NHL Eastern Conference Stretch-Run Mayhem
February 3, 2009 by Big Tony
Unlike the West, the Eastern Conference is a much tighter race top to bottom with the exception of the Boston Bruins who have all but officially secured the top spot as they are 12 points ahead of their closets challenger. But looking beyond Boston a very colorful picture is painted as Washington and New Jersey battle for the second spot separated by only one point and the difference between 4th and 10th spot is only 9 points (essentially 3 games). That’s right ladies and gentlemen the difference between home ice advantage in the first round and being out of the playoffs altogether is merely 3 games. So you may be asking yourself how all this will end up, who’s in and who’s out? Well look no further folks, we’ve got it broken down for you right here.
Washington – The Alexes (Ovechkin and Semin) provide the Caps with enough scoring to hang with anybody from either conference and at any level of the playoffs. Supplement that with great defensive play by guys like Mike Green, outstanding goaltending by Jose Theodore and the toughness of the likes of Donald Brashear needed to wear teams down in the playoffs, you’ve got a team that can go a LONG way.
New Jersey – No Brodeur? No problem. Scott Clemmensen has been great, Parise, and Elias combine skill with leadership, and of course New Jersey always plays amazing defense. Add in Brendan Shanahan as the proverbial cherry on top and you’ve got yourself an irresistible sundae—i.e. a team that can rely on its core not only to get to the playoffs, but deep into the second season.
Montreal – Sure they lost Robert Lang for the season (a major blow indeed since he led the team in goals scored overall and power play goals) but now Kovalev and Price and company need to step up their play. They were picked by many (yours truly included) to represent the East in the finals and you better believe they’ll be there.
NY Rangers – Everything they expected to get from Wade Redden but haven’t has been more than adequately made up for by the play of Henrik Lundqvist. However, his play can only get them to the playoffs so do not expect them to get very far. A lot of their games have been won in shootouts and in case you didn’t get that memo there aren’t any shootouts in the post-season. Scott Gomez is great too but they miss Jagr and Shanahan so enjoy the Rangers while they last because it won’t be long for them in the playoffs.
Philadelphia – They are huge and can score. Big teams who can score make it to the playoffs, and as long as Biron stays solid they will be in excellent shape.
Florida – Netminder Craig Anderson has been fantastic and somehow this team has learned how to score on a more consistent basis. They have a lot of guys who are overachieving and it doesn’t look like that will stop anytime soon; however, as Anderson goes so go the Florida Panthers. In my estimation a 2.47 GAA and .930 save percentage are no accident, the Panthers are for real.
Pittsburgh – They have not played well as of late and have a lot of injuries to boot. Despite all that the Penguins have an incredible amount of talent and are becoming a grittier team as they realize they cannot win on talent alone. Losing Malone, Laraque and Hossa (among others) has hurt them more than most realize but regardless the team refuses to quit and their new 1-2-2 trap will help them win enough games to make reservations for post-season play.
Carolina – Cam Ward has been too inconsistent and the Hurricanes don’t score enough goals to bail him out every night.
Buffalo – They run Ryan Miller into the ground and he will start to wear down before the playoffs arrive. Thomas Vanek and company can certainly put the puck in the net and that will help their push toward the playoffs but they will fall short by “that much.”