Sticking with the corny movie title references, I present to you my predictions (not promises) for the Eastern Conference in the first round and beyond.
#1. Montreal Canadiens vs. #8. Boston Bruins
Season Series: Montreal: 8-0-0 (1 game decided in SO)
Goaltending: Carey Price (24-12-3) vs. Tim Thomas (28-19-6)
You've heard it a thousand times before, but it will take a mircale for the Boston Bruins to upset Montreal in the first round. They haven't been able to solve this team for a year and a half, and there are no indications that they will be able to reverse the fortunes in this series. Tim Thomas is too shaky to instill confidence in me as a netminder capable of stealing a series. Carey Price is calm, collected, and looks like he's been doing this for ages. The prospect of getting Patrice Bergeron and Marc Savard back at some point in the series may incentive enouh for the B's to steal a game, maybe two, but it will be a moot point by that time.
Prediction: Canadiens in 5.
#2. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #7. Ottawa Senators
Season Series: Ottawa: 3-0-1 (1 Ottawa win decided in OT)
Goaltending: Marc-André Fleury (19-10-2) vs. Martin Gerber (30-18-4)
The Sens won only three of its final 10 games and backed into the playoffs on the strength of loses by other teams in the final three days of the season. Even with Daniel Alfredsson, Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly (all expected to miss the entire first round), it would have been a difficult task for the Senators. Missing three of their top forwards will make this nearly impossible. Martin Gerber was inconsistent in the regular season and the last time he was given a chance in the playoffs, he choked with Carolina--which I suppose makes him a perfect fit for a Senators team that has mastered the art of the choke. How can you argue against the Penguins in this series? Sid Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are going to be FIRED UP and looking for revenge from last year as well as their first playoff series win. Fleury won nine games in a row down the stretch and his backup Ty Conklin had the best save percentage during the season. Too many weapons for Pittsburgh, not enough heart for Ottawa, end of story.
Prediction: Penguins in 6.
#3. Washington Capitals vs. #6. Philadelphia Flyers
Season Series: Split 2-2-0.
Goaltending: Critsobal Huet (32-14-6) vs. Martin Biron (30-20-9)
Possibly the two hottest teams in the Eastern Conference right now, but only one of them got any attention down the stretch. The Capitals made all the headlines by jumping over Carolina on the final Saturday of the season to complete the miraculous comeback from worst to first in the Southeast division. The Flyers recorded points in eight of their final nine games, going 7-1-1 to jump into sixth when at one point it looked like they may not make it at all. The Flyers certainly have the young fire power to stack up against the Capitals, but Martin Biron hasn't displayed the consistency needed from playoff goalies. The Capitals will ride their wave of momentum, and Alex Ovechkin into the second round, but likely no further.
Prediction: Capitals in 6.
#4. New Jersey Devils vs. #5. New York Rangers
Season Series: NY Rangers: 7-0-1 (3 NYR wins decided in OT/SO).
Goaltending: Martin Brodeur (44-27-6) vs. Henrik Lundqvist (37-24-10)
This may be the year that the torch gets passed from the Devils to, well anyone else in the Atlantic Division. The Devils have a strong team, and probably the best goaltender in the game, but the Rangers are hungry to succeed, and did just that against the Devils in the regular season. This will be Brent Sutter's first playoff series beind the Devils' bench, and it remains to be seen how the team will respond to his demanding methods, which wil surely increase exponentially as the pressure rises. Series might be a toss-up and should be entertaining to watch--provided the Devils don't lead games for too long and clog up the ice, in that case, we'll be falling asleep on our couches.
Prediction: Rangers in 6.
As I did with the Western Conference yesterday I will attempt to predict the entire bracket for the first three rounds, but, of course, anything can happen, which is the beauty of professional sports. So here goes.
#1. Montreal Canadiens vs. #5. New York Rangers
This will probably be a very exciting series to watch. The Rangers will no doubt want redemption after blowing a 5-0 lead to the Habs in late February. In the end, I think the Canadiens #1 ranked power play is going to carry them very far in the post-season, and there just seems to be this thing with rookie goalies coming in performing magic in the playoffs. If nothing else, it will be entertaining for viewers.
Canadiens in 7.
#2. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #3. Washington Capitals
Gary Bettman will have to pinch himself to make sure he's not dreaming. His two poster teams, lead by the poster boys, Crosby and Ovechkin, this could end up being the most exciting series of the entire playoffs. Both teams have plenty of firepower, physical defence and hot goalies. These two squared off in a Sunday afternoon tilt in early March and watching it I couldn't help but think that a seven game series would be the best thing to happen to the league all year. The Penguins may have a bit too much depth for the Capitals young defence to handle. This could shape up into a rivalry of epic proportions for years to come, and fans can look forward to that.
Penguins in 7.
#1. Montreal Canadiens vs. #2. Pittsburgh Penguins
Flipping a coin may be the easier way to determine the outcome of this series. Montreal has struggled mightily against French-Canadian goalies this season, and that could prove to be their downfall. Both teams have two lines who can score (when Koivu returns, which will be far before this series begins) and goalies who can steal multiple games in a row. Once again, it just appears that the Penguins, with the addition of Marian Hossa, have that extra punch to take out whoever gets in their way--but this one surely will not be easy.
Penguins in 7.
Combined with yesterday's predictions, this means the Stanley Cup Final this year will begin in Pittsburgh between the Penguins and the Anaheim Ducks. I see a six to seven game series easily, and the winner is very difficult to call. I have liked the Ducks all season, especially getting key pieces back. In the end, those intangibles may be the difference between champions and runners-up. Ducks in Six.
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