As JimmyTV alluded to in his NHL Western Conf. Playoff article, the playoffs are all about hot goalies. In the Eastern Conference this is no different. Henrik Lundqvist, most likely to be the Vezina Trophy winner, was almost matched by Ottawa’s Craig Anderson. Ilya Bryzgalov was shaky but not nearly as much as Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury. Out of nowhere the Capitals found goalie stability out of Braden Holtby. However, the NHL playoffs aren’t just about goalies. A hot team can rule and no one was hotter in the first round than the Philadelphia Flyers. Talent usually does reign supreme eventually but a hot streak can really screw up a team’s plans to hoist the cup at the end of the year. With so many upsets in this year’s first round of the playoffs that fact is more than proven.
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
#1 New York Rangers defeat #8 Ottawa Senators
This was an absolute crazy series. The Senators’ goalie Craig Anderson matched Rangers’ goalie Henrik Lundqvist shot for shot. In fact the Rangers had to come from behind in the series just to win it. No team won by more than 2 goals and 5 of the 7 games were decided by 1 goal. Eventually the Rangers outlasted the Senators but barely. The Rangers defense was very stout but their offense was anemic at times. Basically if it wasn’t Marian Gaborik creating something on offense there wasn’t much going on. In Game 7 of the series the Rangers needed 2 goals from 2 separate defensemen just to advance, that usually isn’t a recipe for success. The Senators played the Rangers tough but ultimately the best team in the Eastern Conference won out.
#7 Washington Capitals defeat #2 Boston Bruins
The Capitals were able to match the Bruins hit for hit and didn’t let themselves get bullied into a loss. In previous years this Washington team was more finesse than grit but with the head coaching change, from Bruce Boudreau to Dale Hunter in the middle of the season, the Capitals learned a little toughness. Ovechkin hasn’t been his electrifying self so the Capitals had to rely on offense from their lesser known guys. Meanwhile Boston doesn’t get to repeat, mainly because Tim Thomas has been feces since his flare up about the White House. The Capitals got great goaltending from a virtually unknown AHL goalie in Braden Holtby. Every game in this series was decided by 1 goal and in fact 4 games went into OT but the Caps clawed their way to a series win and get to face the Rangers in the next round.
#6 New Jersey Devils defeat #3 Florida Panthers
The Panthers had a great season, winning the Southeast Division for the first time in years. However, the Devils had more playoff experience and were able to eek their way to a series victory. This was another series that was decided in 7 games, with the Devils winning the final game in OT. The Panthers are a very young team so they can only benefit from this playoff experience and hope that next year they can come back and improve on their performance. Meanwhile the Devils are rewarded the series victory and get to move on against the hottest Eastern Conference team in the Philadelphia Flyers.
#5 Philadelphia Flyers defeat #4 Pittsburgh Penguins
Many thought the Penguins were the favorite to get to the Stanley Cup Finals this year. Between great play from their 3rd star center in Jordan Staal and the return of Sidney Crosby who could blame them? Unfortunately they ran into their cross-state rivals the Flyers. Even with the emotional peak the Penguins were on with the return of their star it didn’t stop the Flyers from manhandling the Penguins all over the ice. The Flyers were more physical, had much better offense, outworked the Penguins, and had more solid (although still shaky) goaltending out of Ilya Bryzgalov. This game only went to 6 games and the Flyers filled up the score sheet almost every game totaling a whopping 37 goals, which puts them at a hair over 6 goals/game. 6 goals a game people! Needless to say if the Flyers can keep that up throughout the playoffs they should easily skate into the Stanley Cup Finals.
Eastern Conference Semifinals Preview
New York Rangers vs. Washington Capitals
The Caps’ emotions will be riding high after their upset of the Bruins in the quarterfinals. However, the Rangers have now been battle tested in the playoffs. Both teams are defensive minded but the Capitals have the better offensive personnel. Clearly Lundqvist is the goalie you’d rather have, especially since you never know if Holtby could end up becoming the guy who was playing in the AHL just weeks ago. I expect a couple clunkers out of Holtby while Lundqvist and his defense play solid throughout. Rangers in 6.
Philadelphia Flyers vs. New Jersey Devils
Separated by a mere 90 miles the Flyers and Devils square off in what looks to be a fairly mismatched series. If the Flyers can maintain offensive momentum the future Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur will be outmatched. The offensive personnel is better for Philly and the defensive personnel is probably a wash. If Brodeur can pull a time machine out of his mask and go back to the early 2000s the Devils might have a chance but if he can’t I’m afraid the Flyers probably take this one, although if Ilya Bryzgalov doesn’t improve he could be their downfall, which would be funny since they traded for him in the offseason to shore up their goaltending problems. Flyers in 5.