Tuesday, April 10, 2007

2007 NHL Playoffs Round I Eastern Conference

Ok, before we get this playoff show on the road, let's talk about the playoffs in general before we look at the playoffs series themselves.

The playoffs are really about two things. 1. Matchups. 2. Breaks/bounces. Without the right matchup you don't stand chance. When the Caps went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998, they avoided all the teams that they would have not have matched up well against. The second is breaks/bounces. This is now a 16 team-two month war of attrition. You need to get the calls and bounces and breaks to go in your favor in order to succeed. Every series where the teams are evenly matched or an upset is pulled is going to be able to point to one or more instances where the winning team got away with something. That's just the way it is. So let's take a look at the first thing and look at the matchups in the Eastern Conference and figure out who will get or need all the breaks:


Series A: Buffaslugs (53-29; 113 points; 1st Northeast Division, 1st Eastern Conference, 1st Overall) vs. New York Islanders (40-42; 92 points; 4th Atlantic Division, 8th Eastern Conference, 17th Overall)

The Buffaslugs caught a break before the playoffs even started by the late run put on by the Islanders. For some reason I think the Buffaslugs would have had a tougher time with the Leafs than they will with the Islanders. The Islanders are without their #1 goaltender but are taking better special teams into the post season. The Buffaslugs are fast, fast, fast and will be a lot for the Islanders to handle even with a maximum rest schedule for the first round. Too much to handle. Buffaslugs in five.

Series B: New Jersey Devils (49-33; 107 points, 1st Atlantic Division, 2nd Eastern Confernce, 7th Overall) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (44-38; 93 points, 2nd Southeast Division, 7th Eastern Conference, 16th Overall)

It is very, very tough to pick the Ning in this series because their goaltending situation remains in such flux. Once again this past weekend Johan Holmqvist got shelled and the Ning do not have any goaltenders with any playoff experience. At the other end of the ice, stands Martin Brodeur so the matchup clearly favors New Jersey. Special teams also favor the Devils. The winner of this series however will come down to who gets the breaks and the bounces because New Jersey's offense shouldn't scare anybody while the Ning have two of the top goal scorers on their side though defense usually wins. Devils in seven.

Series C: Atlanta Thrashers (43-39; 97 points; 1st Southeast Division, 3rd Eastern Conference, 12th Overall) vs. New York Rangers (42-40; 94 points; 3rd Atlantic Division, 6th Eastern Conference, 15th Overall)

In what has to be the most compelling (more like revolting) matchup in the first round for Caps fans, the Thrashers are making their first ever playoff appearance against a Rangers team that snuck back into the post season. Just who is favored in this series is anybody's guess. The Rangers have Brendan Shanahan back and you know he won't go quietly. But can he carry Jagr 's baggage and pull Henrik Lundquivst through as well? And what about the agitators on both sides? Sean Avery is loving life in New York but Bobby Holik is no stranger to dirty pool and would love to stick it to his old team. What about Illya Kovalchuk? How will he respond to the pressure of the playoffs and can Kari Lehtonen get the job done as well? Will Atlanta cure their road troubles? Both Atlanta and New York caught a break with this series by getting each other instead of more polished playoff teams in Tampa and New Jersey. So one of these undeserving teams will see the second round. New York clearly has the bigger soap opera going on plus there are two sets of back-to-back games in the series which also creates two three games in four nights sets. That favors the younger team. Rangers in seven.

Series D: Ottawa Senators (48-34; 105 points; 2nd Northeast Division, 4th Eastern Conference, 9th Overall) vs. Pittsburgh Penguin Scum (47-35; 105 points; 2nd Atlantic Division, 5th Eastern Conference, 10th Overall)

One year after being skewered for having its two brightest young stars nowhere near the playoffs, the NHL has its anointed one in the post season. Think the NHL is going to let him go out in the first round? Don't expect any breaks for Ottawa. Furthermore the Penguin Scum are another fatally flawed hockey team that will get a pass into the second round. Why? Well despite the fact that the Penguin Scum are only dangerous on the Power Play and their top goaltender is a known choker in pressure situations with a backup who has proven he can't handle the load; the Penguin Scum are playing the Ottawa Senators. Furthermore, the Senators head coach is Bryan Murray. Caps fans know exactly what that means no matter who the opponent is. Penguin Scum in six.

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