NHL Eastern Conference Playoffs: Round 1 Preview and Picks

NHL Eastern Conference Playoffs: Round 1 Preview and Picks

NHL Eastern Conference Playoffs: Round 1 Preview and Picks
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No. 1 New York Rangers vs. No. 8 Ottawa Senators

The Rangers didn’t secure the Presidents’ Trophy on the season’s final night. But when that’s the worst thing you can say about a team, they’ve had a pretty good year.

New York has the best goaltender in the game, Henrik Lundqvist (39-18-5), a fiery coach who has already won the Stanley Cup before, John Tortorella, and home-ice advantage over 14 of the 15 playoff teams in the tournament.

For now, it’s about stepping up, shaking off a slow finish and burying a team that, while talented, is truly in that “happy to be here” mode. Ottawa has gifted goal scorers in Milan Michalek (35), Jason Spezza (34), and Daniel Alfredsson (32) and a scoring machine on the backline in Erik Karlsson (78 points).

But this series is probably a little out of the Senators’ rent district. Ottawa lost three in a row to end the season and, though it had its way in the season series, the second season is a whole new game. Look for a big series from New York forward Marian Gaborik (76 points), who had three goals in his final five games.

Season series: 3-1 for the Senators

Pick: Rangers in five games

No. 2 Boston Bruins vs. No. 7 Washington Capitals

Braden Holtby, this is your life. The Capitals' third-string goaltender will be pressed into duty against the Stanley Cup champions, who just happen to have six players with 20 or more goals. No pressure there for a kid who was just 4-2-1 this season.

That’s the way the Bruins won it all last year. Without a true superstar up front, Boston coach Claude Julien threw out layer upon layer of depth, combined it with tremendous goaltending and, 25 games later, the Cup was theirs.

It will be more difficult this time. The East is better than it was last season - the Rangers are more experienced, the Penguins are healthier, the Devils are back, and the Flyers have a goaltender - so things likely won't break the way they did for Beantown last spring.

But the Capitals burned up an awful lot of fuel just making it to the postseason. And though Alex Ovechkin (38 goals) is streaking into the tournament, he doesn't have the playoff resume to pull off an upset here, especially with Washington's questions in net. The Capitals will put up a good fight but the Bruins should at least get out of Round 1.

Season series: 3-1 for the Capitals

Pick: Bruins in seven games

No. 3 Florida Panthers vs. No. 6 New Jersey Devils

There are plenty of ties to both sides and plenty of incentive, as well. New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer was let go by Florida a year ago. And Florida center John Madden and backup goaltender Scott Clemmensen are Devils’ castoffs. So, while it may not be the most glamorous matchup, it has its interesting storylines.

Florida is a gift No. 3 seed, by virtue of winning the subpar Southeast Division and New Jersey, with six wins to end the year, could be the hottest team in the East. But it goes beyond that. DeBoer has made the most of his average defense and allowed goaltender Martin Brodeur (31-21-4) and a stable of skilled forwards - Ilya Kovalchuk (83 points), Zach Parise (31 goals), Patrik Elias (78 points), and David Clarkson (30 goals) - to carry the club.

And while Florida can boast a great season out of goaltender Jose Theodore (three shutouts, 2.46 GAA), the facts remain that the Panthers have a rookie coach in Kevin Dineen and a leader in Stephen Weiss, who has never played a postseason game.

The Devils are a long way from their old Stanley Cup form and they will likely get bounced by the rival Rangers in the second round. But they are better than Florida on many levels.

Season series: Tied, 2-2

Pick: Devils in six games

No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 5 Philadelphia Flyers

This is the series that has the networks and advertisers drooling. There are stars on both sides of the ice, two quality goaltenders, and a pair of coaches who just don’t like each other.

The Battle of Pennsylvania should be a treat. The Penguins have the likely Hart Trophy winner in Evgeni Malkin (50 goals), and a still-on-his-way-back Sidney Crosby (22 games played), but NHL bettors should like the depth and drive of the Flyers.

The Flyers can come at you in waves, with the likes of Claude Giroux (93 points), Scott Hartnell (37 goals), Wayne Simmonds (49 points, 140 hits) and Jaromir Jagr (35 assists), and they back down to no one.

Though Philadelphia has missed injured forwards Danny Briere and James van Riemsdyk, the former may play before this series is said and done. Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov (33-16-7) doesn't have the finals appearances like Marc-Andre Fleury (42-17-4), but he has a stiffer defense in front of him.

Season series: 4-2 for the Flyers

Pick: Flyers in seven games

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Re: NHL Eastern Conference Playoffs: Round 1 Preview and Picks

NHL Eastern Conference Playoff Betting Cheat Sheet
By Bill McBride
Covers.com

It took every game on the schedule, but the seeds in the Eastern Conference are finally set. Before the playoffs begin, check out these notes for navigating the postseason:

Best sleeper pick to win the East

The Philadelphia Flyers finished with 103 points. They have plenty of offense. They have more experience than the surface shows. And, when they take the ice next week, the Flyers will be participating in their 11th playoff series since 2008.

There’s a lot to like about Philadelphia, though we fully understand it’s hit or miss. Having won the season series versus Pittsburgh, 4-2, Philly knows how to contain Sidney Crosby and Co. And, though the Flyers will open on the road, they do have the horses to upset the Penguins in Round 1.

The Penguins, with all of their firepower, could turn out the lights on Philadelphia in a hurry. But for the price - 7-1 to win the East, 12-1 to win the Stanley Cup - you can do a lot worse than putting forwards Claude Giroux, Danny Briere, Jaromir Jagr and Scott Hartnell on your side.

Top hockey pool pick

Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist gets the headlines in the Big Apple and sharpshooter Marian Gaborik leads the goal parade, but Brad Richards is the most complete Ranger out there. And he’s done it all before, unlike the aforementioned.

His season numbers weren’t what most fans would’ve expected from the summer’s marquee free agent, but he reached 25 goals and finished second on the team in points (66). Plus, Ottawa, which lost its last three regular-season games, isn’t exactly rolling into Round 1.

Goalie who could steal a series

There are younger, hotter, even flashier goaltenders in the Eastern Conference. But no one has more experience, more hardware and more incentive to win than the man known as “Marty.” Martin Brodeur’s career is coming to a close and, after missing the playoffs for the first time since 1996 last season, he and the Devils are on a mission to gain back some respect. New Jersey started that process by winning six in a row to close the regular season.

Florida will throw everything they can at Brodeur. And pound for pound, especially if given four home games, the Panthers might be a better bet overall in this matchup. But that’s exactly why we like Brodeur. In a series where the odds - and his age - may be against him, we think the man who has more Stanley Cup titles (three) than all of the other goaltenders in the East playoffs combined can steal the show.

Potential first-round upset

Hockey fans watched in amazement last postseason, as Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas made save after save. He still has the talent to do it all over again, but Washington is not a normal No. 7 seed. The Capitals have offense that journeys beyond Alex Ovechkin (38 goals) and, though this core group has frustrated Washington fans beyond belief, they are playing their best hockey of the season.

Boston has played with a Stanley Cup hangover, at times, and Bruins fans can’t be all that psyched about heading into a postseason in which they have the No. 2 seed strictly because they won an inferior division.

Series with the most potential overs

It took time for Philadelphia's prized free-agent acquisition, Ilya Bryzgalov to find a groove this season. It’s hard to believe the netminder didn't even start the Winter Classic. But he rallied and is surging into the postseason. That said, NHL bettors aren’t sure that any one goalie can stop these two offensive trains over the long haul.

Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury has been tremendous this season as well, but this series will feature nine players with 20 or more goals (five Penguins, four Flyers), and Sidney Crosby - limited to 22 games - is not one of them.
 
In the regular-season series between these state rivals, the over went 3-2-1. And after the Penguins’ 4-2 win over the Flyers Saturday, which pushed with the 6-goal total, Pittsburgh finished 44-31-8 over/under while Philadelphia checked in at 43-37-2 over/under.

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Re: NHL Eastern Conference Playoffs: Round 1 Preview and Picks

Eastern Conference Betting Preview
By Sammy P Sports     
SportsMemo.com

#1 New York Rangers vs. #8 Ottawa Senators

Season Series: Senators won 3-1 (Senators 4-1, Senators 3-0, Rangers 3-2, Senators 5-4 (SO))
Series Price at Pinnacle: NY Rangers -216/Ottawa +193

What to expect: The New York Rangers have been playing playoff hockey since Day 1 of the NHL season. They are the best shot blocking team in the NHL, they have an elite goaltender in Lundqvist that can steal a game if needed, they play suffocating defense, and they typically receive contributions from all four forward lines. I am not however quick to dismiss what head coach Paul MacLean has done with the Ottawa Senators this season. The complete 180 this team has done is remarkable and they have been a consistent team throughout the much of the season. With Spezza, Alfredsson, and Michalek up front, the Senators are a very dangerous team and tough draw for the Rangers as seen in some of their recent meetings. The key in this series (like most) is goaltending and it is hard to go against King Henrik. In the end, New York has the overall depth and defensive style to grind down Ottawa and win a seven game series. New York takes this series in 6 games, but like many of these first round matchups we’ll see a lot of low scoring one goal games. Prediction: New York in 6 games

#2 Boston vs #7 Washington

Season Series: Capitals won 3-1 (Capitals 3-2 (SO), Capitals 4-3, Boston 4-1, Capitals 5-3)
Series Price at Pinnacle: Boston -213/Washington +191

What to expect: This isn’t the Boston Bruin team that won neither the Stanley Cup last season nor the same group that dominated the month of November. That being said, this isn’t the Washington Capitals team of years past either. Washington has yet to prove itself on the big stage in the playoffs while the Bruins have. This series is about one player and one player only…Washington goaltender Braden Holtby. When the Capitals signed Vokoun as a free agent this past summer to take over the #1 position, in my mind they gave up on one of the brightest goaltending prospects in the game. Holtby was sent down to the AHL and had to wait it out until finally he got his chance when both goalies went down to injury. Holtby is not a #3 NHL goalie so get that out of your head right now. Washington had to play good hockey down the stretch to make the playoffs and now with a healthy lineup they are poised for the first round upset. I know I’m going out on a long fragile limb with this, but mark my words, by the end of this series you’ll be mentioning Braden Holtby’s name in the same sentence of Jaroslav Halak and the 2010 Montreal Canadiens. Prediction: Washington in 7 games

#3 Florida vs #6 New Jersey

Season Series: Tied 2-2 (Panthers 3-1, Devils 5-2, Devils 3-2 (SO), Panthers 4-3)
Series Price at Pinnacle: New Jersey -186/Florida +167

What to expect: Well, my bold prediction back in October was right, the Florida Panthers made the playoffs. No one gave this Panthers team a chance in the summer after GM Dale Tallon put together a phenomenal free agent class on a limited budget. No one gave them credit when they jumped out to a big lead in the Southeast Division. And no one is giving them credit or a chance with home ice advantage against the New Jersey Devils in Round 1. When will people start giving this team respect? I said from Day 1 this is not only a different Panthers team, but a different organization and you see it in the effort and tenacity from rookie coach Kevin Dineen all the way down to his players. They are truly a pleasure to watch. The Panthers face a tough Devils team that has been playing great hockey down the stretch winning six straight games to end the season. Both of these teams play a very good defensive style of hockey and I expect a lot of low scoring games in this series with the first team to score having a distinct advantage in each game. Home ice in South Florida may be just the difference in this series if it heads to a Game 7, but I don’t think the Panthers will need that many. Maybe after this series someone will start giving these guys some respect. Prediction: Florida in 6 games

#4 Pittsburgh vs #5 Philadelphia

Season Series: Flyers won 4-2 (Penguins 4-2, Flyers 6-4, Flyers 3-2 (OT), Penguins 6-4, Flyers 4-2, Flyers 3-2)
Series Price at Pinnacle: Pittsburgh -206/Philadelphia +185

What to expect: Unfortunately for these two clubs they have to play in the first round as the 4 vs. 5 matchup. Both are worthy of a second round appearance and both have played consistently over the course of the season. Although Philadelphia holds the season series edge here, these teams are very evenly matched. Home ice won’t be as big a factor in as some of the other matchups as the away team has won eight of the 12 meetings over this season and last season. With short travel between games and loaded talent on each side the storyline here has to be Ilya Bryzgalov and Marc-Andre Fleury in net. Flyers fans finally got their wish when GM Paul Holmgren signed a legitimate #1 NHL goalie in the off season, committing $51 million over nine years to Bryzgalov. The problem is Bryzgalov hasn’t fully lived up to his end of the bargain despite posting an identical 2.48 goals against average as he had last season. He has been wildly inconsistent and that is always a cause for concern heading into the postseason. All can be rectified with a brilliant performance in the playoffs though. One of the most overlooked pieces of the Penguin puzzle is their goaltender Fleury. I think this series comes down to the goalies and Fleury has enough big game experience and consistency to make the Penguins a slight favorite with me. Prediction: Pittsburgh in 7 games

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