It’s that time of year… Stanley Cup time! Personally, I am very excited, as my beloved Washington Capitals handily took the Southeast and are slotted in the #2 seed for the Eastern Conference. It was a brilliant season overall with a lot of great drama, from the big saves, the big scores, the broken records, and coaching changes… but the best is still yet to come. Two of the four matchups were what I longed for, seeing an original six and a keystone capers matchup was great, though, I admit, I secretly hoped for a bridge and tunnel and a SED rivalry renewed for the other two, I cannot complain at the way it fell together. Shockingly close to seeing the seemingly tough NED only put one team in while the seemingly weak SED almost put in three, but the hockey Gods shone on the Habs in the tie-breakers and the Cats in Florida certainly cannot be disappointed with their season that was surprisingly good and should make next year all that more exciting in the South.
Boston Bruins v. Montreal Canadians – Brues in Six
As much as it hurts to call one against the centennial celebrating Habs they limped into the playoffs after self-destructing down the stretch. For the Habs, their biggest question is between the pipes, and that’s not the place you want problems if you are Montreal, who gambled the success of the franchise on the kid, Price. Across the ice, on the other hand, is the unsung vet in Thomas has been a solid backbone for the Bruins all year. On defense Boston has done it all year with a workhorse attitude, while the Habs have struggled with consistency and health. Upfront, the Habs might have the slight edge in high-end firepower that if it wakes up could be deadly. The counter attack has depth and skill, and despite lacking some of the flash they are physical and grinding. Coaching is pretty much a draw, but if there’s one thing the Canadians have going for them is despite all the adversity, they continue to come through. The rematch of last year’s quarterfinals should come down to execution and the Bruins have done it night in and night out while the Habs have been streaky and consistency over a possible seven games will play into the Bruins favor.
Washington Capitals v. New York Rangers, Caps in five
This season, it has not been about just shutting down Ovie as the Caps have found more balance and depth out of Semin, Backstrom and Green putting together huge numbers and the Caps were only outscored by Detroit & the Bruins. The Rangers do not have the answer to the balance of firepower and the depth of forwards overall. Defense however, the Rangers might have the slight edge over the Caps inconsistent play, especially when the Caps D jumps up on the play. In goal, Lundqvist might be seemingly unflappable as opposed to the streaky Theodore. Tortorella’s turnaround for the Rangers was astonishing but Boudreau has been the model of constancy for the Caps. This series will come down to big plays. Will the Caps forwards come up with more big ones than Lundqvist and the Rangers D? When the theatrics are over it’ll be the Caps left celebrating.
New Jersey Devils v. Carolina Hurricanes, Devs in Five
After loosing their star in Brodeur for most of the season, the Devils made the best of the situation by showing they can do more than just play D, and unleash Zach Parise and company. The Devils showcase balance and big forwards and showed they can both snipe and stand up in the crease to score. The ‘Canes bring speed and agility along with a revamped attack mentality to the game. Back on D, the Devils might be devoid of big names, but like in the past, they play smart, efficient hockey that Carolina does not have an answer to on their side of the blue line. Despite Brodeur’s record setting year, he and Ward are actually pretty evenly matched, with only pure experience being the difference between the two. Coaching is pretty evenly matched on paper, but it’s the intangibles that will make Sutter (or perhaps moreso Lamoriello) get the most out of the Devs. This one will come down to tempo and the Devils should be more than able to control it most nights to pull out a victory and stand up to whatever the ‘Canes try and throw at them.
Pittsburgh Penguins v. Philadelphia Flyers, Flyers in seven
The keystone state matchup could easily go either way. The Penns were the model of inconsistent play all season while the Flyers played fairly consistent throughout the season, even amid some series injury stints. Flury seems to have come together at the right time, but both he and Biron can be streaky so whichever version of each that shows up could be defining. All season the Penns struggled with moving the puck out of the zone and to the forwards to springboard the play, but as a pure D it’s not been bad. The Flyers just need to keep it simple and straight forward, because when they don’t they give up ugly plays. Both teams balance skill and youth but the Penns have more offensive power with Crosby, Malkin and Guerin playing the veteran role of Hossa last year while the Flyers have size and force to be reckoned with. The Flyers are well coached and in a position with the intangibles to really do damage. Momentum going into the playoffs might seem to be on the Penns side but what this series will come down to is structure. Since both teams can be streaking with each element of their game, it’ll be whichever can hold together better will win. In a long series the edge has to be the Flyers who have done it all season.