These two teams met last year in the Quarterfinals, with the Capitals being the number 1 seed, and the Rangers number 8. The Capitals would win that series without much of a problem, 4-1. This year, it is not going to be quite so easy. The Rangers are the number 1 seed in the East, and they held the top spot in the conference for much of the season. The Capitals meanwhile, barely made it into the playoffs. Having said that, both of these teams played well enough in the first round to advance to the Conference Semifinals, with each team winning in a Game 7.
New York just made it through the first round against Ottawa. I don’t think anyone thought that series would end up going to a seventh game, but it did, and it has a lot of people questioning the Rangers ability to make it to the Cup, let alone win it. Marian Gaborik was nearly non-existent in the first round, which has many Rangers fans worried, and rightfully so. He is going to have to show up for the second round, because the Rangers need his scoring. With Gaborik only registering 1 goal in the first round against Ottawa, it became clear that the Rangers heavily rely on him to carry their offense. They outscored the Senators in that series by just one goal, 14-13. If it wasn’t for the incredible goaltending by Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers may not have survived that series. Against Washington, New York needs to generate more offense. Washington is not the greatest defensive team, but they have been rather decent in these playoffs. Braden Holtby will be heading into this series with a ton of confidence after the way he performed against Boston. Confident, rookie goalies are some of the toughest goalies to figure out and beat, which means that the Rangers need to score more goals per game in this series than they did against Ottawa. Defensively, the Rangers should stick to what they have done all year. They have been one of the strongest defensive teams in the league since day one of the season. Special teams will be a key to this series. Whichever team has a better and more consistent powerplay will have an offensive advantage over the other team. Neither Washington or New York have been that great on the powerplay this year, so if one of them can get it going in this series, it could be a difference maker.
The Capitals knocked off the defending champion Boston Bruins in 7 games in the first round. My prediction before that series started was that the Bruins would win in 7 games, and that the Capitals would not go down easily. Well, I partially got that right. The Bruins didn’t win, but the Capitals sure put up a fight, and a good enough one to advance. Braden Holtby was an absolute star in net during the first round for Washington. Who would have ever guessed that he would be the starting goalie for the Capitals come playoff time, and that he would play well enough to eliminate the Bruins? The play of Braden Holtby has been the most surprising story line thus far in these playoffs. After having such a disappointing season, the Capitals seemed to have found their stride in the first round against Boston. Ovechkin picked up his game, and so did Alexander Semin. Semin looked like a man possessed at times for the Capitals, which really made life difficult for the Bruins defense. If Washington wants to beat New York and advance to the Conference Finals, they need to keep on playing like they did in the first round. They will be going up against another great goalie, actually the best goalie, in Henrik Lundqvist, as well as another fantastic defensive team. In the regular season, the Rangers ranked third in goals against per game. So far in these playoffs, they rank fourth. Washington is going to HAVE to get another strong series from Ovechkin, Semin, and Holtby. Nicklas Backstrom is also going to need to play well. He had an OK first round with 1 goal (it came in the second overtime of Game 2) and 3 assists, but he is going to need to step it up even more against the Rangers. Also, physical play is going to be a big factor in this series. New York is arguably the most physical team in the league, so the Capitals are going to have to try and match the Rangers in the department.
-New York wins series, 4-2.
The Devils will head into this series fresh off their Game 7 victory in Florida over the Panthers, while the Flyers will head into this one with plenty of rest. Offense was the name of the game for Philadelphia in the first round, but now they will be going up against one the best playoff goaltenders of all time in Martin Brodeur. Who will prevail?
The Flyers did what most people didn’t think would happen to the Penguins. They eliminated them from the playoffs, and they made it look somewhat easy. Their offense absolutely exploded in round one, netting 30 goals. A big part of their offensive explosion was the play of Claude Giroux. He recorded 14 points (6 goals, 8 assists) in the first round, which I believe set a Flyers playoff record for one round. Giroux was easily the most impressive forward in round one of any team in the playoffs, and it will be interesting to see if he can continue to play at that high level against the Devils. Danny Briere also came up big for Philadelphia in round one, netting 5 goals and 3 assists. Against the Devils, the Flyers need to get a lot of shots on goal. Martin Brodeur is not going to let in too many soft goals, so Philadelphia will need to get as many shots as possible and create a number of decent scoring chances in order to beat him. Also, there is some concern regarding the Flyers defense and goaltending. They looked OK in round one against the Flyers, but also looked pretty bad at other times. They are going to have to play quality minutes and clog the passing lanes against New Jersey’s top 2 lines. As for Ilya Bryzgalov, he will need to be better against the Devils than he was in round one. In the first round, his goals against average was a whopping 3.89, and his save percentage was just .871. Those are unacceptable numbers, especially in the playoffs. Even though Bryzgalov was able to win 4 games against Pittsburgh, neither he nor the Flyers can rely on those same numbers to get them through the second round.
The Devils have yet to convince me that they are a serious contender in the east. At times they have looked really good, but at other times they have looked very beatable. Their defense is their strength. They ranked ninth in the NHL in goals against per game this season, which is something that they will need to continue against the Flyers. As we all know, Philadelphia was about as potent of an offense as there was in the NHL this year, ranking second in the league in goals per game at 3.17. In the first round, they averaged 5 goals per game, which is nearly unheard of. The point I am making is that the Devils have to be on top of their game defensively every minute of every game in this series if they want to advance to the next round. They cannot afford any mishaps against the Flyers. Martin Brodeur, who didn’t have his best playoff series against the Panthers, will need to have one of his best against the Flyers. Odds are that his defense will need him to bail them out more than once in this series. He cannot allow any weak goals, because Philadelphia will without a doubt get a number of good goals as well. As for the New Jersey forwards, they played rather well against Florida in the first round, averaging 2.57 goals per game. There is one major concern, however. How healthy is Ilya Kovalchuk? In Game 7, he was noticeably laboring out on the ice and was not his normal self. He was unable and/or unwilling to make sharp cuts on defense, which led to a couple decent opportunities for the Panthers’ forwards. In order for the Devils to win this series, they will need Kovalchuk to be as healthy as can be. They cannot afford to have him play at less than 100%. Adam Henrique, who scored just 2 goals against Florida (both in Game 7), will need to have a better series. He was a huge part of the Devils offense this season, even as a rookie, and they will need him now more than ever. Lastly, Zach Parise needs to play like the Zach Parise we all know. It’s as simple as that with him. With that said…
-Philadelphia wins series, 4-1.