Tuesday, April 12, 2011

An Apology Then NHL Playoff Preview

Hello to my readers. I know it's been two months since my last post and I apologize for that. Many events have happened to me in that time period and I was unable to avoid any of it...as a good friend of mine used to say “Feces occurs!”

But now I'm back and things have settled down. I'm ready to return to “My Thoughts on the World of Sports” in a better way.

Now on to the NHL playoffs!

Tonight, I begin my playoff preview with the Eastern Conference pairings which could produce exciting action. Now comes my time to spout off my feelings about the East.

(1)Washington Capitals vs. (8) New York Rangers

Washington's scoring punch was down a bit this season mainly due to Alex Ovechkin's off year as he scored “only” 32 goals. Alexander Semin had 28 tallies for the Caps and old reliable Mike Knuble chimed in with 24 goals.

Injuries have also hampered the Capitals and none was worse than defenseman Mike Green's concussion suffered on February 25th versus the Rangers. Green could be ready for game one as he has been skating regularly with the team.

Goaltending was much improved this season as Michal Neuvirth has taken the reins in net. Neuvirth finished the regular season with 27 wins, a 2.45 Goals Against Average and a .914 Save Percentage.

The Rangers had balanced scoring this season led by center Brandon Dubinsky's 24 goals Followed closely by Ryan Callahan with 23 twine ticklers. Marian Gaborik, Derek Stepan, and Brian Boyle also were 20 goal scorers for the “Blue Shirts”.

New York has been bitten by the injury bug as well. The aforementioned Ryan Callahan is till in a walking boot after breaking his right ankle. Without Callahan, the Rangers will lack some of the physical play needed to slow Washington's speed.

If there's one area where the Rangers are superior it's the play of goalie Henrik Lundqvist. “King Henrik” won 36 games, enjoyed a sparkling 2.28 GAA, a .923 Save Percentage, and 11 Shutouts. Lundqvist is very capable of stealing games in the series and is the main reason the Rangers won a playoff berth.

My Prediction: While Lundqvist can steal the series, Washington has too much firepower for the Rangers.

Washington --- 6 Games

(2)Philadelphia Flyers vs. (7) Buffalo Sabres

Let there be no argument, the Flyers can score as seven players scored more than 20 goals. Center Jeff Carter had 36 goals for the season while Danny Briere tallied 34 for Philly.

One key injury the Flyers must deal with is ageless defenseman Chris Pronger's right hand injury. While hopeful to play, he's doubtful for game 1 of the series.

Goaltending is a huge question mark for the Flyers. Twenty-two year old Sergei Bobrovsky will get the call for Philadelphia in game 1 versus Buffalo. We'll see how young Sergei will handle Stanley Cup playoff pressure for the first time. Should he fail, veteran Brian Boucher will fill the void in goal.

The Sabres are entering the playoffs playing their best hockey of the year. Buffalo has been scoring of late and goalie Ryan Miller has been playing his best hockey recently.

Offensively, Buffalo is led by Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford with 32 and 31 goals respectively while the rest of the scoring is well balanced.

The key to the Sabres playoff run rests on the shoulders of net minder Ryan Miller. Miller, a perennial all-star, is capable of winning a playoff series by himself and we all know that history often repeats itself.

I Say: It will come down to goaltending --- the experience of Miller versus the youth of Bobrovsky even with the Flyers firepower, I see an upset.

Buffalo --- 6 Games.

(3)Boston Bruins vs. (6) Montreal Canadiens

The Bruins style of play begins with defense and goaltending. Norris trophy candidate Zdeno Chara was a plus 33 while youngster Adam McQuaid was at plus 30 from the blue line. In goal, Vezina Trophy favorite Tim Thomas had a season to remember. Thomas had 35 victories, an even 2.00 GAA, 9 shutouts, and an NHL record .938 save percentage. If Thomas should fail, Boston would still be in good shape with backup goalie Tuukka Rask.

While the Bruins don't score a ton of goals, six players scored at least 18 goals. Milan Lucic led the way with 30 goals while Nathan Horton ended the regular season with 26 tallies.

While Montreal won't scare anyone with their offense, they did have three players with 20+ goals with Brian Gionta leading the way with 29 to the back of the net.

Carey Price will handle the load in goal for the Habs. Price had 38 wins this season, a 2.35 GAA,a .923 save percentage, and 8 shutouts.

What I Think: This rivalry will be fiercely played as both teams feel they have to prove themselves. The Bruins must play physical hockey to neutralize Montreal's skating ability While Carey Price must be superb to keep the Habs in the series.

Boston --- 7 games

(4)Pittsburgh Penguins vs (5) Tampa Bay Lightning

We know what the Penguins will probably struggle scoring goals without mega-stars Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. So where will the scoring come from? Pittsburgh hopes that Chris Kunitz, Tyler Kennedy, and James Neal can pick up the slack.

Also, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury must be at the top of his game if the Pens' are to survive. Fleury has played well this season as his 36 wins and 2.32 GAA suggests.

Tampa Bay has plenty of goal scoring capabilities to win any playoff series. Led by Steven Stamkos (45 Goals), Martin St. Louis (31), and Vincent Lecavalier (25), The Lightning are ready to prove that the regular season was no fluke.

Keeping pucks out of the net could be a problem for Tampa Bay. The Lightning will depend on veteran Dwayne Roloson to man the net. If Roloson isn't at peak performance, the Lightning would be in serious trouble.

My Opinion: Pittsburgh has found a way to win without Crosby and Malkin while Tampa Bay wins with offense as well. It comes down to the men between the pipes.

Pittsburgh --- 6 Games.

That's a breakdown of the Eastern Conference of the NHL.

Enjoy and thanks for reading!


Send email to dlafrance2@207me.com

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