Our group of writers are not just avid Habs fans, but also dedicated hockey nuts. As such, it was not difficult to gather up some predictions for the other series in the first round. Below are our collective predictions and analyses of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, save for the Montreal-Boston series, of course.
No. 1 Washington Capitals vs. No. 8 New York Rangers
Louis’ Key: Sticking to structure. The Capitals have surprised many by adding a more structured, defensive element to their game. As long as Washington sticks to that structure, there is no reason for New York and its average offense to prevail.
Prediction: This is not last year’s immature, run-and-gun team. Washington is hungry to win and is prepared to play the style required to do so. Washington in 5.
Brian La Rose
Brian’s Analysis: The Caps are a more defence first team than the squad that we saw Montreal beat in this situation last year. They are also a more veteran-laden team which should help. The Rangers squeaked into the postseason by the skin of their teeth, although they do have the upper hand in goal with Henrik Lundqvist.
Prediction: Caps in 5 – The late season injury to Ryan Callahan will be costly as it changes the dynamic of the Rangers’ lineup. With Mike Green set to return for Washington, they’ll be nearly fully healthy and should cruise to victory unless we see a goalie implosion.
Prediction: I like this matchup, I think this will be the 2nd most interesting series in the East (the best being Habs-Boooins). The key for me will be Henrik Lundqvist’s level of play. If he can steal some games like Halak did last postseason, the Rangers will have all the chances in the world. But, I would put my money on the firepower of Washington. Caps in 6.
Prediction: Capitals in 5.
Although the Rangers outplayed the Capitals during the regular season, with a 3-1-0 record, while outscoring them17-6 this season, this ain’t your 24/7 version of the Washington Capitals either. A maturation of the newly formed TV stars has developed, and since the 60 game mark of this season, Washington has had a white-hot 17-4-1 record. The Rangers counter with a 13-8-1 record during the same 4th quarter. While both teams have some significant injuries currently, Washington’s transformation from a strictly high-octane offensive group of last season, to a team tuned to a better defensive style, will provide them an edge for the post season.
No. 2 Philadelphia Flyers vs. No. 7 Buffalo Sabres
Louis’ Key: Flyers goaltending. The Flyers have a group of netminders that do not necessarily inspire awe in their adversaries. Bobrovsky or Boucher do not need to be sensational, but they do need to hold down the fort. Should either falter in the opening games, that could give Buffalo the hope and momentum it needs to steal this series.
Prediction: In spite of the question mark in goal, the Flyers easily remain the deepest team in the East. With injuries to key players like Derek Roy and Jordan Leopold as well as smaller issues afflicting others, it is hard to imagine how Buffalo can match up. Flyers in 5.
Brian La Rose
Brian’s Analysis: The Sabres have been one of the hotter teams of late and Ryan Miller is now healthy again. On the other hand, the Flyers slumped down the stretch and aren’t exactly going into the postseason on a high note. As always, their goalie (this year, it’s Sergei Bobrovsky) is a question mark.
Prediction: Flyers in 6 – Miller is fully capable of stealing a game or two and I suspect he will. However, it’s hard to bet against a Philly team with more offensive firepower and better defensive depth (even if Pronger misses a couple of games) that nearly won it all last year.
Prediction: Another matchup between a better team without good goaltending and a middle of the pack team with a great goalie. However, this time, I really think that the Flyers, a team built for the playoffs, will bully the Sabres. They would really need Derek Roy at this point even if Boyes has been great for them. Ryan Miller will steal one, but Flyers take this in 5.
Prediction: Sabres in 6.
The first upset of the first round of the 2011 playoffs will go to the Sabres. Buffalo has the edge in defence and goal over the Flyers, especially since Chris Pronger
is not expected return to the lineup for the start of the series. If he does return for the first round, then his effectiveness will likely be limited. Buffalo’s plucky forwards do not match up against the Flyers, but the Flyers team over the past 22 games were a .500 club, while the Sabres record was 14-4-4.
No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 5 Tampa Bay Lightning
Louis’ Key: Goaltending. Perhaps this is an oversimplification, but both Marc-André Fleury and Dwayne Rolosson are occasionally prone to allowing a bad goal. Canadiens fans will certainly remember a less than stellar Fleury from last year’s second round matchup. Whoever performs better will determine the victor.
Prediction: Discarding the Penguins, who finished the season in impressive fashion in spite of numerous key injuries, may be unwise. However, by virtue of being healthier, Tampa Bay has a far superior group of forwards. Their defense certainly isn’t dominant, but they should be able to contain Jordan Staal and company fairly well. Tampa Bay in 7.
Brian La Rose
Brian’s Analysis: It’s a battle of two top-heavy teams, although one of them is missing their two top scorers. There are question marks abound with these squads as a result, particularly in goal where the inconsistent Marc-Andre Fleury will square off against the NHL’s senior citizen between the pipes, Dwayne Roloson.
Prediction: Lightning in 6 – With the current Pittsburgh roster, they need to play low scoring games to win. With the likes of St. Louis, Stamkos, and Lecavalier for Tampa Bay, it will be a little too difficult to shut them all down to keep the games low scoring.
Prediction: The key to this series? Sid or no Sid. The Return of the Kid (in good health) would be enough, in my opinion, to see the Pens go through Tampa fairly easily. Do Jordan Staal, Kovalev and Chris Kunitz have too much pressure on their shoulders? Yes. On the Tampa side, the Big 3 will have to be consistent and pray for Rollie the Goalie to be on top of his game. I liked the Brewer move back at the trade deadline and like it even more now. Close one. I go with the No Sid option. Tampa in 7.
Prediction: Penguins in 6.
The Penguins are better suited this season for the playoffs, with off season acquisitions to bolster their defence. Despite their offensive losses of Crosby and Malkin, they have continued to win. Their combined experience will be sufficient to get out of the first round.