It’s playoff time! Today, we’ll take a look at the matchups in the East.  Prediction wise, I nailed the teams but Montreal landed in the 6th spot and Buffalo in the 7th.  Ok, here we go!

#1 Washington vs #8 New York

Season Results:

WAS (5) – NYR (3)

NYR (7) – WAS (0)

NYR (2) – WAS (1) (SO)

NYR (6) – WAS (0)

Special Teams Rankings:

PP: WAS (16); NYR (18)

PK: WAS (2); NYR (10)

The Matchup:

Not sure if this was the matchup Caps fans were looking for.  The Rangers took it to the Caps during the regular season but both teams are coming into the playoffs hot.  Washington is 7-2-1 in their last 10, with a throw away loss to Florida on Saturday.  The Rangers almost missed the playoffs with a Thursday nite loss to Atlanta but with a win over New Jersey, and a Carolina loss to Tampa Bay, they managed to squeak in.

These are not the high flying Capitals we’ve seen in the past.  The team is averaging 2.67 goals per game these days, a far cry from seasons past.  Ovechkin led the team with 85 points, his lowest output ever as a Capital.  The team is trying to take defense more seriously this year and the defensive play has improved.

The Rangers suffered a huge loss with Ryan Callahan going down for the season with a broken leg.  Captain Chris Drury, however, was able to come back the last game of the season and finally net his first goal.  By no means will Drury be able to replace Callahan’s productivity but his presence will help.  Defensively, the Rangers have one of the top 5 goalies in the league with Lundqvist.

The Bottom Line:

This is series is going to come down to defense and goaltending, two areas where the Caps have struggled in the past.  Varlamov may be in the top of the goaltending categories, but can he and Nuevirth together make a run at the cup?  We’ll see but I think the Caps will finally get out of the first round.  Capitals in 7.

#2 Philadelphia vs #7 Buffalo

Season Results:

PHI (6) – BUF (3)

PHI (5) – BUF (2)

BUF (5) – PHI (3)

BUF (4) – PHI (3) OT

Special Teams Rankings:

PP: PHI (19); BUF (9)

PK: PHI (15); BUF (13)

The Matchup:

These are two teams heading in opposite directions.  Philly has struggled and the last month has featured a lackluster style of play.  In contrast, Buffalo has been one of the hottest teams since December racking up 16 wins in their final 24 games.

Surely, the playoffs will help bring back that edge to the Flyers physical style of play.  Getting Chris Pronger back into the lineup should kick the Flyers back into gear.  That said, the Flyers have won a mere 7 times in the last 20 games.  I’d call that limping into the playoffs.  Goaltending is shaky, at best, as the Flyers will be starting rookie net minder Sergei Bobrovsky.

The Sabres’ season looked over when Derek Roy went down but the team circled the wagons and crushed the second half of the season.  The team has been banged up a bit and still is entering the post season.  Surprisingly, the team’s youth stepped up and helped get the Sabres into the playoffs.  Ryan Miller has really improved his game during the second half and the offense is clicking.

The Bottom Line:

This series is all about the Philly defense versus the Buffalo offense.  When the Flyers are physical with the Sabres and stifle their smaller forwards, the Flyers win.  However, when the Sabres forwards have time in the offensive zone to work the puck and create scoring chances, the Sabres win.  I give the edge to the Sabres forwards, plus I’m a homer.  Sabres in 6.

#3 Boston vs #6 Montreal

Season Results:

MTL (3) – BOS (1)

MTL (4) – BOS (3)

MTL (3) – BOS (2) (OT)

BOS (8) – MTL (6)

MTL (4) – BOS (1)

BOS (7) – MTL (0)

Special Teams Rankings:

PP: BOS (20); MTL (7)

PK: BOS (16); MTL (7)

The Matchup:

This is THE classic matchup between two original six teams.  It is a rivalry that spans over generations.  The cities don’t like each other, the fans don’t like each other, and the teams don’t like each other.  Zdeno Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty back on March 8 simply added more gasoline to the fire of hatred between these franchises.  You gotta LOVE IT!!!

Boston is another team, like the Flyers, that rely on their physical style.  Up front, their forwards are the nastiest and grittiest in the East.  They feed off their physical play in order to generate their offense.   Defensively, it starts and ends with Chara.   The late season signing of Tomas Kaberle, I thought, was a great move to shore up the blue line while adding offensive power.  Kaberle hasn’t played up to his potential thus far but we’ll see what the post season holds.

Montreal hasn’t played well as of late with only 6 wins in their last 12 games.  The offense has been lacking all season as the Habs are the lowest scoring team in the playoffs.  Montreal, like Buffalo, is small up front but unlike the Sabres, they lack a true goal scorer.  Scott Gomez, to me, is still one of the most overrated players in the NHL.  Statistically, he’s coming off his worst season as a pro with a lovely -15 plus/minus rating.

The Bottom Line:

This is going to be the series to watch in the East.  Is Carey Price this season’s Jaroslav Halak? Will Tim Thomas continue his amazing comeback season?  It’s another series where physical play goes up against a smaller, quicker team.  The Canadiens, however, just don’t have the fire power to hang with the Bruins.  Boston in 5.

#4 Pittsburgh vs #5 Tampa Bay

Season Results:

TB (5) – PIT (3)

PIT (5) – TB (1)

PIT (8) – TB (1)

TB (2) – PIT (1)

Special Teams Rankings:

PP: PIT (25); TB (6)

PK: PIT (1); TB (8)

The Matchup:

This could easily be the least watched series of the entire playoffs.  These two teams are pretty evenly matched, with both teams winning at home during the regular season.  Both teams come into the playoffs on a roll but I think Pittsburgh is doing it with smoke and mirrors.

No doubt, Pittsburgh will miss the offense Malkin and Crosby bring to the rink.  They’ve been able to win games without both players, but a playoff series is totally different animal.  Defensively, however, they make up for their lack of fire power up front.  Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik shore up the defense and their play will determine just how long this series will go.  That and I like how Letang plays the position.

Tampa Bay is all about Offense.  Steven Stamkos led the team with 45 goals with 17 on the power play.  They can roll three solid goal scoring lines at you, having scored 247 goals on the season.  Defensively, however, the Bolts struggle ranking 21th in goals against and lack a true shut down defenseman.  Goaltender Dwayne Roloson is 41 and I’m not sure he can handle the intensity of a 7 game series.

The Bottom Line:

Offensively, the Penguins are just not capable of sustaining solid goal scoring over a series.  However, Tampa Bay can’t stop a Pee Wee team on defense.  This is going to come down to Pittsburgh’s Penalty Kill versus Tampa’s high octane Power Play.  Just ask the Caps how well high powered offenses work in the post season.  I’m taking the Penguins.  Pittsburgh in 7.