Admit it. Unless your job requires it, you probably haven’t all been paying attention to the entire league in the past 6 months. There are those teams you follow religiously to track their success (or failure), those you occasionally cheat on your boys for (::cough, cough:: St. Louis Blues ::cough, cough::) and those whose superstar you couldn’t name if your life depended on it. Have no fear, we the Phace Off faculty will help you sort out this year’ playoff matchups so you can make educated choices in who to watch and root for. Seeing as two of my teams have made it into the playoffs, it could be seen as biased to pick a winner so I will leave those decisions up to you. (Feel free to share your predictions)
EASTERN CONFERENCE STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS ROUND 1
#1 New York Rangers vs. #8 Ottawa Senators
Top Players: Henrik Lundqvist, Marian Gaborik, Ryan Callahan
King Henrik continues to carry his team on his back as the Rangers enter the post season, much like last season. However, his teammates have lightened the load significantly this season. With the return of a healthy Gaborik this season, the acquisition of Brad Richards, and the sewing of the “C” on Callahan’s jersey, the Broadway Blues are a force to be reckoned with.
Bad Apple: The Rangers have key players who make an impact on their success. Marian Gaborik’s speed, Ryan Callahan’s shot blocking and overall dominance on the ice, and Henrik Lundqvist’s ability to shut out the opponent are necessary tools to their ability to stay above the competition. All three have suffered injury during the 2011-2012 season. If these injuries reoccur or new ones pile up, the Rangers could be in some trouble. The success of the Rangers relies heavily on Lundqvist’s well being. Lundqvist injured himself against the Flyers 4/3, sat out the 4/5 game against Pittsburgh, and lost to the Capitals 5-1 on 4/7. His health and readiness to play on Thursday is up in the air. On days Lundqvist doesn’t stand on his head, D-men in the form of Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Michael Del Zotto and Ryan McDonaugh need to step it up or the Rangers could see an early exit from the post season.
Top Players: Erik Karlsson, Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza
It’s a Swede, Swede world for the Ottawa Senators who got knocked down to the 8th spot after jockeying for their position against the only other Northeastern Division contender, the Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins. Some may say they should be worried about taking on the #1 seed New York Rangers, however the Senators have offensive prowess in an unexpected location. Erik Karlsson, a strong contender for the Norris Trophy, has helped light the lamp more than any defenseman in the league. His team high 59 assists put him in second place in points on his team only to Jason Spezza (a mere 6 points ahead of Karlsson’s 78) and he leads the league in points for defensemen. With an offensive defenseman like Karlsson, a scoring machine in Spezza, and strong captain Daniel Alfredsson, the Senators took the series 3-1 in the regular season against the Rangers. Look for veteran leadership to shine in this showdown.
Achilles Heel: Inconsistent goaltending. With Craig Anderson being at the wrong end of a kitchen knife situation, the Sens were forced to pull up newly acquired Ben Bishop who has no real NHL experience beyond his time with the Senators. Having never played in the NHL playoffs before, his ability to perform under such pressure is unseen, however, do not count the 6’7″ goalie out yet. He was an AHL All Star MVP this year and remains cool under the collar in high pressure situations. The move to the big show should make no difference if he is called upon. Fortunately, Anderson is ready and willing to take his place between the pipes when they hit the ice Thursday night in Madison Square Garden. Look for Karlsson to lead the way in defense and contribute to the scoreboard in this first round matchup.
Upperhand based on 11-12 regular season: Senators (3-1)