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NHL: Eastern Conference preview

A series-by-series look at the matchups.

April 09, 2012|By Helene Elliott
  • Penguins winger Matt Cooke collides with Flyers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky as he chases the puck around the goal during a game last week in Pittsburgh.
Penguins winger Matt Cooke collides with Flyers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky… (Justin K. Aller / Getty Images )

Two division titles, several playoff positions and the Presidents' Trophy for the top overall record were decided on the final day of the regular season, a day that ended several postseason droughts.

The Pacific champion Phoenix Coyotes won their first division title, including their Winnipeg origins. The Florida Panthers won the Southeast and their first playoff berth since the 1999-2000 season, and the Vancouver Canucks won the Presidents' Trophy for the second straight season. According to the NHL, the last time the Presidents' Trophy was decided on the last day was 1990-91.

Though there are new elements, but there's one constant in the Stanley Cup playoff field: The Detroit Red Wings qualified for the 21st straight season, the longest active streak in the four major U.S. sports leagues.

A breakdown of the matchups:

No. 1 New York Rangers vs. No. 8 Ottawa Senators

Records: New York 51-24-7--109, Ottawa 41-31-10—92.

Season series: Senators 3-1.

Power play: New York 15.7% (23rd); Ottawa 18.2% (11th).

Penalty killing: New York 86.2% (fifth); Ottawa 81.6% (20th).

Leading scorers: Rangers — Marian Gaborik 41-35 — 76; Ottawa — Jason Spezza 34-50 — 84.

Outlook: Goalie Henrik Lundqvist (1.97 goals-against, .930 save percentage) has been touted for the Vezina (best goalie) and Hart (MVP) trophies. He injured his right hand last week and the Rangers won't breathe until he proves he's OK. Ottawa's Erik Karlsson led NHL defensemen with 78 points. The Senators slid to the finish, losing their last three.

Prediction: Losing their last two games cost the Rangers the Presidents' Trophy (most points), but they should advance if Lundqvist is 100%. Rangers in six.

Game 1, Thursday at New York, 4

Game 2, Saturday at New York, 4

Game 3, Monday at Ottawa, 4:30

Game 4, April 18 at Ottawa, 4:30

Game 5*, April 21 at New York, 4

Game 6*, April 23 at Ottawa, TBD

Game 7*, April 26 at New York, TBD

* if necessary; times PDT

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

Records: Boston 49-29-4--102, Washington 42-32-8—92

Season series: Capitals 3-1.

Power play: Boston 17.2% (15th); Washington 16.7% (18th).

Penalty killing: Boston 83.5% (11th); Washington 81.6% (21st).

Leading scorers: Bruins — Tyler Seguin 29-38 — 67; Capitals — Alexander Ovechkin 38-27 — 65.

Outlook: The defending champion Bruins are well-balanced, with six players who had at least 20 goals. They were the NHL's top faceoff team at 54.5% and are disciplined defensively. Towering defenseman Zdeno Chara has had another Norris Trophy (overall ability, defensemen) season. The Capitals barely made the playoffs, boosted after center Nicklas Backstrom recovered from a concussion. With goalie Tomas Vokoun injured, their hopes will rest on rookie Braden Holtby. Gulp.

Prediction: Bruins in six.

Game 1, Thursday at Boston, 4:30

Game 2, Satureday at Boston, noon

Game 3, Monday at Wash., 4:30

Game 4, April 19 at Wash., 4:30

Game 5*, April 21 at Boston, noon

Game 6*, April 22 at Wash., TBD

Game 7*, April 25 at Boston, TBD

* if necessary; times PDT

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

Records: Florida 38-26-18--94, New Jersey 48-28-6—102.

Season series: Panthers 2-1-1.

Power play: Florida 18.5% (seventh); New Jersey 17.2% (14th).

Penalty killing: Florida 79.5% (25th); New Jersey 89.6% (first).

Leading scorers: Panthers — Thomas Fleischmann 27-34 — 61; Devils — Ilya Kovalchuk 37-46 — 83.

Keys: The Panthers backed into the playoffs by losing five of their last six games, but they ended up winning a weak division. They will see their former coach, Peter DeBoer, who was hired by New Jersey after Florida fired him. New Jersey won its last six games to gain momentum going into the playoffs. Goaltender Martin Brodeur, who will soon be 40 years old, might have one long playoff run left.

Prediction: Kovalchuk had an outstanding season for a deep and disciplined team. Devils in five.

Game 1, Friday at Florida, 4

Game 2, Sunday at Florida, 4:30

Game 3, April 17 at N.J., 4

Game 4, April 19 at N.J., 4

Game 5*, April 21 at Florida, 3:30

Game 6*, April 24 at N.J., TBD

Game 7*, April 26 at Florida, TBD

* if necessary; times PDT

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

Records: Pittsburgh 51-25-6--108, Philadelphia 47-26-9—103

Season series: Flyers 4-2-0.

Power play: Pittsburgh 19.7% (fifth); Philadelphia: 19.7% (sixth).

Penalty killing: Pittsburgh 87.8% (third); Philadelphia 81.8% (17th).

Leading scorers: Penguins — Evgeni Malkin 50-59 — 109 (league leader); Flyers — Claude Giroux 28-65 — 93.

Outlook: Star power, hatred, a regional rivalry — check, check and check. The Penguins scored a league-high 282 goals but took care of their own end too, compiling a +plus-61 goal differential. Sidney Crosby, out most of the season because of a concussion, had 37 points in 22 games. The Flyers are scrappy and deep enough to have compensated for losing Chris Pronger to a concussion. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov can be brilliant or awful, sometimes in the same period.

Prediction: A long series if Bryzgalov rises to the occasion. Almost a pick 'em, but Pittsburgh in seven.

Game, 1 Wednesday at Pittsburgh, 4:30

Game 2, Friday at Pittsburgh, 4

Game 3, Sunday at Philadelphia, noon

Game 4, April 18 at Philadelphia, 4:30

Game 5*, April 20 at Pittsburgh, 4:30

Game 6*, April 22 at Philadelphia, TBD

Game 7*, April 24 at Pittsburgh, TBD

* if necessary; times PDT

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