For years, the Washington Capitals have carried the label of heavy favorites. However you frame those stories, it’s never ended well for Alex Ovechkin & Co., but 2012 represents an interesting flip of the script. This time around, they’ll be the seventh seed upstarts against the second-ranked defending champion Boston Bruins.
There was a point during this season when Boston appeared to be a behemoth on a level rarely seen in the salary cap era. Injuries and inconsistency (and if you ask some, a botched photo-op at the White House) seemed to at least slow down the bandwagon, though.
Still, the Bruins have a two-time Vezina winner in net (Tim Thomas), a probable Hall of Famer on the blue line (Zdeno Chara) and some underrated tools on offense. That might be enough against a haggard Washington squad with stars who don’t seem to be 100 percent in Mike Green and maybe Nicklas Backstrom plus some serious goaltending questions with Tomas Vokoun and possibly Michal Neuvirth on the mend.
Ovechkin has somewhat-quietly been heating up, though, so it sets up the Capitals as an interesting underdog option. Washington also outplayed Boston in its meetings this season, taking three out of four wins. On the other hand, the Caps take a playoffs-worst 16-21-4 road record into Beantown.
So who strikes you as the likely winner: the big, bad Bruins or the confounding Caps? Let us know in the comments.
Let’s play a little game of good news/bad news for the Phoenix Coyotes, who will hold home ice advantage as the third seed against the sixth-ranked Chicago Blackhawks.
On the very bright side, Dave Tippett engineered his greatest accomplishment with Phoenix so far as the team won its first division title. The bummer is that there’s no guarantee that they’ll play another season in the desert – even after three consecutive trips to the playoffs.
Want more? The good news is that they won’t face the Detroit Red Wings after being spurned by them for two straight years. The bad news is that they’ll draw another former Stanley Cup-winning Central Division team with a lot of firepower in the Blackhawks.
It looks like another battle of strength vs. strength as the Blackhawks’ offense takes on a Coyotes team that’s very tough to score on. Chicago has stars like Jonathan Toews (if healthy), Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook. The Coyotes have a dark horse Vezina candidate in goalie Mike Smith and some quietly effective scorers in veteran Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata.
Really, it might be as much a story of explosiveness (Blackhawks) vs. stability (Coyotes). One big factor is the Blackhawks’ weak road record, as they’re just 18-18-5 away from the United Center.
It should be interesting, so feel free to share gut reactions.
The New York Rangers probably expected to face either the Florida Panthers or Washington Capitals in the first round, yet a busy Saturday shuffled things in interesting ways. They’ll instead face the eighth seed Ottawa Senators thanks in part to the Blueshirts’ decisive 4-1 loss to the Caps and Ottawa’s own 4-2 defeat at the hands of the New Jersey Devils.
It’s an interesting strength vs. strength (and perhaps weakness vs. weakness?) matchup. The Rangers have a great defensive system and an even better goalie in Henrik Lundqvist while Ottawa’s high-powered offense features Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek.
This should also be a showcase of Jack Adams-worthy candidates as fiery John Tortorella hopes to ward off Detroit Red Wings coaching tree product (and wonderfully moustachioed) bench boss Paul MacLean.
The Rangers are likely to be heavy favorites in this one, but chew on this: the Senators took three out of four games in the season series. Is that enough to sway your vote or should the Rangers advance as heavy favorites?