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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

NHL playoffs: preview and picks

Published: April 15, 2011
Section: Sports

Welcome back to the best month in professional sports. MLB just started, the NFL draft is only a couple weeks away and NBA playoffs are quickly approaching. Greatest of all, though, is the NHL playoffs. One of the biggest secrets in professional sports is that the hockey playoffs are the best in sports. Without further ado, here is our first-round playoff breakdown:

Eastern Conference:

1. Washington Capitals vs. 8. New York Rangers:

This matchup features two teams that surprisingly play in a similar style. Washington ditched their fast-paced, high-offense, little-defense approach this season and instead focused on a controlled and defense-oriented style. Shockingly, this led to an extreme down year for Alex Ovechkin, who was held to only 32 goals. This caused Washington to have fewer goals on the season than the Rangers (this is actually surprising and interesting if you follow hockey). The Rangers also won the season series 3-1, with two of those wins ending in blowouts. With Dennis Wideman and Tom Poti likely out for the series, and Mike Green returning after a long absence (and probably out of shape), the Capitals defense may suffer. As long as the Rangers can continue to shut down Ovechkin (they have not allowed him to score against them so far this season), they have a very good chance at pulling the upset. In a close series, it is always wise to pick the better goalie. Henrik Lundqvist is by far the better goalie than Michal Neuvirth is, an untested rookie.

Rangers in seven games.

2. Philadelphia Flyers vs. 7. Buffalo Sabres:

What seems like an easy call on paper is actually more complicated in reality. Chris Pronger, the Flyers’ best player, may not come back from injury. Combining that fact with Buffalo’s obvious advantage at the goalie position makes for an interesting series. The only way for Buffalo to pull out the victory is for Ryan Miller to repeat his dominant goaltending performance from the Olympics.

Flyers in six games (assuming Pronger comes back).

3. Boston Bruins vs. 6. Montreal Canadiens:

This series provides an excellent matchup between two of the original six franchises with two of the best fan bases. The Canadiens rely on their top line, led by Tomas Plekanec, to score goals. They will need a big series from this group to advance to the second round. Boston’s physicality and strong defense, led by captain Zdeno Chara, will look to shut down Montreal’s top line. If they are successful, they will win the series. It will be interesting to see how Chara, who has only reached the third round of the playoffs once in his long NHL career, and the Bruins play following last year’s historic breakdown. They became the first team ever in the NHL to lose a series after winning the first three games.

Bruins in seven games.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 5. Tampa Bay Lightning:

Presumably without their two best players, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins seem outmatched on paper. Still, both teams have a lot of experience on the roster, with neither having a major advantage at the goalie position. Tampa Bay has the advantage on offense, while Pittsburgh has the advantage on defense. Both teams enter the postseason on a winning streak. Crosby is obviously the x-factor in this series, with his presence (or lack thereof) shifting the balance of power.

Lightning in six games (assuming Crosby does not return).

Western Conference:

1. Vancouver Canucks vs. 8. Chicago Blackhawks:

Last year the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. As the defending champions they must be given some respect. However, that respect only goes so far as they are a vastly different team this year due to a salary cap-caused roster purge this past off-season. The Canucks’ Sedin twins will prove to be too much for the defending champs to handle.

Canucks in five games.

2. San Jose Sharks vs. 7. Los Angeles Kings:

The Sharks’ potent offense, led by Joe Thornton, was able to guide the Sharks to the second seed during the regular season. However, the Kings style of aggressive defense will shut Thornton down. In addition, the Sharks just seem unable to play good hockey in the playoffs as they haven’t gotten beyond the second round since before the 2004-2005 lockout. In our Stone-Cold-Lead-Pipe-Lock of an upset …

Kings in six games.

3. Detroit Red Wings vs. 6. Phoenix Coyotes:

The Red Wings were led by stellar play from their goaltender, Jimmy Howard, during the regular season. We expect this to keep up during the playoffs, especially because the Red Wings are such a historical hockey franchise. The Red Wing fans also have an interesting tradition of throwing octopi onto the ice after a player scores a hat trick and, since there is nothing people like to see more than flying octopus parts, we hope to see lots of hat tricks from Red Wing players.

Red Wings in four games.

4. Anaheim Ducks vs. 5. Nashville Predators:

In the real world a Duck would be no match for a Predator, however, in this playoff series it’s a whole different story. These Ducks have Corey Perry and his 50-goal (50-48) season to back them up. If Perry isn’t up to the task of carrying the Ducks, we expect goalie Dan Ellis to pick up the slack. While Ellis’ regular season numbers are rather pedestrian, we expect him to have the amazing kind of post-season had by the Montreal Canadiens’ Jaroslav Halak last year.

Ducks in five games.