Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Quick Picks: Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

Daniel Alfredsson - Ottawa Senators v New York Rangers
Playoffs are upon us. And that means two things: long, excruciating overtimes that deprive us of sleep and predictions.

For today, I will indulge in the latter, in the game of predictions.

Not that I feel that I can offer any particular insight on the matter, but should I look like a genius with my picks, I would most certainly like to have my prescience available on a public forum of some sort.

If I err, then I can simply brush off my misguided selections and mention that predictions are for gypsies.

First off, let us look at the four confrontations in the Eastern Conference.

New York Rangers (1) vs. Ottawa Senators (8)

My pick: New York Rangers in five games

Why? Ottawa definitely has some positives going for them in this matchup. They have won their season series against the Rangers, are offensively more prolific and their top forwards have produced at a far better rate. The Sens have also shown an incredible ability to come from behind, sitting near the top of the league in third period goals and come from behind wins.

Yet, come the post-season, none of that will matter. The Rangers are one of the tightest defensive teams in the league, sitting in the top-six in goals against, shots against, penalty killing, blocked shots and hits. Meanwhile, Henrik Lundqvist has been superlative, posting a Vezina-worthy 1.95 goals against average and .931 save percentage.

Simply put, it will be too much to overcome for the Senators.

Boston Bruins (2) vs. Washington Capitals (7)

My pick: Boston Bruins in five games.

Why? Unless Braden Holtby – who is the presumed starter as both Michael Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun are injured – is the next coming of Cam Ward, this could prove to be a short series. Facing the high-powered Bruins, whose +67 goal differential leads the league, is a mighty task for a rookie netminder with 21 games of NHL experience.

Offensively, the Caps are far too one-dimensional and will make life easy for Claude Julien, who simply needs to match Zdeno Chara against whichever unit Alex Ovechkin is assigned too.

There is potential for an upset here, but too many pieces need to come together for that to happen.

Florida Panthers (3) vs. New Jersey Devils (6)

My pick: Florida Panthers in seven games

Why? This series predicts to be one of the closest in the first round.

The teams are far closer than the standings initially indicate, with New Jersey padding their points total thanks to a whopping 12 wins via the shootout. In terms of regulation or overtime victories, the Devils have only four more wins than the Panthers.

The two squads have also combined for an eye-popping 47 overtime games.

Both have serious questions about their goaltending and offense. The duo of Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen do not have especially gaudy playoff reputations while the Martin Brodeur advantage has somewhat dissipated in recent years. In two of Brodeur’s past three playoff campaigns, his save percentage has dipped below the .900 mark.

Each attack is lead by players with limited post-season experience. Ilya Kovalchuk, David Clarkson and Adam Henrique have yet to prove themselves as playoff performers while the same can be said for the Panthers’ Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann.

In the end, though, the Panthers are playing with the advantage of home-ice without any of the habitual pressure associated with being the higher seed. That should provide them with the edge needed to squeak past the Devils.

Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (5)

My pick: Pittsburgh Penguins in six games

Why? The Flyers are a good team, no doubt, but the analysis is rather simple here.

The Penguins are better in goal, dominant up the middle – they have some dudes named Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin – and, given the absence of Chris Pronger for the Flyers, their blueline is also superior.

It is hard to imagine that a team with such a clear edge at such important positions would not prevail.

What are your thoughts on Round One in the Eastern Conference?

Louis is an Associate Editor at Born in Chicago, Louis grew up in Quebec City where he earned Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration from Université Laval. Find him on twitter @LouisMoustakas

(Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images North America)


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