Ah, the brutal pain of realizing your favorite team won’t be competing for Lord Stanley’s hardware. For some it’s more bitter than others when your club was a single point out of the top eight or are left out due to the inevitable injury bug. For others, just wondering the direction of your franchise can sometimes sour an entire summer. But while you sit there and curse at John Tortorella for not using Marian Gaborik in the shootout, wish terrible summers for the Sutter family, and continue to compile your list of coaches you want to replace ______, here’s a hopefully helpful guide to picking your team in this season’s big dance.
1. Washington Capitals
The Skinny: The Capitals dominated the season from the onset, winning the Southeast Division with a 38-point difference between 2nd. Wowzers.
Playoff History: Since losing the 1998 Stanley Cup to the Detroit Red Wings in four games, the Capitals have made the playoffs six out of the next eleven seasons, including two straight trips as a division winner. In the Capitals latest trip to the postseason, they were ousted in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals by the Pittsburgh Penguins as Semyon Varlamov‘s unexpected run came to a crashing halt.
What’s To Love: If you’re a fan of goal-scoring, then the Caps are your club. Led by captain Alexander Ovechkin, who had 50 goals and 109 points this season, the run-and-gun offense run by head coach Bruce Boudreau can be incredibly alluring for fans. With seven 20+ goal scorers and offensively effective defensemen Joe Corvo and Mike Green manning the point for the Caps, there’s bound to be a bounty of goals in the Nation’s Capital.
What’s To Hate: The same reason people love the Capitals can be the same reason you despise them: Ovechkin. Considered reckless by some, despite conveying the image of ‘just having fun’, Ovechkin had felt his share of hatred in 2009-10 from the fans and media. Committing random acts of Sean Penn impersonations, being deemed a kneeing-enthusiast, and launching himself into the boards after a goal has actually lost Ovie some fans.
Can: Caps goaltender Jose Theodore channel himself back to 2001?
2. New Jersey Devils
The Skinny: With Jacques Lemaire back behind the bench, the Devils got even tougher to play against. Imagine that.
Playoff History: The post-lockout Devils have failed to make it past the second round, getting bounced in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals three times in four seasons to three different opponents. Last season’s season came to a questionable end when Jussi Jokinen played the hero for Carolina with a game-winning-goal with just .2 seconds in Game 6, much to the displeasure of Martin Brodeur, who felt that he was bumped on the play.
What’s To Love: On a roster littered with great two-way talent, Zach Parise has already developed into one of the NHL’s most dangerous scorers at the age of 25. Scoring 83 goals over the past two seasons, Parise could be ready to make the big leap in the playoffs.
What’s To Hate: It’s become increasingly difficult to root for Ilya Kovalchuk to succeed in any fashion after rejected a 100+ million dollar deal with Atlanta, citing that “he had a wife and kids”, tell that to the fan who can’t buy tickets to the games.
Can: the Devils end their post-lockout playoff struggles with Lemaire back behind the bench?
3. Buffalo Sabres
The Skinny: After searching for an identity since beginning life without Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, the Sabres found their role as a successful, energetic, and youthful club in the NHL. That sounds like a familiar formula…
Playoff History: Never winning a cup in their 39-year history, the Sabres say their Cup dreams slip away in the Eastern Conference Finals twice. The first time coming in 2005-06 with the eventual Cup-winning Hurricanes taking Miller and company down in seven games before they were eliminated in five games by the Senators of 2007.
What’s To Love: Two words here. Ryan Miller. The Michigan-native who brought the United States within inches of a gold medal in Vancouver to the admiration of American hockey fans has had a beyond ridiculous year on the way to the Sabres’ first Northeast Division title in three seasons. Posting a 2.22 goals against average with 41 wins on the season, Miller’s tireless work ethic, quiet demeanor and humble approach to the game make him an incredibly likable guy.
What’s To Hate: Accounting for 27% of Buffalo’s goals in 2009-10 (62 out of 231), health concerns with Jochen Hecht, Patrick Kaleta, Drew Stafford, and the frequently-fragile Tim Connolly could be Buffalo’s biggest downfall.
Can: the relatively young Buffalo club handle the pressure of what the city is anticipating as a deep playoff run?
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Skinny: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin lead the march to the playoffs once again. Why do I get the feeling I’ll be saying this for many years to come?
Playoff History: After coming one Marian Hossa poke-in away from tying the game in the deciding Game 6 of the 2008 Stanley Cup, the Pittsburgh Penguins returned to the Cup the next season, this time going against Hossa, and game away the victors in seven games. Gaining invaluable experience, as if they needed any boosts, Crosby, Malkin, Jordan Staal, and Marc-Andre Fleury played like seasoned veterans throughout the entire playoffs.
What’s To Love: Experience. Much like the Detroit Red Wings, the Pittsburgh Penguins repeated trips to the playoffs have given you the confidence that this team is more than capable of returning to the Cup for a third straight year regardless of the mediocre numbers Fleury posts in the regular season. It also helps to have the best player in the NHL captaining your roster.
What’s To Hate: In Pittsburgh, Alexei Ponikarovsky has been a huge disappointment, posting just nine points in 16 games with the Pens. While his role would necessarily need to be huge in order for the Penguins to succeed, secondary scorers like him could be relied upon much the way Maxime Talbot was last season. Not to mention the battered up body Evgeni Malkin could present a problem for Pitt if teams only need to worry about protecting Crosby.
Can: the Penguins give the proper send off to the Igloo at Mellon Arena?
5. Ottawa Senators
The Skinny: Projected to be in the rebuilding mode, the Ottawa Senators got hot goaltending from Brian Elliott that simply appeared to never end.
Playoff History: Bounced by the Pittsburgh Penguins soundly in four games in 2008, Ottawa’s closest taste to Stanley Cup glory came in 2007 when they were eliminated from the Cup in five games by the Anaheim Ducks. Returning to the playoffs after a one year hiatus that snapped an 11-year playoff-appearance streak, the Senators return to the big dance as the fifth seed in the East.
What’s To Love: A true underdog story after shipping Dany Heatley off to San Jose for what’s deemed as spare parts, the Ottawa Senators are led by an aging Swedish captain in Daniel Alfredsson and the 40-year benchboss Cory Clouston. While appearing to be just a band-aid in the big picture, Clouston has coached the Sens to a 63-43-10 record in a year plus.
What’s To Hate: Besides the lack of experience in the pipes, the Senators come into this series without another sniper to turn to in the series with the season-ending knee injury that has befallen Alex Kovalev. Despite putting together a measly two points in 17 games since the Olympics, Kovalev brought experience with 98 points in 116 career playoff games.
Can: the Senators count on guys like Andy Sutton and Matt Carkner to play the role of the bullies to Crosby and company?
6. Boston Bruins
The Skinny: The B’s came into this season with Cup-level expectations, but inconsistencies, injuries, and downright unbearable play has put them in sixth place. How? We’re not quite sure.
Playoff History: Surprising the entire NHL last season with a 116-point season that brought Boston their first division title since 2004, the B’s, in search of their first Cup since 1972, were over-matched by the speed of the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals, who took them out in a Game 7 overtime win at the TD Garden. It would later be revealed that several Bruins were battling what likely could have been season-ending-worthy injuries.
What’s To Love: While not starting the season on a great note, one of the Bruins’ lone bright spots has been goaltender Tuukka Rask, who will be making his first appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Finishing the season with the NHL’s best goals against average and save percentage, Rask will try to play a role similar to Cam Ward circa 2006, who stole four series’ on the way to the Hurricanes first Stanley Cup. In front of Rask, the Boston offense seemed to awake from the doldrums to close out the year, getting much needed offensive help from forwards such as Michael Ryder and Miroslav Satan.
What’s To Hate: The Bruins come into the playoffs hampered by injuries from the point. Out for likely the entire series with an infection in his finger, the B’s will do battle with the Sabres without Mark Stuart along with Dennis Seidenberg, who is recovering from surgery to replace a lacerated tendon in his left arm. Without these two top-four defensemen, the B’s will insert the seemingly-done Andrew Ference into the line-up, who missed most of last season’s playoffs with a groin injury.
Can: the Bruins win without dish-master Marc Savard in the line-up?
7. Philadelphia Flyers
The Skinny: Who needs Chris Pronger when you can go through every capable goaltender out there?
Playoff History: If Philly didn’t already hate their Pennsylvania counterpart, the NHL Playoffs have given them plenty of reasons to do so. Advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2008 and dismantled by the Penguins in five games, the Flyers returned to the playoffs the next season “hungry for more” and ready to do battle with their Atlantic Division nemesis once again. But, one Maxime Talbot fight and shushing of the Philadelphia crowd led to the Penguins mounting a huge comeback and taking this series in six games.
What’s To Love: Ideally matched up, the Flyers will take on the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the playoffs, a team they beat five times out of six in 2009-10. Factor in an advantage of depth with forward cores along with the final month of the regular season putting the Flyers in playoff-survival mode and Philadelphia fans could have plenty to be confident about heading into this one.
What’s To Hate: Despite the regular season success against the Devils, the Flyers must know that it means almost nothing. The biggest mismatch throughout this series will undoubtedly be between the pipes with Brian Boucher facing off against Martin Brodeur. Let’s put it this way–Brodeur has 98 career playoff wins. Boucher? 11.
Can: Flyers forward Jeff Carter rebound from his terrible playoff performance of 2009 even with an ailing foot?
8. Montreal Canadiens
The Skinny: Led by Carey Price…errrr, Jaroslav Halak, along with the defensive system introduced by the Jacques Martin and the Canadiens are back in the playoffs as the eight seed, again.
Playoff History: The Montreal Canadiens have won a remarkable 24 Stanley Cups throughout their 101 year history, but have gone Cup-less in the hockey-mad city since 1993. After claiming the number one seed in 2008 and getting past the Bruins in seven games, the Habs have gone on to lose eight out of their last nine postseason games, the latest defeats coming in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the rivaled Boston Bruins in four straight games.
What’s To Love: Since March, in Montreal, and actually perhaps the entire NHL, there has been no goaltender hotter than Slovakian-born netminder Jaroslav Halak. Coming into the season as the second fiddle to Price once again, Halak has excelled and claim the starting role with ease, posting a 9-3-3 record since the Olympic break with a 2.07 goals-against-average and two shutouts.
What’s To Hate: Considered Montreal’s biggest offensive weapon on the wings, Michael Cammalleri has not returned to form since going down in late January with a knee injury. With just two assists, 27 shots on goal, and -3 since returning, the Canadiens will need an unlikely resurgence from Cammalleri if they are to keep up with the offense of the Washington Capitals. Also, while the Habs have eliminated the former ‘soft’ and ‘diving’ post-lockout image that was embodied in the franchise by guys such as Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev, and Mike Komisarek, the fans in Montreal are considered to be among the most annoying in the league and the last thing most NHL fans want to hear is “25 Stanley Cups”.
Can: Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec, in the midst of a career year, not play like a little girl in this year’s playoffs?
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Filed Under: Boston Bruins • Buffalo Sabres • Eastern Conference • Featured • Montreal Canadiens • New Jersey Devils • NHL • NHL Teams • Ottawa Senators • Philadelphia Flyers • Pittsburgh Penguins • Satire • Washington Capitals
About the Author: Ty Anderson ran the Chronicles From The Garden blogspot account during the 2008-09 NHL season before joining HockeyIndependent as the Bruins Blogger. He is a Seinfeld enthusiast, self-admitted Star Wars nerd, Vezina-quality street-hockey goaltender, and can be found in Balcony 314 of every Bruins home game. Follow him and his tweeting madness on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/_TyAnderson or send him an e-mail at TAndersonBruins@gmail.com.