2012 NHL Playoffs Preview: Round 1 – East

NY Rangers (51-24-7) vs. Ottawa Senators (41-31-10)

There’s no reason the Rangers shouldn’t win this series, unless they have a major injury to someone who happens to reside between the iron during the games. While Lundqvist has been a little dinged up lately and Ottawa won the regular season series 3-1 including  shootout victory, I still don’t see it happening. The Rangers aren’t going to blow you away with scoring, although Gaborik and Richards have been solid scoring threats all year, they are dominate defensively and will grind away softer teams like the Senators. It has been a feel good year for 39-year-old Daniel Alfredsson, emerging superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson and some of the non-Swedes on the team but Ottawa lost it’s divisional battle with the Bruins and therefore have to face the mighty Rangers. If it wasn’t for John Tortorella behind the Rangers bench you might give the Sens a punchers chance in the series but there is no way that Torts lets his team look past Ottawa and he will have them focused as they need be.

Prediction: Rangers in 5

Boston Bruins (49-24-4) vs. Washington Capitals (42-32-8)

The Boston Bruins are the defending Stanley Cup Champions and despite having some ups and downs this season they finished strong in essentially the same position they were last year going into the playoffs. The Washington Capitals have been kind of a mess all year long epitomized by their enigmatic leader Alex Ovechkin. Ovie has been sometimes controversial, sometimes lackadaisical and sometimes electric. The Caps have pretty much lived or died by Ovechkin as Semin and Backstrom have been OK but their backend superstar Mike Green has been injured/invisible. Green’s production has been picked up by Dennis Wideman, but as Bruins fans are well aware, and will assuredly remind him from the seat of the TD Garden,  Wideman’s offense comes at a hefty price in the Defensive zone. The Bruins meanwhile have been without one of their most productive offensive threats Nathan Horton for a large portion of the season but still managed to score the second most goals in the NHL. The Bruis achieve this by spreading the scoring and relying on an aggressive forecheck. The top five +/- players in the NHL this year are all Boston Bruins. That’s saying something. The Caps may give the Bruins a bit of a fight but the Bruins have too many weapons, are too smaaaht defensively and have a goaltender who is coming off of one of the best playoff performances ever in net.

Prediction: Bruins in 6

New Jersey Devils (48-26-6) vs. Florida Panthers (38-26-18)

Apparently they still play hockey in Florida and the Panthers are lucky to be in a crappy division so that they can garner themselves the #3 seed in the East and whatever home ice advantage there is in the middle of nowhere Florida. I’ve been to their rink. It’s bizarre how isolated it is from civilization. The Devils on the other hand have once again been one of the streakiest teams in the NHL. While neither of these teams is going to blow your doors off, NJ seems to have the advantage with the youngish Trio of Kovalchuk, Parise and Clarkson bolstered by the veteran savvy of Patrick Elias. I can’t claim to have seen many Florida games this year but I assume they are winning games based on their back end as they only have three guys over 20 goals and rank 27th in the NHL for scoring. Unfortunately for the Panthers they will be facing one of the best goaltenders of all time in Marty Broduer and although he is getting long in the tooth at 39 he should be good enough to stifle the anemic Florida offense.

Prediction: New Jersey in 5

Pittsburgh Penguins (51-25-6) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (47-26-9)

This will be the first game in the playoffs to drop the puck this year which is a great omen for things to come as this should be wildly entertaining and an absolute bloodbath. The Battle for Pennsylvania as it were starts with this psuedo-subway series with two teams that have a lot of animosity for each other. This should be a great match up not only because of the bad blood between these two squads but because they are both extremely talented teams. The Penguins have two of the best hockey players in the world in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. With Crosby out most of the season with a concussion it has been Malkin who has carried this Penguins team leading the league in points while scoring 50 goals for the first time in his career. Not far behind was breakout star James Neal netting 40 goals of his own. Crosby seems by all accounts to be back for good and has been solid in contributing points and bitchiness. The Flyers on the other hand and more similar to the Bruins in their style as they spread out the offense and grit their way through games. As much as I love to hate him Scott Hartnell has been incredibly effective in a career year alongside emerging superstar Claude Giroux. The x-factor in this series may well, as it often is in playoff hockey, be determined by the men between the pipes. Marc Andre-Fluery has always been solid for the Penguins but he never seems to be the type of goalie that is going to absolutely wow you and steal a series or two. He’s dependable, plays well and get the benefit of the tremendous talent in front of him. The Flyers on the other hand have had quite the dilemma in net. Ilya Bryzgalov was the highly talented, super expensive goalie that was supposed to stop the problem that has been plaguing the Flyers for years but he struggled mightily early on in the year so much so that Sergei Bobrovsky was stealing starts from him. As the season ended Bryzgalov seemed to straighten things out and was back to being the dominant player he was with the lowly Coyotes of years past. I think this is going to be a great series and I really don’t have a strong feeling as to who is going to win but I do feel that it will go to seven games and home ice will be a huge advantage for both teams.

Prediction: Penguins in 7