Sunday, April 12, 2009

Eastbound and Down: Round One

Well kids, it's that time of year again-- where boys become men and men become legends. That's right it's time for Burning Man.....wait, no-- the NHL Playoffs folks, that's what we're looking at here. Today, we're going from right-to-left on your atlas dials and starting with the Eastern Conference because....well, that's where the match-ups are set. The West set-up will be tomorrow or the next day.

#1 Boston Bruins vs. #8 Montreal Canadiens

There are few rivalry games that's come to this match-up and really, how can you blame these two Adams Division rivals. Thirty-two times these two have met-up in the playoffs and the Habs have taken 24 of them, which includes the last three; the latest coming last year, in addition to the #8 over #1 upset special in 2002. While the Habs are very vulnerable right now, this could be a sign of a wounded dog with his number up and with nothing to lose. If their big guns can contribute in the clutch times, the Habs should be fine.

That said, the big, bad Bruins are back and really have been a force to be reckoned with in the East this season. You can only bet they'll be out to silence the critics. The only question is how will they hold up if this is the start of a long playoff run?? While there's all the experience in the world in the regular season, some of these guys are very "green" in the playoffs, which may come into effect later on.

PREDICTION: Upset special in this one, as I believe the Habs to take this in six. There's something about the Habs that have shown sign of greatness, but falling too short in the regular season. If there's a time for them to come through in the clutch and to shut up the Montreal media-- this is it.

#2 Washington Capitals vs. #7 New York Rangers

The Patrick Division rivals are back at it again, this time without Mike Liut or John Druce for the Caps to come out of the woodworks to steal some games. While Druce wouldn't be needed, Liut may get signed for the playoffs and Jose Theodore's game has come into question and has pundits saying that it's the only thing that the Caps have in terms of a liability. With his performance during the last game of the year, that may not be the worst question. Which Jose will come out and will Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, and the rest of the crew have enough offense to compensate.

They'll have to do it against one of the premier goalies in Henrik Lundqvist, who may have not always been the top story, but always is a factor in most Rangers victories. Another quality for the Rangers is Sean Avery and what he'll do to get into the kitchen of Ovechkin and Theodore. The agitator could prove to be invaluable at this time of year for the Rangers, especially with an offense that has been somewhat less than spectacular.

PREDICITION: Expect this to go the full seven to the Caps with Ovie winning his first playoff series on the fact he can score. The Rangers will need to catch lightning in a bottle if they hope to have consistent scoring for all around to counteract the Caps offensive prowess.

#3 New Jersey Devils vs. #6 Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes are the hottest team in the East to end out the season, but haven't looked that sharp the last few games of the season. Cam Ward has been a workhorse, which may be the best thing or a horrible situation for the Canes to wear out their young keeper. With Erik Cole back in the line-up, Eric Staal has found his scoring touch again. Could this team make another miraculous run to the Cup??

If so, they'll have to beat Martin Brodeur. Sure, after #552, Brodie hasn't been the top dog, but you can never count him out in a playoff situation. That's a given. Plus, with the new offensive force in Zach Parise, the Devils could make a big run and get a swagger after the first round that they have lost in the past couple of second-seasons.

PREDICITION: Five games and it goes to the Devils. Don't get me wrong, I've been impressed by the Canes late run, but this is the Devils and after last playoffs' disappointment-- they have something to prove and quick. This could be their redemption series.

#4/5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #4/5 Philadelphia Flyers

The seedings haven't been finalized, but this series is another series of good old fashion hate. The battle of Pennsylvania will be one that also has some vengence on the Flyers side after the Eastern Conference finals last season. While the Flyers have gotten great offensive from Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, their goaltending has been very suspect. The choice between Martin Biron and Antero Niittymaki is really six-in-one; half-dozen-in-another. One of them will have to hit a hot streak in order to get the miracle win.

Since the coaching change to Dan Byslma, the Penguins have gone from also-ran to pretty decent favorites. Since they are the Eastern Conference defending champs, there's something you can't discount about them. The pick-ups of Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz has help take some heat off of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. M-A Fleury has his time to shine now and will surely be under the microscope to prove last year wasn't a fluke.

PREDICTION: Personally, I don't care who wins (since I hate both teams), as long as they batter each other to the point where it becomes the most entertaining series and drains them for the next round. Flyers in 7.

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