Eastern Conference Semifinals Preview
Previewing the NHL's 2008 Eastern Conference Semifinals
My prediction record after the first round is 6-2, including correctly picking all four matches in the Eastern Conference. Interestingly enough, both #3 and #4 seeds have been eliminated, but neither were surprising upsets. The Crosby/Ovechkin dream match-up must wait another year to possibly happen.
Here we go with my analysis and key factors to the Eastern Conference Semifinal matches.
#1 Montreal Canadiens vs. #6 Philadelphia Flyers
Montreal and Philadelphia have both participated in seven game marathons against their opponents in the first round. The Canadiens got a rude awakening that they should not assume victory at the #8 seed, Boston Bruins, as Boston forced seven games. The Flyers, who I picked to beat Washington, showed that they will do anything to win.
The Habs are all about speed combined with determination. Washington did expose the weak and slow Philly d-men with their fast forwards. The danger for the Flyers, is that the Canadiens' forwards are much faster than the Washington forwards and there are more of them. Two solid lines of pure speed will eat up the likes of Derian Hatcher, Jason Smith and Jaroslav Modry.
Philadelphia has to continue being led by Danny Briere and Vaclav Prospal who are combined for a playoff lead of twenty points. This two can quickly change the game and dominate the power-play. Mike Knuble should not participate in this series, due to a hamstring injury. This is a huge loss for the Flyers, as his leadership and integrity will be highly missed.
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Three key factors in this playoff series:
1) Goalies – Carey Price vs. Martin Biron
These two goalies have been playing exceptional while dictating the finish of the game. If either goalie has a bad day, that game will not be close. These two guys have the power to decide who advances to the conference final.
“The Carey Price Show” must continue against in this series. He must stay calm, cool and collective, as the Flyers will be attacking the net much more than the Bruins did. No one can argue his .925 save percentage during the seven game series, on which he was the reason for Montreal’s victory. Let us not forget, he fought for two shutouts against Boston.
Biron must be French for “clutch.” This guy was unreal against Alexander Ovechkin’s Capitals, on which he made over two hundred saves in that series. He protected his net on his back, stomach and even his side, with his wild acrobatics. It was amazing to watch his lateral movement from post to post, while focusing so much on the puck.
As much as I like Biron, Price’s composure gives him the edge here.
2) Montreal’s Power-Play vs. Philadelphia’s Penalty-Kill
Montreal’s PP must drink some coffee and wake up. They were pitiful against the Bruins, only scoring three goals on thirty-three opportunities. Even so, Boston only scored one short-handed goal, so it could and should have been much worse.
Philadelphia has an incredible PK and will not miss on their chances. The Flyers have great breakout speed with Danny Briere and Mike Richards and will punish the Canadiens if caught in the play.
Either way, neither of these teams can afford to take penalties and their strengths are with five men on the ice, on the even strength or PP.
At this point, I cannot go against the Flyers. Montreal’s PP is very ugly right now.
Edge goes to the Philly PK.
3) Montreal Fans vs. Danny Briere
During last year’s off-season, the Montreal Canadiens offered Briere more money than the Flyers. Briere chose to play with Philadelphia and stated that the pressure would be too much for him in his home town. Well, the fans of Montreal will let him know how they feel during, at least, the first two games.
Briere is known as a game-breaker and has the power to play games ignoring the crowd. Montreal fans are much different than the fans of other teams. Remember, he rejected more money in his home town, to play for a “contender.” If you do not understand French, learn quickly, the rants will be loud.
The fans may actually not affect Briere, but they will boost their team to play more aggressively against him. Edge to the fans.
Montreal wins in seven.
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#2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 New York Rangers
These two teams showed the importance of home ice advantage when they played each other eight times this year. The four games played in Pittsburgh were won by the Penguins, while the four in New York were won by the Rangers. This means that if each team continues this trend, the Penguins will win in seven games.
After sweeping Ottawa in four games, Pittsburgh has had a lot of rest. This could go either way for the Pens. Does this much time off mean the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby are well-rested or just cold and out of sync?
The Rangers took care of the Devils much easier than even they expected. New York dominated the defensive style of New Jersey, but now battle a team that emphasizes on the offensive side of hockey. The Rangers are a very patient team that times their attacks very well and exploit the weaknesses of their opponents.
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Three Key Factors:
1) Goalies – Marc-Andre Fleury vs. Henrik Lundqvist
Lundqvist has been nominated for the Vezina Trophy for the third consecutive time, as one of the league's elite goalies, but did allow over two goals a game against the Devils. Now, if New Jersey can score that many goals, just imagine the possibilities for Pittsburgh.
Fleury earned a shutout, against Ottawa’s sleeping playoff offense, and only let five goals by him in four games. The Rangers offense made of fool of Brodeur, almost scoring at will. Also, how will Fleury handle the antics of Sean Avery.
The edge has to go to the Vezina nominee journeyman, Henrik Lundqvist
2) Secondary scoring – Malone/Sykora vs. Avery/Shanahan
The primary scoring in this series will cancel each other out. The Crosby/Malkin/Hossa combination may be more explosive than Jagr/Gomez/Straka as the results are the same. It will be up to lines #2 and #3 to decide this series.
Pittsburgh Ryan Malone (five points) and Petr Sykora (three goals) have to keep up their pace. Avery (five points) and Shanahan (four points) are very gritty players who produce in many ways. These two Ranger players are aggressive, hard-working and attract opponents to commit penalties on them.
The edge goes to the Rangers who make an art of being gritty while scoring goals.
3) Youth vs. Experience
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, and Kris Letang are all crucial players for the Penguins. Not one of them is over the age of 23, and combined, they do not have one Stanley Cup.
Compare them to Jaromir Jagr, Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, and Brendan Shanahan who have total of nine rings. These guys know what it takes to win.
Everyone is counting the Rangers out of this series, and have to agree with them. Pittsburgh’s young guns should exploit the slow defense of New York in embarrassing fashion. Lundqvist is the hope for the Brooklyn brawlers.
Pittsburgh wins in six.
By Kevin Chaves
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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