April 11, 2012

Eastern Conference Playoff Picks 2012

The Eastern Conference Finals should feature the Rangers vs. the Bruins or Penguins, with the Bruins/Penguins winning and moving onto the Stanley Cup Finals. This is barring major upsets, which is a big "if". There are upsets every year.
There's no telling for sure which team will make an improbable run, but upsetting teams in recent years have had a certain look to them. They almost all get goaltending above and beyond what they got in the regular season- key to stopping powerhouse teams that outclass you up front. They also have good PP and PK, despite mediocre or lopsided offensive and defensive numbers. This is a sign of a coach who knows how to coach situationally given what he has, which can have a greater impact in the playoffs. Think of the 1980 Olympics, when the US beat a better USSR team because they were coached for that exact matchup. Without Kurt Russell, they didn't have a chance.
God bless America.

Based on that profile, the team that looks most like an upsetting team this year is the Pittsburgh Penguins, which is hardly helpful. So much for predicting the improbable.

(1) New York Rangers vs. (8) Ottawa Senators
The Senators are a great scoring team and are tougher than I always assume they are, but they don't have much of a chance in this series. The Rangers' offense can be shut down, but not by a sieve-like defense and Craig Anderson, who is not what I could call a "starting" goaltender. Ottawa will score enough to make things interesting, but unless Anderson pulls a .940 out of his a**, they're not good enough to win this one.
Rangers in 6

(2) Boston Bruins vs. (7) Washington Capitals
In my mind, the Caps are the worst team in the Eastern Conference playoffs. They're 13th in scoring and bottom half of the league in everything else. They don't have a statistical strength, and their supposed strength (Ovechkin) has always been easily handled by the Bruins' de. Also (and this may be a bit of an inside joke for Bruins fans): Dennis Wideman.
Bruins in 5

(3) Florida Panthers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils
Florida's stagnant offense could really use a matchup like this against a weak goaltender. Unfortunately for them, the Devils' defense has done a remarkable job of shielding their goalies all year, letting up the 2nd fewest shots per game and owning the league's best penalty kill. Jose Theodore thrives in the first round, and the Devils may have trouble scoring on him, but the Panthers de is terrible and I believe they will score in the end. Both of these teams are incredibly beatable, but New Jersey seems to be better coached.
New Jersey in 7

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers
These teams are very similar. Both are offensive powerhouses with weak goalies, a surprisingly successful formula in the postseason. The only noticeable difference is their penalty kills- Pittsburgh is 3rd and Philly is 17th. This speaks to the different quality of defensemen they have, which will be very important considering the quality of goalies involved. Philly leads the league in PP time, which means they score about 1/4 of their goals with the man advantage, as opposed to Pittsburgh's 1/5 (and Boston's Conference-low 1/6). With fewer powerplays awarded in the postseason, Philly could see their scoring drop. This series could really play out any way, with either team coming out on top, but Pittsburgh has that look about them this year.
Pittsburgh in 7

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