2011 NHL Playoff Preview – Eastern Conference

The 2010-2011 NHL regular season has come to a close and its playoff time. Time for razors to be put away and beards to be grown. It’s the time of year that ESPN actually covers hockey. This year we’re doing a playoff breakdown for the 2010-2011 playoffs. Jake and I will be giving our assessment of each series and pick the winners. Here is our Eastern Conference Preview and Predictions.

No. 1 Washington Capitals vs. No. 8 New York Rangers


This is the series no Caps fan wanted to see happen. The Rangers took three out of the four games played, including a 7-0 and 6-0 victory. But since that 6-0 loss the Capitals are 16-3-1 and a different team then the one the Rangers last saw. The big questions are how good will defenseman Mike Green be in his return to line-up and how will the Caps young goaltenders handle the pressure? Despite the Capitals lack of success against the Rangers this season I’m still willing to give the Caps an edge in this series. After last year’s embarrassment this team is more focused and won’t let off the throttle if they’re up in the series.

Prediction: Washington Capitals in five.


Headline Matchup: Henrik Lundqvist vs. the Capitals offense

As a Caps fan, it’s hard not be a little upset that the Rangers are the Caps first round matchup. On their way to winning the season series, the New York Rangers gave the Washington Capitals a 7-0 beating and a 6-0 drubbing. During that series Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist held an amazing .955 save percentage and almost singlehandedly defeated the Caps. King Henrik, the Rangers, and the butt-whippings they put on the Capitals are the reason head coach Bruce Boudreau changed the system his boys in red deploy.

And on that note I say thank you! By switching to a more defensive-minded approach the Caps are more playoff ready than they ever have been under Boudreau. Caps players have shown themselves up to the task of playing tight, one-goal games that the playoffs offer time and time again. Plus the Caps have two wildcards that give them the real advantage. First is the underrated goaltending. Both goalies Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov have been stellar when healthy. The second wildcard is the health of the Washington Caps. The Capitals are getting healthier at the right time. Defenseman Mike Green is expected back for Game 1 as is 2nd line Center Jason Arnott. If they come back at 100% the Capital offensive depth becomes scarier by the day. Adding them to the firepower of left wingers Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, and center Nicholas Backstrom it will be hard for the Blue Bombers to match the Boys in Red.

Prediction: Washington Capitals in six.

No. 2 Philadelphia Flyers vs. No. 7 Buffalo Sabres


Having gone 7-7-6 over their last twenty games and having dropped out of the number one seed in the East, the Flyers are a questions mark going into the playoffs. The Flyers’ biggest concern is what kind of goaltending they’ll get in this series and which of their three net minders will step up. The Sabres have been an impressive 13-4-3 over their last twenty. For Buffalo the question is will they be able to score? The Sabres will need a lot of production from left winger Thomas Vanek and right winger Jason Pominville.

Prediction: Philadelphia Flyers in seven. Despite their recent struggles I’m still taking the Flyers in this series, although I see the Sabres pushing them to seven games.


Headline Matchup: Ryan Miller vs. the Flyers’ uncertainty

Do you smell that? It smells like a…what it is called…oh, that’s right. AN UPSET! The story of this series is a complacent Flyers team that has been less than impressive, against a Sabres team that finished off the season on an impressive run.

The Flyers have too many questions: Will defenseman Chris Pronger play? If Pronger plays, how healthy will he be? Will the good or bad version of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky show up? Can the Flyers beat a well-rested Ryan Miller? The answers are: Yes, maybe 90% (which is still pretty scary), flip a coin, and no.

That “no” is the main reason the Sabres will take this series. Buffalo does not have the greatest offensive depth for scoring, but they don’t have to because goalie Ryan Miller is just that good. He may have been dinged up a bit which merited a rest, but rest assured he will be just fine by playoff time.

Prediction: Buffalo Sabres in 7 games

No. 3 Boston Bruins vs. No. 6 Montreal Canadiens


The most intriguing series in the East is the Bruins/Canadiens matchup. These divisional rivals hatred for each other was ramped up last month when Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara nearly decapitated Montreal’s left winger Max Pacioretty. The Bruin’s Tim Thomas and the Canadiens’ Carey Price have been arguably the best goalies all season and should help keep this an interesting series. While Montreal took the season series 4-2, the Bruin’s 7-0 thrashing last month, coming after the Chara hit, speaks loudly.

Prediction: Boston Bruins in six.


Headline Matchup: Tim Thomas vs. Carey Price

Yes, I know the matchup shouldn’t be the goalies, but it really is. Tim Thomas finished off the season with a brickwall-like .938 save percentage and 2.00 goals against average. Carey Price is no slouch himself. He was 3rd in shutouts with eight and second in wins with 38. The only problem for the Montreal goaltender is that the Bruins are better in every way possible. They have better defensemen, better forwards, better size, and to be honest I even like their colors better. Look for defensemen Zdeno Chara to put on a defensive show and even put that 105.9 mph slapshot on display.

Prediction: Boston Bruins in 5.

No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 5 Tampa Bay Lightning


Pittsburgh has been impressive this year. The team challenged Philadelphia all year for the top seed in the Atlantic Division. They finished the season with 106 points, tying the Flyers, and they did all of this without center Jordan Staal to start the year, center Evgeni Malkin, whose been out since February 9th, and center Sidney Crosby, who hasn’t played since January 5th. It’s been an impressive run and I have to give credit to coach Dan Bylsma for getting the most out of his role players and keeping his team together when could have easily fallen apart the second half of the season. Tampa Bay is a team on the rise with a lot of talent. After a hot start, the team hit the wall in February and lost the Southeast Division lead. In the future the Lightning may have the talent to hang with the Penguins, but not now. Tampa is not helped by the fact that Lighting goalie Dwayne Roloson has started to look his age.

Prediction: Pittsburgh Penguins in five.


Headline Matchup: Dan Bylsma vs. The Tampa Offense

This series is the one I am most looking forward to. I like the Tampa triple threat of center Steve Stamkos, right winger Martin St. Louis, and center Vincent Lecavalier. They are fun to watch, score tons of goals, and fly past the opposition. A major speed bump for the Lightning is that  the Pittsburgh Penguins have somehow managed to continue winning despite losing their two biggest stars in centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.Can head coach Danny Bylsma continue convincing his team they are still good enough to win? Can the Penguins defense stop the tidal wave of goals the Lightning are capable of bringing? I don’t think so.

Predicition: Tampa Bay Lightning in 7.

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