April 12, 2011

2011 Stanley Cup Previews: Eastern Conference

Here's my Eastern Conference Stanley Cup playoffs preview. By the way, I don't make predictions. As the Hockey History Blogger I deal with the past, not the future!

#1 Washington Capitals vs. #8 New York Rangers

Pretty much everyone is already writing off the New York Rangers. While I will admit they are the underdog, never underestimate anyone. The Rangers did win the season series 3 games to 1. And the Capitals are still trying to figure out who is going to be their go-to goalie, while the Rangers keeper Henrik Lundqvist will do his best impersonation of a brick wall.

That being said, the Capitals and their stars, including Alexander Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom have a lot to prove. They should be geared up to make a statement against the Rangers, who are without heart and soul leader Ryan Callahan.

Players to watch: 

Washington - Mike Knuble is a playoff warrior. Could Brian Holtby be the next rookie goalie star, a la Patrick Roy or Ken Dryden, or at least Steve Penney?

NY Rangers - Can freshly healed Chris Drury salvage his career with a strong playoff? The rest of the hockey world is ready to see just how good Marc Staal really is.

The Season Breakdown (click to enlarge):

#2 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #7 Buffalo Sabres

A lot of people are picking the Sabres to upset the Flyers. There are a lot of reasons as to why the Sabres are the sexy pick - the Flyers continued goaltending question marks, Chris Pronger's health, the coaching of Lindy Ruff, and the hint of magic in Buffalo thanks to new owner Terry Pegula. Interestingly, Buffalo also has better special teams than Philly, a fact that surprises many.

That being said, the Flyers are perhaps the deepest team up front, with fire power to spare. If Chris Pronger can return in time, he is the one player in the series who can single-handedly impact the series.

Players to watch:

Philadelphia: Aside from Pronger and the three goalies, watch for former Sabre Danny Briere to have another big playoff, as he usually does.

Buffalo: Streaky Thomas Vanek is entering the playoffs hot. I keep expecting Jason Pominville to have a real breakout moment. Will the 2011 playoffs be it?

The Season Breakdown (click to enlarge):

#3 Boston Bruins vs. #6 Montreal Canadiens

Is there anything more anticipated than a Boston vs. Montreal playoff collision? Hockey's most historical first round match up promises to be another war.

That being said, Boston is the favorite here given their offensive edge, size and physical advantage and the goaltending of Tim Thomas. Montreal, however, was only 2 wins and 7 points back in the regular season. Both of their specialty teams are actually better than Boston's. Carey Price is Thomas' near equal. Oh, and Montreal actually won the season series (see below) with 4 wins in 6 games.

Players To Watch:

Boston: Milan Lucic had a great year against Montreal, leading all Bruins with 4 goals and 9 points in 6 games. And no Montreal player can match up physically against him or Zdeno Chara.

Montreal: Of all of Montreal's smurfs, it is the smallest, Brian Gionta, who battles hardest against Chara. Gionta will lead the inspirational charge. I'm also really liking my first look at Ryan White.

The Season Breakdown (click to enlarge):

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs #5 Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa's top gunner Steven Stamkos sure has quieted down in the stretch run, which has many people picking Pittsburgh even without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Pittsburgh's key man is coach Dan Bylsma, who is working miracles in Pittsburgh. Just amazing stuff really.

Players To Watch:

Tampa Bay - Vincent Lecavalier has not been the dominant player he once was in the past few years, but he has the talent and the drive to be the difference maker.

Pittsburgh - Kris Letang is a dynamic force from Pittsburgh's back end. Can he keep it up in the playoffs with such a depleted lineup?

The Season Breakdown (click to enlarge):

No comments: