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?
The Florida Panthers won their first-ever Southeast Division title tonight, earning themselves a surprise third seed. That will give the surprise upstart from Sunrise home ice advantage in the first round, but many will probably choose the sixth seed New Jersey Devils as the odds-on favorite. There are plenty of reasons to think that way, but here are a few:
- The Devils carry virtually all of the biggest names in this series, from Martin Brodeur to Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise.
- New Jersey finished this season with a +19 goal differential; Florida’s -24 is by far the worst of any playoff team (in fact, it’s fifth-worst in the East).
- Sure, the Devils feasted on three-point games in their own right (12 shootout wins), but that’s nothing compared to Florida milking 18 charity points out of this season.
And that’s just the simplest stuff.
Still, the two teams tied their season series 2-2, so it’s not like New Jersey dominated Florida in 2011-12. Oh yeah, there’s also an interesting storyline for those who always want to find a juicy narrative: former Panthers coach Peter DeBoer sits behind the Devils bench. Surely he’d enjoy a little revenge on the team that didn’t give him a great chance to succeed, wouldn’t he?
If there is a prevailing cliche to take from the Chicago Blackhawks’ 3-2 shootout win against the Detroit Red Wings, it’s probably “be careful what you wish for.” Detroit fought its way to OT to clinch a first round series against the Nashville Predators (dubious), which enables sixth seed Chicago to get what some what believe is a favorable matchup – relatively speaking – against whichever team wins the Pacific Division.
That’s still up for grabs, yet that really is the question: should Chicago be that happy to face a team that’s probably not the “third” best team in the West? Right now the Phoenix Coyotes (95 points, 35 regulation/OT wins) lead seventh-ranked Los Angeles (94, 34 reg/OT) and eighth-ranked San Jose (94, 33 reg/OT) but that could all change tonight. All three squads bring different headaches to the table, but here are Chicago’s season series results against each team:
vs. Phoenix: 1-2-1
vs. Los Angeles: 1-2-1
vs. San Jose: 2-2
Despite being the least likely opponent (by a marginal amount), the Sharks might strike Blackhawks fans as the ideal matchup. Both teams seem to have similar strengths like high-powered offenses and up-and-down goaltending, while there’s the obvious historical element of Chicago sweeping San Jose in the 2010 Western Conference finals. Oh yeah, the Blackhawks would also face their former Stanley Cup-winning goalie Antti Niemi if that happens.
So would that be the ideal matchup for Chicago? If not, who would be? Which team should scare the Blackhawks the most?
Final note: the Blackhawks are like the Red Wings in that they’re pretty weak on the road, too, so this should be a tough series for Chicago under most circumstances.