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Eastern Conference preview

April 14, 2010

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8. Montreal vs. 1. Washington
Season series: Split, 2-2
The Capitals are dynamic with the puck, but it remains to be seen whether one of their goalies, Jose Theodore (named the starter) or Semyon Varlamov, can be the real deal in the postseason. They can win the 5-3 games, but 1-0 and 2-1 could pose problems, although Alex Ovechkin always seems to have one more goal in reserve. The Canadiens aren’t the tomato cans who were crushed by the Bruins in Round 1 last season. But they’re small and often punchless up front. Jaroslav Halak emerged as the No. 1 stopper, and he is the best hope for Les Glorieux to survive the expected offensive onslaught of the Capitals. Insurmountable odds? Maybe. Everyone had it figured that way in ’71, too, when the Habs put Ken Dryden up against the Big, Bad Bruins.
PREDICTION: Capitals in 6.

7. Philadelphia vs. 2. New Jersey
Season series: Philadelphia, 5-1
Is this series over yet? Sure feels that way. The Devils should advance even without suiting up Russian sniper Ilya Kovalchuk, their prized pickup at the trading deadline. Nice balance in New Jersey’s lineup, which remains centered on goaltending (Martin Brodeur) and defense (still a plus, even with Scott Stevens and Rob Niedermayer long gone). Overall playoff success will be determined by Kovalchuk’s ability to produce in coach Jacques Lemaire’s trappist system. The Flyers needed Brian Boucher’s save in Sunday’s shootout with the Rangers to make it to the playoffs. They’ll go full Broad Street and try to mug the Devils at every turn, get them off their game, in hopes of masking their huge disadvantage in net. No way it works.
PREDICTION: Devils in 5.

6. Boston vs. 3. Buffalo
Season series: Boston, 4-2
The Sabres reached 100 points for the third time in the post-lockout era, mainly because of superb goaltending by Ryan Miller, who came within one save of leading Team USA to Olympic gold in February. Like the Bruins, the Sabres don’t have an impact scorer (Derek Roy led the way with 69 points), but they do a slightly better job of “scoring by committee’’ than the Bruins. The power plays are about even (read: mediocre). The Bruins will make a series of it, could even win, but their soft spot is the blue line, minus Mark Stuart (finger) and Dennis Seidenberg (wrist). Andrew Ference (hernia) could help but is questionable. This one will be an old-fashioned grinder. Low scoring. Open ice a premium. And some rekindled Adams Division hate.
PREDICTION: Sabres in 6.

5. Ottawa vs. 4. Pittsburgh
Season series: Split, 2-2
The Senators recovered nicely late in the season, avoiding what would have been a puzzling second straight playoff DNQ. Amazing how much better they play when Daniel Alfredsson — one of the game’s unheralded gems — is in the mix. Offensive push from the back is weak, nearly nonexistent, which overburdens Jason Spezza and Mike Fisher. Alexei Kovalev (knee) is done for the playoffs, a huge loss. The Penguins, the defending Cup champs, will miss Rob Scuderi (now with the Kings) later in the postseason when the grind gets tougher. But they should breeze here, with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin running roughshod over the Senators’ no-name defense. Oh, did anyone notice that Matt Cooke got KO’d the other night by Evander Kane? Just asking.
PREDICTION: Penguins in 5.

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