Four teams remain in the East in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs after an opening round full of overtimes and upsets.
The Eastern Conference semi-finals features two intriguing match-ups.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Ottawa Senators
Prediction: Senators in 6 games
Pittsburgh and Ottawa are not so close in proximity, but there will be plenty of animosity in this series.
Though they met in the first round in 2010 with the Penguins coming out on top in six games, the biggest storyline leading up to this matchup is the Matt Cooke versus Erik Karlsson saga. Cooke, who is seen as somewhat of a “villain” around the NHL due to his history of injury-causing plays, severed 70 percent of Karlsson’s Achilles heel on an innocent looking play early in the season. The backlash towards Cooke from many in the Senators’ organisation and around the league was expectedly negative. Karlsson, last year’s Norris trophy winner for the Senators best player, miraculously recovered a week before the playoffs after originally being ruled out for up to six months.
There aren’t many experts that didn’t pick the Penguins to represent the East in the Stanley Cup Finals. Their irresistible lineup boasts superstars in every position, including two of the best players in the world in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. However, the Pens’ first round series victory did not come as easy as it was supposed to against the last seeded New York Islanders. The offensive prowess pushed them through to the Eastern Conference semi-finals, but their defensive and goaltending issues were exploited at times.
In the first round the Senators took care of the Montreal Canadiens in five games. Ottawa ran away with the brutally physical matchup despite being underdogs to the second best team in the Eastern Conference. Backed by Craig Anderson’s superb goaltending and a highly productive power play, the Sens looked to be in top form as they head into the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Senators have the makeup of a team that can upset a Cup favourite like the Penguins. They work hard, play solid defensively, and have a goaltender that would be a contender for the Vezina Trophy for top goaltender in the league had it not been for injuries. They are well coached by Paul MacLean, who will do his homework on how the Islanders made things difficult on the Pittsburgh defence. If Karlsson can impact the series with his end-to-end rushes without exposing his team defensively, and the Senators can stay out of the penalty box, they have a good chance at upsetting the best team in the East.
Boston Bruins vs New York Rangers
Prediction: Bruins in 7 games
The Bruins and the Rangers are two battle-tested teams. Each moved on to the Eastern Conference semi-finals after a seven-game first round series.
Both teams play similar styles of hockey. They are solid defensively, get quality goaltending, and score goals by grinding and out-working the opponent. Each team has had difficulty scoring goals at times, but the defensive aspects of their game pushed them through.
The Rangers and Bruins both have significant recent playoff experience. The Bruins won the Stanley Cup just two years ago, and much of that team remains. The Rangers were eliminated by the New Jersey Devils in last year’s Eastern Conference finals.
The Bruins beat the Toronto Maple Leafs, their northwest division rival, in the most dramatic of ways. The Bruins took a 3-1 lead in games in the series after an overtime winner from David Krejci in game four. On the brink of advancing, Boston took a step back, losing games five and six. The collapse seemed to be complete, as they were down 4-1 to Toronto in the third period of game seven. However, the Bruins didn’t give up. They scored three goals in the final eleven minutes, including two with their goalie pulled. Patrice Bergeron scored just over six minutes into overtime, sending the TD Garden in Boston into a frenzy, and putting the Bruins in the second round in one of the biggest comebacks in NHL playoff history.
The Rangers also played a close first round series, but their game seven went much smoother. They surprised everyone, exploding for a 5-0 win against the Washington Capitals in Washington D.C. Backed by the best goaltender in the game today in Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers emerged victorious despite their scoring inconsistencies. Somehow New York was able to move on without one goal from top scorer Rick Nash. Brad Richards, the Rangers best centre, was demoted to the fourth line during the series. If this team wants to keep its playoff run going, it needs more from its top offensive players.
In what is sure to be a low-scoring series, this matchup has great potential to go the full seven games. The Bruins have more depth on offence, but the Rangers have the ultimate equaliser in Lundqvist. However, if the Bruins can keep the puck in the Rangers’ zone and keep Rick Nash off the board, they should come out of this series victorious.
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