7) Capitals vs. 1) Rangers
Previous Playoff Meetings…
2011 ECQ: 1) Capitals over 8) Rangers in five
2009 ECQ: 1) Capitals over 8) Rangers in seven
1994 ECS: 1) Rangers over 7) Capitals in five
1991 DS: P3) Capitals over P2) Rangers in six
1990 DF: P3) Capitals over P1) Rangers in five
1985 DF: P4) Rangers over P2) Capitals in six
Tale of the Tape…
Edge: Even… Both teams have a talented mix of forwards which makes this series even more intriguing. By that same token, no superstars on either team have been dominant through the first round.
Edge: Rangers… The Capitals have a great top pairing in Karl Alzner and John Carlson, but their overall blue-line does not compete with that of the Rangers.
Edge: Rangers… Henrik Lundqvist was the difference in Round 1 but Braden Holtby already slayed the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Lundqvist narrowly gets our vote here, but he has to be the better of the two for the Rangers to win.
Edge: Capitals… Both teams have a decent power play but the Capitals' penalty kill was superb through seven games.
Edge: Rangers… John Tortorella has been there and knows how to motivate his squad. After a tumultuous regular season, Dale Hunter is finally getting results out of his team. However, Tortorella has been doing that all season.
Edge: Rangers… Slight edge for the Rangers here as they have more Stanley Cup winners on their team. It is, however, only a 3:1 advantage.
Edge: Capitals… The Rangers are without arguably their best forward in Brian Boyle and a top-four defenseman in Michael Sauer. And while Tomas Vokoun remains sidelined, his injury likely helped the Capitals in the first round as they were forced to give Holtby a look.
Keys to the Series…
1. Playing Ranger hockey… As Patrick so aptly discussed, the Blueshirts need to play 'Ranger hockey' in order to succeed. In other words, they need to block shots, hit everything that moves, and stay tight defensively. During the first round, the Rangers did just that, which allowed them to come back from a 3-2 deficit and take the series.
2. Henrik Lundqvist… The Rangers have the edge between the pipes if Lundqvist plays up to his capabilities. Through 22 regular season games against Washington, Lundqvist has been mortal with a 13-7 record, 2.78 GAA and .901 save percentage. And despite posting an excellent 2.26 GAA against the Caps last postseason, he likely needs to be even better to be a true difference maker.
1. Sacrifice... "You win big games like this because of sacrifice," Capitals coach Dale Hunter said after the Caps' Game 7 victory. "And they did throughout the whole series." Hunter somehow got this uber-talented yet inconsistent bunch to bunker down defensively and win a playoff series the right way. For Round 2, Hunter now needs to get his guys to play that same game against a squad that emphasized hard work all season.
2. Alexander the Great, or the benched... Who knows what the Caps will get out of Alex Ovechkin. During the first round, he played sparingly, seeing just over 16 minutes in Game 7 and finding ice times of 15:34, 17:01 and 17:34, respectively. Will he have an impact moving forward?
Why the Rangers will win…
This Rangers squad showed courage in the face of adversity. Through the first five games they struggled to score goals and play consistent defense but with their backs against the wall, they proved themselves and advanced. To win against the Capitals, they need to pay even more attention to detail and continue to convert their opportunities. They looked very sharp from the net out in Game 7; they need to replicate that focus in order to finally defeat the Caps for the first time since 1994.
Why the Capitals will win…
The Capitals will win because their talented group found a way to beat the Rangers at their own game. Last season, Bruce Boudreau's bunch was able to steamroll the Rangers in five games. However, it doesn't seem like their new bench boss is willing to free up the reigns. Therefore, if the Caps are to advance, Holtby needs to be heroic while guys like Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin pick their spots.
After both teams took their first round series to seven games, it will be interesting to see if either team has an advantage. The Rangers find themselves with a bit of a competitive advantage since they have been playing a tight checking system all season, but the Caps might pull it off with a bit more panache. I'm going with Rangers in seven but, in all honesty, this season could go either way.
Prediction: Rangers in 7
6) Devils vs. 5) Flyers
Previous Playoff Meetings…
2010 ECQ: 7) Flyers over 2) Devils in five
2004 ECQ: 3) Flyers over 6) Devils in five
2000 ECF: 4) Devils over 1) Flyers in seven
1995 ECF: 5) Devils over 2) Flyers in six
Tale of the Tape…
Edge: Flyers… The Devils have Zach Parise and a banged-up Ilya Kovalchuk but their forward depth simply does not compare to that of Philly's. Claude Giroux was easily the best forward in all of Round 1 and should be able to replicate that dominance against a lesser squad of defensemen.
Edge: Flyers… This rag-tag bunch of defensemen were able to bunker down on the Penguins' offense and get through the first round. That task, coupled with a healthy Nicklas Grossmann, should pay dividends for the Orange and Black.
Edge: Flyers… Martin Brodeur might be the best starting goalie of all time but Ilya Bryzgalov has the confidence of his team. While Brodeur played well enough to defeat the spunky Florida Panthers, he won't be so lucky against Philly.
Edge: Flyers… Philly's PP simply dominated a very good Pittsburgh PK while the Devils PK-- a strength entering the postseason-- was only better than the Penguins.
Edge: Flyers… Peter Laviolette knows what it takes to get the Flyers to the show. Devils head coach Pete DeBoer is a great bench boss, and deservedly underrated, but still has room for improvement.
Edge: Even… The Flyers still have a few guys who went to the Finals back in 2010, but the Devils still roster some core players from their last Stanley Cup.
Edge: Even… Both teams have some minor injuries to depth players like Andrej Meszaros and Jacob Josefsen. Only one player, defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon, was hurt during the first round.
Keys to the Series…
1. Foot on the gas… Following a momentum-building six-game series, the Flyers need to keep their foot on the gas. Giroux simply dominated, the blue-line blocked as many shots as they could while the rest of the team played up to their expectations. Playing an inferior Devils team, the Flyers have the ability to, simply put, keep their opponent out of the series altogether.
2. Confidence in 'The Universe'… We touched on the issue above but the team's confidence in Bryzgalov was enough for them to win a pivotal Game 6. GM Paul Holmgren acquired the enigmatic starting goalie because his team needed a better presence between the pipes. However, a 3.89 GAA or .871 save percentage will not get you into the Stanley Cup Finals without making the big saves at the right time. And in order for Bryzgalov to achieve that, his team will need to remain confident with him between the pipes.
1. A wealth of question marks… Is Ilya Kovalchuk hurt? If yes, will he be healthy enough to make an impact in this series? How about David Clarkson? Is he healthy, can he provide a physical, gritty presence against the equally physical Flyers? Do the Devils have enough on the blue line to truly shut down the Flyers onslaught? Those questions, and more, are why the Devils -- who finished only one seed below the Flyers -- are a huge underdog.
2. More magic for Marty?… This season, or next, will likely be the end for Martin Brodeur. He showed flashes of greatness during the regular season and the postseason but most pundits agree that he is done. His 2.06 GAA and .922 save percentage were better than expected but he barely made it past the first round. Does he have enough in the tank to stop a very lethal Flyers squad?
Why the Flyers will win…
The Flyers will win because they are simply the better team. Their offense is much scarier and more cohesive than the one-line wonder in New Jersey. Additionally, winning the first round should be a big confidence boost for Bryzgalov, while getting Grossmann back into the mix could help the team tighten up. With an efficient power play and the swagger to succeed, it really should be a tap-in for the Broadstreet Bullies.
Why the Devils will win…
The Devils, while the underdog, still have a chance in this series. In order to win they will need a game-changing effort from Kovalchuk and Parise, while their secondary scoring chips in admirably. The heroes of their first round were Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique, which provides some optimism for Devils fans since they should boast a solid 1-2 punch down the middle. But, for the most part, they need to be perfect and not allow the Flyers to control the tempo.
The Flyers enter the series as the favorites and there is no reason to bet against them. Danny Briere remains one of the premiere playoff performers, but Giroux is expected to take this series by storm. Those two factors alone give me the confidence to say that Philly takes this series. Easily.
Prediction: Flyers in 5
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