It's been a long, enjoyable NHL season kids. We've had our fair share of surprises in the standings, teams finding ways into and out of the top eight, and even one division that seemingly nobody wanted to win. Since we weren't bringing you any of the best news from the luxury box at the beginning of the season, we unfortunately don't have preseason predictions to poke fun at.
However, now that we've got an avenue for our thoughtless predictions, ideas and jokes, we are proud to present to you Tonight's Healthy Scratches Eastern Conference Quarterfinals picks:
|Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
|1) New York vs. 8) Ottawa||
|2) Boston vs. 7) Washington||
|3) Florida vs. 6) New Jersey||
|4) Pittsburgh vs. 5) Philadelphia||
The award for "Least Original Picker" goes to Brian, who went all chalk in his East picks. Here's to hoping his bracket doesn't do as well as President Obama's did in the early rounds of March Madness this year. Now, let's break down each series:
1) New York Rangers vs. 8) Ottawa Senators
The Rangers, the most consistent Eastern Conference team all year long, finished the regular season a full seven points ahead of Boston to claim the top spot. Led by probable-Vezina Trophy winner, Henrik Lundqvist (his phone refers to him as "Rock God"), and a cast of black-and-blue collar stars, New York has positioned itself to escape the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08. In addition to Marian Gaborik's 42 goals and Ryan Callahan's league-leading 806 bruises as a result of blocked shots, the Blueshirts got a huge shot in the arm from rookie call-up Carl Hagelin.
The small-yet-speedy Swedish winger produced almost immediately, and was a welcome addition to a team otherwise lacking in secondary scoring. He's made his way up to the first unit alongside Gaborik and Brad Richards, the team's big free-agent acquisition, while capturing the hearts of the "Garden Faithful."
Standing in their way is an upstart Ottawa team who was picked either dead last, or close to it by most "experts" many months ago. Captain Daniel Alfredsson and netminder Craig "Edward Scissorhands" Anderson led the Senators from the basement and into the top eight. Ottawa also took three of four meetings during the season against the Rangers, so don't be so quick to punch the Rangers ticket into the Eastern Conference semifinals just yet.
Kyle Turris, acquired from the Coyotes in December, has finally found a home in Ottawa after a rocky start to his career in Phoenix. His 29 points (12 G, 17 A) in 42 games with Ottawa have solidified a lineup that faltered a bit down the stretch. The Sens finished the season on a three-game slide and losers of six of their last 10. While they may have proved many pundits wrong by getting this far, we wonder how much longer this party's going to go on.
PREDICTION: Rangers in five.
2) Boston Bruins vs. 7) Washington Capitals
We've written about the Capitals trials and tribulations this season ad nausem. We get it. Nobody knows what to expect from them. Tomas Vokoun's groin is about as useful as Mike Green's was four months ago. Alex Ovechkin is a different player now. Alex Semin is exactly the same. So many people, including yours truly, picked them to emerge as the Eastern Conference's superpower this season and are now feeling some serious shame. There's no way they can oust the defending Stanley Cup champions, right? Right?!
As Lee Corso would say, "not so fast, my friend."
Nicklas Backstrom's presence in the lineup has seemed to have a calming influence on this Washington team. Since returning from a concussion on January 3 that caused him to miss 41 games, the Capitals are 3-1. Backstrom got back on the scoresheet with a goal and an assist in the team's regular season finale, a 4-1 road thumping of the Rangers. Braden Holtby, who's been both great and terrible at times this year, will man the pipes for the Caps. Fitting that we have no idea what to expect from him either.
Of course, nobody is saying the Bruins are an easy out by any means. Their depth at forward gives them three lines that are dangerous in the offensive zone and big, bruising defensemen like Zdeno Chara and Adam McQuaid make defending-Vezina winner Tim Thomas even tougher to beat than he already is.
Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand, who helped the Bruins shake off an early-season Stanley Cup hangover (both literally and figuratively, we assume) lead the team in goals with 29 and 28 respectively. Milan Lucic isn't far behind with 26. This team can beat you any number of ways, whether they go around you or right through you.
Though the Bruins don't have any glaring holes, call it a hunch on this one. Look for the Capitals to buck the stigma that they're a terrible, very bad, no good playoff team and send Boston packing. Washington, we wish we knew how to quit you.
PREDICTION: Capitals in seven.
3) Florida Panthers vs. 6) New Jersey Devils
The rats are back. The Panthers earned their first postseason berth since 2000, but barely managed to limp in near the end of the regular season. The Southeast division champions, almost by default, got some help from the Capitals and Sabres en route to a 2-3-5 mark in their final 10 games. Florida's goal differential is by far the worst of all the playoff-bound teams at -24. Tomas Fleischmann, the team's nominee for the Bill Masterson Trophy, led the Panthers with 61 points (27 G, 31 A).
Kris Versteeg, who was among the league leaders in points through November, managed just 16 points since the new year and turned his breakout year into a luke-warm 54-point campaign. He'll need to rediscover that scoring touch if the Panthers expect to have a chance against New Jersey.
The Devils enter the playoffs riding a six-game winning streak and as deep as anyone in the East. Ilya Kovalchuk rebounded from a sub-par 2010-11 season with 37 goals and 83 points. Their depth at center, once questioned by injuries to Jacob Josefson and Travis Zajac, got a huge boost from rookie Adam Henrique, who spent most of the year between Kovalchuk and Zach Parise.
David Clarkson emerged as an opportunistic presence, reaching the 30-goal plateau for the first time in his career. Eight of those came on the power play, where he has made a living wreaking havoc around the goal mouth.
With lots of young talent threatening to crack the roster next year, Dale Tallon's got the Panthers headed in the right direction. But they may have already seen their last victory in 2011-12.
PREDICTION: Devils in 4.
4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 5) Philadelphia Flyers
Hartnellmania has swept Philadelphia by storm this season. The hairy Flyers winger led the team with 37 goals, including 16 power play markers. But as effective as he's been with the man advantage, Hartnell has remained a pesky nuisance for the opposition. Penguins fans' hatred of Hartnell probably can't get any deeper after his hilarious mocking of a Hulk Hogan-esque fan in the wake of an on-ice melee between the bitter rivals during a 6-4 victory on April 1.
It got ugly. In the mean time, every hockey fan immediately began salivating at the thought of these two teams battling it out over seven games for the third time in five years. The Flyers scorched through the final weeks of the season thanks to fantastic play from Ilya Bryzgalov, who's had an up-and-down campaign in his first year in Philadelphia. Claude Giroux has elevated his game to superstar levels, finishing third in the league in scoring, while rookie Brayden Schenn has turned around his season, plauged by injuries early, to be the asset the Flyers hoped when they acquired him last summer.
The Penguins have not been making many friends lately. The image of Pittsburgh being the league's "goody twoshoes" has evaporated quickly after dustups with a pair of divisional foes in less than a week. While they may not be as innocent as anyone thought, they still pack as mean an offensive punch as you'll find in the Eastern Conference. Evgeni Malkin, the odds-on favorite for the Hart Trophy, put the team on his back in the absence of Sidney Crosby for the duration of the season.
Oh yeah, that Crosby guy? He's back. And last we checked, he's pretty good. The supporting cast in Pittsburgh would've been enough to get them here, but Crosby puts them over the top. Though they were unable to beat Philadelphia in the regular season, don't expect that trend to continue in the playoffs. Regardless of who wins this series, though, there will be no shortage of black eyes and bloodshed.
PREDICTION: Penguins in six.
Agree? Disagree? Think we're terrible at this? Tell us in the comments! We'll have our Western Conference predictions later this afternoon. Stick with Tonight's Healthy Scratches throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs for all your NHL info.