NHL playoff series previews and predictions

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 30, 2013 - 9:36 AM

Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (71) skates in second period of an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes in Pittsburgh Saturday, April 27, 2013. The Penguins won 8-3. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(1) PITTSBURGH VS. (8) New York ISLANDERS

Records: Penguins 36-12-0, 72 points; Islanders 24-17-7, 55 points.

Season series: Penguins won 4-1.

The skinny: Even with injuries the Penguins — first-round losers the past two years — went 23-4 at the finish. And now they’re getting healthier, with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal back. The big question is whether Sidney Crosby will return from a broken jaw. The Penguins are loaded up front, with scoring depth all down the lineup , augmented by late additions Brenden Morrow and Jarome Iginla, who had goals in four of his past six games. Former Wild winger Pascal Dupuis was a league-best plus-31 and native Minnesotan Paul Martin had his best per-game point production (.64). Penguins G Marc-Andre Fleury and Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov each had 23 victories. The Islanders, in the playoffs for the first time since 2007, haven’t won a playoff series since 1993. C John Tavares (28-19—47) and LW Matt Moulson (15-29—44) carry the offensive load while 37-year-old Nabokov (23-11-7) seems ageless. The Islanders were 14-6-4 on the road, third-best in the East.

(2) MONTREAL VS. (7) OTTAWA

Records: Canadiens 29-14-5, 63 points; Senators 25-17-6, 56 points

Season series: Both teams were 2-1-1.

The skinny: The Canadiens started hot but limped home, losing six of their past 10 games and giving up 29 goals in the six losses. Still, they went from last place in the Eastern Conference a year ago to Northeast Division champs with a combination of good defense and balanced scoring. LW Max Pacioretty (15-24—39) and D P.K. Subban (11-27—38) lead a lineup that had eight players with at least 10 goals but nobody with more than 39 points. G Carey Price has to rebound from a rocky finish. The Senators fought through a number of injuries to qualify for the playoffs. The worst was defenseman Erik Karlsson’s torn Achilles tendon. The Senators haven’t reached the second round since 2006, but Karlsson’s late return should be a boost. C Kyle Turris (12-17—29) leads a balanced Ottawa attack. But the key is G Craig Anderson, who came back from a mid-season injury to lead the NHL with a 1.69 goals-against average. Ottawa finished second in goals against (2.08).

(3) WASHINGtON VS. (6) N.Y. RANGERS

Records: Capitals 27-18-3, 57 points; Rangers 26-18-4, 56 points.

Season series: Rangers 2-0-1, Washington 1-2-0.

The skinny: This rematch of last year’s seven-game conference semifinals can be summed up in a word: Ovechkin. Capitals LW Alex Ovechkin started slowly — with only two goals in the first 10 games — but finished in a rush. His NHL-record 14 April goals gave him 32 for the season, earning his third Rocket Richard Trophy, and helped the Capitals go 11-1-1 in the month, surging to their fifth division title in six years. Washington moved from 14th in the East to third in April. C Mike Ribeiro had 13 goals and 49 points and Ovechkin linemate Nicklas Backstrom had 48 points. G Braden Holtby had a career-high 23 victories. The Rangers — who reached the conference finals last season — also are hot, having gone 10-3-1 in April. C Derek Stepan of Hastings had a team-high 44 points, and LW Rick Nash had two goals in the season finale to reach 20 for the ninth consecutive season. G Henrik Lundqvist tied for first in the league with 24 wins, was fifth with a .926 save percentage and seventh with a 2.05 GAA. The status of injured Rangers Marc Staal, Brian Boyle and Ryane Clowe is key.

(4) BOSTON VS. (5) TORONTO

Records: Bruins 28-14-6, 62 points; Maple Leafs 25-17-5, 57 points.

Season series: Boston 3-1-0, Toronto 1-2-1.

The skinny: Boston won only three of its final 10 games, blowing a shot at the No. 2. But this matchup of Original Six teams and conference foes should perk things up; it is the first time in 40 years these teams have met in the playoffs. Boston had six players with 10 or more goals, led by LW Brad Marchand (18-18—36) and C Tyler Seguin (16-16—32). G Tuukka Rask finished third with a .929 save percentage for Boston, which was third overall in goals against (2.21). The Maple Leafs are in the playoffs for the first time in 10 years. Former Gopher Phil Kessel led the Leafs and was eighth in the NHL with 52 points (20-32—52); he has 15 points in 15 career playoff games. C Nazem Kadri and LW James van Riemsdyk each had 18 goals. But a key will be the play of G James Reimer, who finished with 19 wins despite a 2.46 GAA.

 

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  • Montreal Canadiens' P.K. Subban (76), Max Pacioretty (67), Andrei Markov (79), Brendan Gallagher (11) and David Desharnais (51) celebrate Desharnais' goal on the Winnipeg Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec (31), Ron Hainsey (6) and Mark Stuart (5) during third-period NHL hockey game action in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Thursday, April 25, 2013. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, John Woods)

  • Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8), of Russia, skates with the puck against the Boston Bruins during the overtime period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, April 27, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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  • The San Jose Sharks' Raffi Torres (13) celebrates his goal with teammates Martin Havlat (9) and Brent Burns (88) against the Dallas Stars in the first period at HP Pavilion in San Jose, California, on Tuesday, April 23, 2013. (Nhat V. Meyer/San Jose Mercury News/MCT)

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