’s over with and move on to just play hockey.”

Travis Moen’s shot went through your legs?

“I think so, he came in on his backhand and he waited (me) out. I was on my post and thought I had everything covered and he just snuck it right through my legs.”

Jacques Lemaire:

How would you describe this game?

“Well, I have to say at the start we got the penalties (against them). I thought we were playing exactly the way we wanted to play. Then, power plays, as I mentioned to the guys in there, power plays are great when you can take advantage; it will destroy the whole team when you don’t score; especially when you go 5-on-3. Then guys make the wrong pass, take the wrong shot or they don’t score. They get frustrated and if they can’t get that off their mind, it’s tough to play hockey like that. I think the power play just turned things around.”

Yet somehow the team hung in, Montreal never got that second goal…

“I don’t think they were better than we were (laughs), we were not good but they weren’t (any) better. They probably had five chances the whole game and we had eight or nine with all the power plays, so you look at the game — only the third period I thought it was decent. The best part of it was the last three minutes.”

How do you describe the rookie’s goal?

“Oh Pikk, I guess he wanted to keep the puck deep and the goalie tried to catch it in his glove and it went in; it’s just a lucky goal. But you know what, that’s what we needed.”