Just a quick look at the two eastern conference semi finals match ups.
Washington Capitals (1) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (5)
Washington charged through the end of the regular season. They surpassed Philadelphia to finish up first and head into the playoffs for the first time looking like a solid cup contender. Naturally goaltending questions hang over them. The still have massive fire power available to them but now they do play a more defensive minded game (a switch that is remarkable for Bruce Boudreau to pull off). The adjustments they have made them look like more like every other past Stanley Cup Champions. They rolled the Rangers in a rather unexciting manner and have been waiting for a week to see that their opponent is the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa Bay is back in the second round for the first time since their Stanley Cup Championship season. Led by a solid seasons by Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos, the Lightning have a ton of talent up front and depth. Dwayne Roloson has had a good season and a stellar playoff performance in the first round. Depending on which Washington style we see this could be a fascinating series or a rather dull series.
Even with Backstrom, Semin, and Ovechkin having “down” seasons they have as much talent as the Lightning up front. Both teams have older playoff veterans who have won cups and play with playoff intensity. Both have elite players and both have significant grinders. It should be an exciting battle for sure.
Defencemen: Edge Washington
John Carlson had a fantastic rookie campaign and Karl Alzner is almost as good. Together these young D-men have been shutting down opposition teams quite easily. With the return of Mike Green imminent, Washington’s defence is also poised to get better and more offensive. Tampa Bay has average defence. Victor Hedman will get better but is well behind Alzner and Green in skill as of now. The difference between the two teams is pretty significantly tilted in Washington’s direction.
Neuvirth and Roloson had similar first round series. They both had low goals against average and a high save percentage. Roloson has a decent playoff history but that doesn’t mean much for this series. Neuvirth could steal the series or Roloson could. It will be interesting to see who comes to play this series.
Coaching: Slight Edge Washington
Ever thought that the Capitals would have the third best penalty kill in the league? Well they do although their power play is relatively pedestrian. Boudreau has been excellent at getting his offensive-minded team to buy into a defensive system; an accomplishment, which will be overlooked if the Lightning runs up the score. Guy Boucher is no slouch though and from I can tell plays one of the most unique systems in the league. His 1-3-1 system is uniquely frustrating to watch and play against but there is no dealt that it is effective. An interesting battle to see will be Tampa’s power play against Washington’s penalty kill.
I think that Tampa’s forwards will be effective but I don’t think that their defensemen will be able to stand up to Washington’s pressure attack. Washington just has too much talent to be beat by Tampa’s elite forwards. Washington may show some rust in Game 1 but this series will take this series in 6 games.
Philadelphia Flyers (2) vs. Boston Bruins (3)
I believe that Chris Pronger will be back closer to full strength after NBC generously gave Philadelphia Tuesday until Saturday to recover. I love the Philadelphia Flyers and I love watching their play but there is no doubt in my mind that they have coasted to close the regular season. I blamed that on the leadership of the team. Richards is a warrior and there is not any other player who I would trust in the playoffs but his attitude towards the regular season and games that don’t matter isn’t exactly Michael Jordan-like. He’s more like Kobe Bryant, which is fine. He and the rest of the team stepped up against the sabres although Ryan Miller tried his best to steal the series. The Bruins have put together another strong team but I can’t shake the feeling that they are missing something. When you look at the two teams there is not many things that differentiates them. They have balanced scoring and strong defensemen. Boston has an obvious advantage in goaltending and Philadelphia has an advantage at coaching. What I think really separates these teams is that elusive heart. Philadelphia just has more of it. Boston’s nerves almost cost them another series and they were lucky to have beaten the Canadiens. Philadelphia was able to come back from deficits against Ryan Miller. Impressive to say the least. This could be an excellent series providing Boston comes to play.
Forwards: Edge Philadelphia
I don’t think Jeff Carter will be the key to Philadelphia’s success in the series particularly if he doesn’t play but it would be really nice if he could score for them this post season. He averages 0.75 points per game during the regular season but only 0.46 during the post season. It’s a big drop off and its not that he doesn’t get chances it’s that he doesn’t bury them which must be frustrating. If he doesn’t step up, I figure that Claude Giroux carries the team. He has such sick hands, I can’t believe he’s from Hearst, Ontario (but you already knew that if you read Lebrun). They are also deep and gritty. Much more so than Boston. Personally I don’t like Boston’s forwards but even I can’t deny that they are deep and talented. They finished the season fifth in goals scored, led by Milan Lucic who potted 30 goals this season. They had 12 forwards score a minimum of 10 goals! There are two things I take from that; on any given night they can have someone step up and score, it also means that in the crunch time they might not have anyone they can look up to. That proved to be true in the first round and not much has changed since then to change my mind.
Defence: Slight Edge Philadelphia
It’s amazing how similar these two teams are. The defence match up pretty well against each other but Philadelphia is just slightly better because they have Pronger. Pronger is capable of playing 30 minutes a night and may be the most effective playoff performer in the league. He can play that many minutes (at his age) because he knows where to exert his effort and it is remarkable that more players in the league aren’t like him. Chara plays a similar role with Boston with less past success than Pronger.
Goaltending: Edge Boston
Thomas > a cardboard cut-out. Philadelphia hasn’t had a goalie but it doesn’t affect the team in front of them which is a testament to their mental strength.
Laviolette has won a Cup and Lindy Ruff is the longest tenure coach in the league. Both teams play systems that use their team’s strength. Neither coach stands out as particularly better than the other. I think Claude Julien is an excellent 5 on 5 coach but seems to struggle with an effective penalty kill.
The Flyers are too fast and too deep to be trouble by their goaltending woes. Boston may steal one or two but the better team will prevail in the match up in the end. Flyers in 6.