According to the Tarik El Bashir of The Washington Post both Shaone Morrisonn and Jeff Schultz of the Caps are hoping to be in the lineup on Friday night when Washington opens the Stanley Cup Playoffs at home against the Philadelphia Flyers. If either of them can play at close to full strength this will be a big plus for Coach Bruce Boudreau and the team. If healthy, I would expect in the playoffs for Boudreau to play Mike Green and Tom Poti at least 25 minutes a game each with Morrisonn playing around 23 minutes and Schultz around 22 minutes. In that ideal scenario then the Caps would only have to put Milan Jurcina and John Erskine on the ice for a combined 25 minutes or so a game. If both Morrisonn and Schultz are out then there are 45 more minutes to split up among Jurcina, Erskine, Steve Eminger, Josef Boumedienne, Sami Lepisto, or anyone else the Caps call up to play defense. Clearly the injuries to Morrisonn and Schultz represent a huge drop off on the back end if they can’t go on Friday or anytime in the playoffs.
Regardless of the defensive injuries I am still picking the Caps over the Flyers in seven games (see yesterday’s blog).
Eastern Conference Playoff Preview
Here is my analysis and predictions for the remaining three Eastern Conference Playoff match-ups:
Pittsburgh Penguins versus Ottawa Senators
Monday morning in an interview with the media Senators Coach Bryan Murray accused the Penguins of laying down on Sunday against the Flyers so that Pittsburgh could draw Ottawa in the first round instead of getting the #1 seed in the East and facing the Flyers in the first round (I alluded to this in my blog yesterday). Murray is absolutely right but there is nothing he can do about it but the league might want to look into this to protect the integrity of the game. This was a topic of discussion today on Hockey Night in Canada Radio between host Jeff Marek, Ron Maclean (CBC HNIC TV host), Kelly Hrudey (CBC HNIC), and Bruce Garrioch (Ottawa Sun). I am in Marek’s corner that the Penguins “tanking” of the game warrants an investigation. Maclean was in the camp that says that teams are trying to win the Cup and they should be allowed to do whatever is necessary to position themselves for that and everyone knows that Ottawa without captain Daniel Alfredsson (injured on a hit by the Leafs Mark Bell last Thursday night) and Mike Fisher are easy pickings.
Given all of this controversy and apparent snubbing one would expect Ottawa to be fired up to play the Penguins and they will be. Unfortunately the Sens go as Alfredsson goes and he is out. Ottawa’s goaltending is suspect and Martin Gerber does not have a good playoff record and he was yanked back in 2006 for Cam Ward who led Carolina to the Stanley Cup that year. Pittsburgh has been banged up recently and still hasn’t had time to put their full lineup of star forwards that include Sydney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Petr Sykora, and Milan Hossa on the ice on a consistent basis. Playing the Senators is just the tune-up the Penguins need to get the team gelling and with Marc Andre-Fleury looking very good in net right now Pittsburgh could be the team to beat in the East.
Series Prediction: Penguins sweep the Senators in four games.
Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins
It is the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Canadiens and Bruins are meeting once again, so what else is new? This is the 31st time these teams have met in the playoffs with Montreal holding a staggering 23-7 edge. Both of these teams had very good seasons with Boston getting back to a physical style of hockey that Boston natives really enjoy. They signed free agent goalie Manny Fernandez last summer to be their savior in goal only to have him get hurt and miss the season. Luckily for B’s fans Tim Thomas stepped up his game and played well most of the year. The team also played well without forward Patrice Bergeron who missed almost the entire season with a concussion suffered on a cheap shot from Flyers defensemen Randy Jones back on October 27th. Bergeron is skating but won’t play in game one. Also missing from Boston’s lineup is Chuck Kobasew who fractured his leg (out 4-8 weeks) and possibly leading scorer Marc Savard who has a broken bone in his back (missed the last seven games). Boston has Zdeno Chara, one of the best in the league on defense.
Montreal plays with a team concept that is demanded by Coach Guy Charbonneau and it works well because the Habs also have the best power play in the league (24.2%). Alexei Kovalev had a great season and if not for Alex Ovechkin’s season might have gotten more notice for the league MVP award. The Canadiens are once again going with a young goalie in the playoffs, 20 year old Carey Price. It is a risky proposition but Bob Gainey would probably remind you that two other rookie Habs netminders did well in their playoffs debuts (see Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy). Tough defensemen Mike Komisarek is likely out for some or all of this series and he will be missed.
Series Prediction: Montreal in five games – they just have too much depth for a banged up Bruins team.
New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers
The Rangers beat the Devils seven of the eight times they played this season with their only loss coming in a shootout this past Sunday. As a result the Devils have home ice for this series. The Rangers have a lot of offensive talent with Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, and Brendan Shanahan and a good goalie in Henrik Lundqvist but they have a no name defensive crew that can be very inconsistent. The Devils, despite seemingly losing free agent after free agent on an annual basis, are solid because of their astute drafting and player development done by GM Lou Lamoriello and Director of Player Personnel David Conte. New Jersey is led by Zach Parise, Patrick Elias, Brian Gionta, and Jamie Langenbrunner on offense and has the best goalie in the NHL in Martin Brodeur. First year Coach Brent Sutter has done a solid job molding this into a playoff type team that likes to play low scoring games. This will be a close series and who knows which version of Jagr will show up? #68 seems to like New York but he is a free agent after this season and can be very moody.
Series Prediction: New Jersey in seven games – but only because of Brodeur.
Tomorrow night I’ll have my analysis and predictions for the Western Conference.