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NHL Eastern Conference Preview Capsules
Question of the Day
Capsules of NHL Eastern Conference first-round series:
No. 1 WASHINGTON CAPITALS (48-23-11) vs. No. 8 NEW YORK RANGERS (44-33-5).
2009-10 series record: New York 3-1 (one win in shootout).
Playoff History: Washington leads 3-2. Last meeting: Washington 4-3 in 2009 conference quarterfinals.
WASHINGTON: The Capitals were outscored 18-6 in the season series, including losses of 7-0 and 6-0 that led to Washington adopting a more defensive mindset. ... Alex Ovechkin was held to no goals and a pair of assists against the Rangers, with both points coming in one game. ... In their six postseason appearances since reaching the 1998 Stanley Cup finals, the Capitals have won only one series _ their first-round win over New York in 2009 when they erased a 3-1 deficit. ... Washington is the favorite in this matchup, but that edge could be neutralized if the Capitals don't get solid goaltending from either Semyon Varlamov or Michal Neuvirth or a combination of the two. Varlamov has seen action in the past two postseasons, including a 3-3 mark with a 2.41 goals-against average last year when Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington blew a 3-1 series lead and lost in seven games to No. 8 seed Montreal. ... The Capitals were outscored 233-224 overall by the Rangers, but allowed one fewer goal (198-197).
NEW YORK: The Rangers are feeling a sense of a second chance after a loss by Carolina on Saturday night put them into the playoffs. ... New York is coming in on a roll, having finished the regular season 11-4-1. ... Not having home-ice advantage won't likely faze the Rangers, who went 24-16-1 on the road compared to 20-17-4 at Madison Square Garden. ... Will have to figure out how to replace forward Ryan Callahan, the Rangers' second-leading scorer who excelled in blocking shots, playing on the power play and penalty killing. ... Getting clutch captain Chris Drury back in the lineup after he was out from February until the final game of the regular season following knee surgery will help, but the Rangers' chances of advancing to the second round rests on the shoulders of goalie Henrik Lundqvist and top forward Marian Gaborik. Lundqvist was 36-27-5 with an NHL-leading 11 shutouts in the regular season. Gaborik battled through injuries and slumped to only 22 goals and 48 points after scoring 42 goals and 86 points last season.
OUTLOOK: Rangers give the Capitals another first-round scare before falling short. Capitals in 7.
No. 2 PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (47-23-12) vs. No. 7 BUFFALO SABRES (43-29-10).
2009-10 series record: Philadelphia 2-1-1.
Playoff History: Philadelphia leads 5-3. Last meeting: Buffalo 4-2 in 2006 conference quarterfinals.
PHILADELPHIA: As is usually the case for the Flyers at playoff time is uncertainty in goal. Rookie Sergei Bobrovsky got the bulk of the work during the regular season, posting 28 wins and a 2.59 goals-against average in 54 games. Veteran netminder Brian Boucher had 18 wins and a 2.42 GAA in 34 appearances, but Michael Leighton, who played only one game this season with Philadelphia could become the No. 1 guy again after backstopping the Flyers to the Stanley Cup finals last year. Leighton played 30 games in the minors this season following an 8-3 mark with three shutouts, a 2.46 GAA and .916 save percentage in the 2010 postseason. ... Whoever is in net will need a healthy Chris Pronger in front of them to succeed. The hulking defenseman has been out since having hand surgery in March. He also was sidelined by a foot injury and played only 50 games this season. His status for the series opener is unknown. Philadelphia is 16-9-7 without him. ... The Flyers should have plenty of offense with top-four scorers Claude Giroux, Danny Briere, Jeff Carter and captain Mike Richards, who all had at least 66 points. Briere was the NHL's top playoff scorer last year with 30 points _ including 12 goals in 23 games.
BUFFALO: The Sabres will count on goalie Ryan Miller to be their best player, but he was banged up late in the season. He followed his Vezina Trophy-winning season with 34 wins and a 2.59 GAA in 66 games. ... Buffalo went 27-12-6 after Jan. 1, earning an Eastern Conference-best 60 points in that time. The Sabres are 15-5-4 since Terry Pegula became the team owner on Feb. 22 _ quite an improvement from Nov. 6 when they were last in the NHL. ... Fueling the surge has been the offense, which produced 123 goals in the second half of the season after netting only 105 in the first 41 games. Thomas Vanek led the way with 32 goals and 73 points. Buffalo is 19-4-3 when Vanek scores and 18-2-1 when he posts at least two points. ... If the Sabres are forced into overtime they will be ready, having gone to extra time an NHL-record 19 times this season and winning 10. ... The Sabres haven't reached the second round since 2007.
OUTLOOK: Familiar foes take each other to the limit. Home-ice prevails. Flyers in 7.
No. 3 BOSTON BRUINS (46-25-11) vs. No. 6 MONTREAL CANADIENS (44-30-8).
2009-10 series record: Montreal 4-2 (one win in overtime).
Playoff History: Montreal 24-8. Last meeting: Boston 4-0 in 2009 conference quarterfinals.
BOSTON: The Bruins showed great resilience in winning the Northeast Division title after becoming just the third NHL team to blow a 3-0 series lead when they lost to Philadelphia in the second round last year. Even worse, the Bruins led 3-0 at home in Game 7 before falling. ... Tim Thomas will be counted on to lead the way after setting an NHL record with a .938 save percentage, edging Dominik Hasek's .937 set in the 1998-89 season. He also posted a league-low 2.00 goals-against average. ... These longtime Original Six rivals have more bitterness between them after Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara's hit on Max Pacioretty that left the Canadiens forward with a concussion and fractured vertebra on March 8. The teams also had a fight-filled game on Feb. 10, won 8-6 by Boston. ... The Bruins' offense will be paced by Milan Lucic, who scored 30 goals for the first time and had 62 points. He finished tied in team scoring with playmaking center David Krejci, who got to 62 on the strength of 49 assists. Nathan Horton had 26 goals, and Patrice Bergeron was next with 22. Ageless forward Mark Recchi had another strong season at age 43 with 14 goals and 48 points in 81 games.
MONTREAL: Boston hasn't cornered the market on strong goaltending as Montreal's Carey Price tied for the NHL lead with 38 wins. ... The Canadiens will have to counteract the Bruins' strong edge in goal differential. Boston was a plus-51, while Montreal finished at just plus-7 and scored the fewest goals at even-strength and overall among playoff teams (216). ... The Canadiens do own a better power-play efficiency (19.7 percent to 16.2 percent) and penalty-killing percentage (84.4-82.6). ... Pacioretty is not expected to play until next season, and that is a tough loss for Montreal because he scored four goals against Boston _ one fewer than team leader Brian Gionta. ... The Canadiens held onto the sixth seed, despite late challenges by Buffalo, the New York Rangers and Carolina, even though they stumbled to a 7-7-1 finish. ... Top scorer Tomas Plekanec finished with 57 points but has scored only three goals in 22 games since Feb. 10. ... Scott Gomez is no stranger to the playoffs, going for the 10th time in his 11 seasons with three teams, but he scored a career-worst 38 points in 80 games and was a minus-15.
OUTLOOK: Thomas is too tough against an average Montreal offense. Bruins in 6.
No. 4 PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (49-25-8) vs. No. 5 TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (46-25-11).
2009-10 series record: Series tied 2-2.
Playoff History: First meeting.
PITTSBURGH: The biggest question of the playoffs remains: will Penguins captain Sidney Crosby play in the first round after being sidelined since Jan. 5 because of a concussion. He is definitely out for Game 1 on Wednesday. Pittsburgh already knows it will be without leading forward Evgeni Malkin (knee) for the rest of the season, but losing Crosby as well could be too much to overcome in a short series. ... Crosby managed to finish in a 14-place tie in the NHL with 32 goals, despite playing in only 42 games. ... Marc-Andre Fleury is playoff-tested with one Stanley Cup title and another trip to the finals in consecutive years. Fleury went 36-20-5 with a 2.32 GAA in 65 appearances in the regular season. He has 38 career postseason wins in 62 games with a 2.52 GAA. ... Pittsburgh took a step back last season with a second-round elimination against No. 8 Montreal.
TAMPA BAY: Lightning return to playoffs after three-year absence. ... Steven Stamkos, who finished in a tie with Crosby last season with a league-best 51 goals, was second this season with 45. The Lightning also saw a resurgence in Martin St. Louis, who posted 99 points to top the team. Vincent Lecavalier had a strong finish, too, and totaled 25 goals and 54 points in just 65 games. ... Tampa Bay scored 247 goals, the third most in the Eastern Conference, and had an East-leading 20.5 percent efficiency on the power play. But the Lightning also allowed 234 goals. ... The home team won all four regular-season meetings, but the Lightning were outscored 13-2 in the two meetings in Pittsburgh. They held a 7-4 goals edge at home. Tampa Bay, however, was a strong road team elsewhere this season, going 21-14-6. ... Former Penguins forward Ryan Malone, a Pittsburgh native, returned to the lineup at the end of March after being sidelined by a groin injury for more than a month and was used sparingly down the stretch. ... Dwayne Roloson was a welcome addition for the Lightning when the 41-year-old goalie was rescued from the lowly New York Islanders on Jan. 1. He went 18-12-4 with a 2.56 goals-against average with Tampa Bay. In 33 career postseason games, Roloson is 18-12 with a 2.56 GAA.
OUTLOOK: Lightning strike down Crosby-less Penguins, win first series since 2004 Stanley Cup title. Lightning in 6.
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