April 14, 2014

Pucks On The 'Net: Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

Let's take a look at some interesting numbers in the four playoff matches in the Eastern Conference.

Detroit vs Boston

  • The Difference Maker: No team has faced injuries like Detroit this season. Can they withstand the physical assault the Bruins are sure to apply? Maybe. Detroit was 3-1 vs. Boston this year 
  • The Goalie Battle: Both Tuukka Rask and Jimmy Howard of Detroit had their troubles this year. Rask was 1-3 vs. Detroit, with a 3.29 GAA. Howard was 1-1, as back up Jonas Gustavsson actually led the way with a 2-0 record with only 3 goals against. Detroit needs Howard to be the man though. Going to Gustavsson in the playoffs would be a gamble.
  • Head To Head This Season: As mentioned earlier, Detroit actually won the head-to-head series this year by a 3-1 margin. However Henrik Zetterberg was the star with 3 goals and 4 points in 3 games. He is injured and not likely to return until round two. 
  • History Says: These two long time Original Six rivals have only met in the playoffs 7 times, with Boston holding the 4-3 series lead. This is the first time since 1957 that Detroit and Boston will square off in the playoffs.
Montreal vs. Tampa Bay
  • The Difference Maker: Despite Tampa's regular season series domination vs Montreal, there's not a lot of difference between these two teams on the macro scale. Montreal's PK could be the difference maker - That could mean their penalty kill, or that could mean their Norris trophy winning defenseman.
  • The Goalie Battle: Tampa Bay's goaltenders have a combined 13 minutes of NHL playoff experience. Anders Lindback made a relief appearance with Nashville back in 2011, stopping all nine shots. Ben Bishop, the Lightning's number one goalie, has never played a post-season NHL game. 
  • Head To Head This Season: Bishop played all the minutes vs. Montreal this season, finishing with an impressive 3-0-1 record and 0.94 GAA. Victor Hedman led all TB skaters with 4 assists, followed by Ondrej Palat with 3 assists. Daniel Briere led the Habs with 2 goals vs TB.
  • History Says: Lightning swept the Habs in 2004, their only previous playoff series. 4-0 with 14 goals scored and 5 against.

Pittsburgh vs. Columbus
  • The Difference Maker: As much as I like young Ryan Johansen, Columbus just can not match up against Pittsburgh down the middle, especially with Nathan Horton and RJ Umburger out with injuries. Pittsburgh's special teams are also superior. 
  • The Goalie Battle: Pittsburgh's Mark Andre Fleury has to prove a lot of doubters wrong this post-season. Given Pittsburgh's strong play against the Blue Jackets all year, this could be the good confidence boost he needs. He was 3-0 with only 4 goals against vs CBJ this season. At the other end Sergei Bobrovsky mysteriously was kept away from the Penguins. In the first game of the season "Bob" was chased from the net, allowing 3 goals in 23 minutes. Back up Curtis McElhinney played the rest of the season, losing 4 times. CBJ needs Bobrovsky in Vezina trophy form. He's only played parts of 7 playoff games in his career, with a dull record of 0-2 and a GAA over 4.
  • Head To Head This Season: Pittsburgh dominated Columbus all season, winning all 5 games in regulation time. Sidney Crosby led the way with 2 goals and 5 assists, while Chris Kunitz had 4 goals and 2 assists. James Neal was an impressive 3-2-5 in only 2 games. Matt Calvert was the only Blue Jacket to score more than one goal against Pittsburgh.
  • History Says: These two teams have never met in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
New York Rangers vs Philadelphia Flyers
  • The Difference Maker: Both teams are rolling into the playoffs at an equal pace. This should be an interesting match up pitting NYR's strong goaltending and top tier defensemen vs Philadelphia's dynamic and deep assortment of scoring forwards. This series could be defined by who wins the Ryan McDonagh vs. Claude Giroux match-up.
  • The Goalie Battle: Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers and Steve Mason of the Flyers had nearly identical records head to head this year. Both goalies were 2-1 with GAAs barely over 2.
  • Head To Head This Season: The two teams split their 4 matches this season evenly with 2 wins each. New York barely outscored the Flyers 10-8. Chris Kreider led the way for New York with 2 goals and 4 points in 3 games vs PHI, but he is not expected back from hand surgery until round 2 at the earliest.
  • History Says: The Flyers and Rangers have met 10 times in the playoffs, with the Flyers winning 6 of the series. This is the first playoff showdown between the two clubs since 1997.
I like Boston and Pittsburgh to win. The other two series are likely close, though I will go with the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay. I actually really hope Montreal wins to set up a magical round two match-up vs. Boston.

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