The regular season came and went as the NHL’s second season is set to begin tonight with the opening games for the 2009-2010 conference quarterfinals. While we here at FRWG are getting our playoff beards prepped for the Devils’ and Penguins’ successful cup runs here is a preview of every first round match-up starting with the eastern conference.
1. Washington Capitals vs 8. Montreal Canadiens
Regular season head-to-head: 2-2
Comrades in the mix: Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Semyon Varlamov, Andrei Markov
Last year the Capitals rode the coattails of then rookie goalie Semyon Varlamov after head coach Bruce Boudreau lost faith in Jose Theodore mid way through the first round. Varly managed to get the Caps to the Eastern Conference Finals only to be ousted by the eventual champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games.
This year due to injures and inconsistency, Theodore will be the team’s starting goalie as he goes against his former club. The one time MVP of the league will be backstopping the NHL’s best regular season team who earned their first Presidents’ Trophy eight points clear of anyone else.
It is nearly impossible to mention the Capitals without mentioning Alexander Ovechkin, who failed to win his third straight Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for most goals. One of the league’s marquee players will try to guide his team to the finals which shouldn’t be all too hard considering the team had the top offense in the regular season scoring 100 more goals then their first-round opponent.
Seven of the Capitals scored more than 20 goals on the year and should coast through this series. Washington’s other Alex (Semin) is coming of his most productive year in the NHL netting 40 goals and 44 assists a mere 25 points less than Ovie.
What awaits them is a Montreal team who finished 3-4-3 in their last ten but still managed to secure their third consecutive playoff berth. While the teams have split the regular season series there shouldn’t be much doubt on which team will take the series.
Montreal’s Andrei Markov managed to score half of his points from last year after missing 37 games with injury. Jaroslav Halak’s no.1 fan will have his goalie in net as they brace to hold off the high powered Washington offense. While the team does have depth and experience they fall short in fire power and while Halak does have the capability to steal games I would be shocked if the Capitals found themselves down in the series.
Prediction: Caps in 5
2. New Jersey Devils vs 7. Philadelphia Flyers
regular season series: Flyers won 5-1
Comrades in the mix: Ilya Kovalchuk, Vladimir Zharkov
The Devils look to erase their worst 80 seconds in franchise history when they surrendered game seven in last year’s first round. Having been in attendance myself the vibe post game is something I never hope to experience again as the misery poured into the streets of Newark and followed anyone associated back home.
This years Devils team enters the playoffs with something they aren’t exactly renound for with a prolific scorer in Ilya Kovalchuk who was aquired from Atlanta before the deadline for this exact reason.
Kovy has scored 27 points in 27 games with the Devils and thanks to the teams’ defense first mindset has turned into a player who is reliable on the back check. His only playoff experience was against the Rangers in 2007 with his most memorable moment seen below
Kovalchuk’s success in the post-season is vital for a player of his magnitude who was all the rage before the Ovechkin’s, Crosby’s and Malkin’s. The Devils’ success is also important if the team truly wants to re-sign him after July 1st. Many believe that if the Devils go deep into the playoffs, hockey’s best GM Lou Lamoriello wont need to do much convincing for Kovy to take a pay-cut.
Before Kovalchuk arrived the Devils relied on Zach Parise for most of their fire power and Parise quietly scored 38 goals and 44 assists to lead the team. If the two all-star forwards aren’t enough there is also Martin Brodeur who just happens to be the best goalie in the history of the sport. You couldn’t tell he the 37-year-old’s play is decreasing with no.30 finishing tops in the league in wins and shutouts.
Brodeur is also just two wins short of 100 playoff victories in his career and will surpass that after this series is over. Despite only winning one game against their division rivals the Devils should have the edge as the Flyers have been unpredictable all season.
The Flyers, unlike the Devils, bring a strong physical game in fact the media and fans consider this team as a reincarnation of the once famed Broad Street Bullies. Which pretty much means they are another Atlantic Division team who can’t let go of the past (see Brian Boucher). The Flyers do have plenty of bruisers including Chris Pronger who somehow always escapes the eye of Colin Campbell with his signature elbow to the head move.
The Devils can expect Pronger and his entourage of goons to constantly crash the net and get in the face of Brodeur. Unfortunately for them that is about their only strong point and they should go quietly.
Prediction: Devils in 5
3. Buffalo Sabres vs 6 Boston Bruins
regular season series: Bruins won 4-2
Comrades in the mix: none
The only playoff match up that features no comrades will still be very entertaining as two more division rivals clash. Just like in the Olympics Tim Thomas will be watching Ryan Miller from the bench as Tuukka Rask gets the nod for the B’s. Rask, who is no stranger to the series having a 4-1 record against the Sabres in the regular season is also no stranger to this website.
This series is a toss up for me and I think it will be a goalie showdown and if I wasn’t from Russia I would like to be from Finland so let’s go with Rask and the Bruins.
Prediction: Boston in 7
4. Pittsburgh Penguins vs 5. Ottawa Senators
regular season series: split 2-2
Comrades in the mix: Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Ruslan Fedotenko, Alex Kovalev (injured), Anton Volchenkov
The Pens and Sens do battle in the first round for the third time in four seasons with the chance to take on the Capitals in round two. Gee another Crosby vs Ovechkin lovefest in the horizon, high-five Gary! but I digress.
The reigning Stanley Cups champs shouldn’t have much of a problem with the Senators who are without Alex Kovalev who is out with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. The 37-year-old will undergo surgery this month and would need at least four months to rehabilitate.
While the Sens do have Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, and um Mike Fisher? they will need goalie Brian Elliot to fight off the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Bill Guerin (yes Bill Guerin). While I dont see the Penguins repeating this year (Hi Sergey) I do see them coasting by the Senators without much of a problem and setting up yet another dream series for the NHL.
Prediction: Pens in 6
1. San Jose Sharks vs 8. Colorado Avalanche
Regular season series: split 2-2
Comrades in the mix: Evgeni Nabokov
Is this the year for the Sharks? Well if you mean getting past the first round then yes it is. The addition of Dany Heatley could be the final offensive piece the Sharks were missing. The league’s fourth best powerplay team can thank Heatley who notched 18 PPG’s and Evgeni Nabokov who is in the top of most major keeper statistics for another year in a row.
Will this be the year he escapes the title of a goalie who falters under pressure? If you ask me he choked big against Canada in the Olympics however he recovered fairly well the rest of the way in the NHL so maybe he has something to prove to his doubters this time around.
While the Avs were once the surprise of the year they barely hung onto the last spot and that pretty much sums up how they go into this series; desperate, tired, and willing. Actually that sounds just what you need to pull an upset. Toss up time
Prediction: Sharks in 6
2. Chicago Blackhawks vs 7. Nashville Predators
Regular season series: Chicago won 4-2
Comrades in the mix: Denis Gerbeshkov (injured)
3. Vancouver Canucks vs Los Angeles Kings
Regular season series: Canucks won 3-1
Comrades in the mix: Alexander Frolov
Roberto Loungo won gold for Canada in Vancouver can he add the cup in the same year? Surely no one expected that Henrik Sedin would have the year he did winning the Art Ross Trophy with 112 points did they? Well combine the best offensive player with a strong defense and top goalie and you have yourself a Stanley Cup favorite.
Their first test is a inexperienced Kings team who was last seen in the playoffs in 2001-2002. While goalie Jonathon Quick has been spectacular he doesnt have the supporting cast around him like his counterpart to cause the upset.
Alex Frolov managed to get over 50 points for the fifth time in his career but most would expect Anze Kopitar to carry the offensive load. Kopitar had the best numbers in his short career with 34 goals and 47 assists. While they have a strong offensive kick they are outmatched by Canada’s best hope for a cup since 1993.
Prediction: Canucks in 5
4. Phoenix Coyotes vs 5 Detroit Red Wings
Regular season series: split 2-2
Comrades in the mix: Ilya Bryzgalov, Pavel Datsyuk
Back in 2006 when an unknown Bryzgalov relieved J.S. Giguere for the Ducks in first round and recorded three straight shutouts you could tell he had the ability to be something special. Flash forward to today and he is the main reason the once left for dead Coyotes are seeded higher than the Red Wings.
Bryz, who made a case for a Veznia this year with his 42 wins and 8 shutouts shines in big games and what’s bigger stage than taking on the defending western conference Wings? Below he talks about the challenge ahead and his favorite movie Night at the Roxbury (yes he sings)
The Coyotes who were last seen in the playoffs alongside the Kings have already proved every critic wrong by even making it this far and as we’ve seen in sports, teams who no one expected often have the best success. What awaits them is a Red Wing team that has only lost 3 times in regulation since the Olympics. The depth, as always, is bar none with the Wings which will always favor them.
The feel good story for the Coyotes ends here as the Wings just strong arm them in almost every position. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are still going strong with both reaching the 70 point plateau. While the hour glass in the desert might be coming to an end the fans will at least have something to be proud of once their team is eliminated.
Prediction: Wings in 5