Thursday, April 14, 2011

Schwendy's NHL 1st Round Preview - Part 2

Here's our resident NHL guru, back with the second half of his first round NHL Playoff picks:

Here’s my Eastern Conference picks. We’ve got four really solid matchups

but the two that really stand out are the: Philly vs. Buffalo and Boston vs. Montreal. I won’t tell you why because I want you to read my picks! If you’re just a casual hockey fan, tune in and check out some playoff hockey. To quote the Men’s Wearhouse guy: You’ll like what you see, I guarantee it. (because I couldn't put a picture in yesterday, how about a PLAYOFF BEARD!!)

(1) Washington Capitals vs. (8) New York Rangers: The Washington Capitals remind me of “that” girl at the bar. You know the one. She’s flirting, you’re buying her drinks, etc. etc. etc. Eventually you think you’re about to seal the deal; only to have her disappoint you and go home with another guy (sigh). That’s exactly what the Capitals are. Last season they skated to a 3-1 first round series lead, getting everyone thinking they were going to come through. Then the epic debacle started and they lost the series to the Canadiens. Could this finally be the year the Caps FINALLY advance past the first round (they won last night), or will the Rangers continue Washington’s streak of consecutive 1st round exits.

For Washington: Alex Ovechkin. In my eyes the most complete player in the NHL; he never takes a shift off, he hits hard, and is a fantastic scorer. Offensively this team is dangerous. Their defense is good but not great. If Mike Green’s scoring touch returns; there could be a lot of red lights flashing. The only real question mark is rookie goaltender Michal Neuvirth. If he can handle the pressure and stay right around 2-2.25 goals against, this Caps team could go deep into the playoffs. If Neuvirth struggles, I think what happens is pretty obvious (Choke, choke, and choke).

For New York: They need Marion Gaborik to flip the switch and be the catalyst on offense. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will keep them in games, but when Gaborik is on his game he can score from even the worst angles. New York will need secondary scoring from Brandon Dubinsky and Derek Stepan. If Ryan Callahan wasn’t out for the playoffs with a broken ankle, it wouldn’t have to rely so much on Gaborik.

Prediction: I’ll take the Caps in 6. I see Lundqvist stealing a game, but not much more. Washington finally seals the deal; maybe this time they’ll quit leading me on.

(2) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (7) Buffalo Sabres: If you want an idea of how this series is going to be, put some headphones on, listen to this song. go to YouTube and find the Sick Puppies – “You’re Going Down.” The song captures this series; there isn’t a more heated rivalry today in the NHL. Both of these teams hate the mere existence of one another. The last two times these teams met in the Playoffs (01, 06), Buffalo won both. Will Philly’s late season struggles hurt them in the playoffs, or will Buffalo pull off the big upset in the East?

For Philadelphia: The Flyers need to find a way to flip the switch and be the team that spent 75% of the season atop the Eastern Conference standings. Offensively this team is sound; the Flyers have enough weapons to keep them in games. If defenseman Chris Pronger returns, the “swagger” he brings to the locker room could put this team over the top. I don’t like the fact that the Flyers are relying on a rookie in goal. However they did recently call up Michael Leighton, who just happens to be the guy who was two wins away from bringing the Stanley Cup to Philadelphia last season.

For Buffalo: The Sabres have been in playoff mode since mid-January. They need to keep the same mindset, get the same type of offensive production from Tomas Vanek and Drew Stafford, and the usual amazing play of goaltender Ryan Miller. Throw in a little secondary scoring from rook Tyler Ennis, and improved play of star defenseman Tyler Meyers, and there’s your recipe for an upset.

Prediction: Buffalo in 7. I’m taking Buffalo because I don’t think Pronger returns, and this Sabres team is red-hot.

(3) Boston Bruins vs. (6) Montreal Canadiens: What happens when two Original Six teams meet in the playoffs? For potentially seven games old-time hockey returns; and by old-time hockey I don’t mean taking your skate off and trying to stab someone, I mean physical, beat the crap out of your opponent hockey. That’s what you’re going to see in this series. Last time these teams met Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara sent a Canadiens forward to the hospital with a neck injury after a bone crushing hit. Later Montreal PD contemplated filing assault charges, and they even opened an investigation. I’m 100% serious here!

For Boston: Everyone who watches hockey remembers Boston’s epic Conference semifinal collapse last season, up 3-0 in the series and losing game 7. The Bruins have enough offense to put pucks in the net, a physical defense, and a superb goaltender in MVP Candidate Tim Thomas. BUT what might have the potential to kill them is being overly physical. What I mean by being overly physical is taking stupid penalties in retaliation to a big hit, or throwing a little punch at the end of the whistle. JUST PLAY SMART HOCKEY!

For Montreal: Tomas Plekanec’s line will need to be the spark of every game in this series. Of course the Habs will be leaning on Carey Price to keep them in games, but if Plekanec’s line is consistently shut down, it could be a long series for the Habs. Montreal will also try to con Boston into taking dumb penalties to set up their 7th ranked power-play unit.

Prediction: A fantastic Original Six match up that goes the full 7 games. I’ll take the physical Bruins to advance. Montreal Police should have arrested Zdeno Chara. The Habs would have had a better chance to win.

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Tampa Bay Lightning: This is weird. I usually have a witty analogy or some cool historical facts about a matchup. The truth is I’ve got nothing. This is the first ever playoff meeting between these two. Sad face. Anywho, Pittsburgh has done surprisingly well after the massive losses of superstars Evgeni Malkin and flop artist Sidney Crosby. Tampa Bay returns to the playoffs after a four year hiatus. This is a classic Offense v. Defense matchup.

For Pittsburgh: The Pens will have to continue to play stout D, and really grind out the close games. Obviously if Crosby returns then that’s a huge offensive boost. But from what I’ve been reading it doesn’t look like he’ll be ready to return until maybe the Conference Semis. Besides, Pittsburgh has been operating as if he won’t return. Also look for goalie Marc-Andre Fluery to really step up and be the glue that holds this Pens team together, and carry the team to a few victories.

For Tampa Bay: The Bolts will need both Steven Stamkos and Vinny Lecavalier to regain their scoring touches. Stamkos has scored only twice in the past 13 games, and Lecavalier had his worst statistical season since 2002. Tampa will need the offense to be on full throttle each and every game. If they’re able to put 2-3 pucks past Fluery they should be victorious. The real question mark for Tampa is goalie Dwayne Roloson; last time he was in the playoffs he was hobbling off with an injury in game 1 of the 2006 Stanley Cup finals. If Roloson falters, and the Bolts have to put in backup Mike Smith; then Pitt might not have to worry about grinding out the close games, if you catch my drift.

Prediction: I really like way this Lightning team is headed under rookie GM Steve Yzerman, but after this series he’ll realize he needs an immediate upgrade in the goaltender department. Pens in 7.

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