Eastern Conference Playoffs

The Islanders' season may be done but the hockey season remains, and as a die hard hockey fan I will milk this season for all that it has.  The playoff seeding this season came down to the last weeks, days, and games of the season moving teams all around the standings some for the better (Phoenix Coyotes) and some for the worse (Buffalo Sabres).  The final seeding were decided and the 2011-12 playoff matchups were set.  

The Eastern Conference matchups are as follows the New York Rangers (1) vs. the Ottawa Senators (8), the Boston Bruins (2) vs. the Washington Capitals (7), the Florida Panthers (3) vs. the New Jersey Devils (6) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs. the Philadelphia Flyers (5). So far three of the four series are tied at one game a piece and the game that is not tied is quite possibly the biggest surprise in the Eastern Conference.  

NYR vs OTT- The Rangers were expecting to play the either the Washington Capitals or the Buffalo Sabres the days leading upto the playoffs but when Washington started to win some games and Ottawa started to lose some everything changed.  This series was poised to be a good series and maybe go five or six games but the Ottawa Senators have come to play.  In a playoff filled with cheap shots and rough housing this series has seen two suspensions through its first two games.  The Rangers' Carl Hagelin received a three game suspension for, what was deemed, and illegal hit to the head on Daniel Alfredsson.  The Ottawa captain appeared dazed on the play and would not return to finish the game.  The Senators' Matt Carkner was suspended one game for jumping Brian Boyle, Carkner was cited as the "Aggressor" to this fight and was given the mandatory one game suspension.  The teams faceoff tonight for game three at 7:30 in Ottawa.  The Senators have not officially stated whether or not Alfredsson would return to game three, but if he plays look for him to be a large factor.  Losing Carkner may lessen Ottawa's ability to play physically against the Rangers but it will be interesting to see if Konopka will stay in the lineup for game three.  The series is tied at one with the Rangers taking game one by a score of 4-2 and Ottawa tying the series with a 3-2 come from behind, overtime win in game two.

BOS vs WSH- The defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins were given the task of getting by Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in the first round of this years playoffs.  Many believed that the Capitals would be a breeze for the Bruins putting little faith in the young Washington goaltender, Braden Holtby.  Holtby is in only his second NHL season and has only played a total of twenty-one games; he is burdened with the seemingly impossible task of leading the Capitals to the Stanley Cup because of injuries to Michal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun.  The series is tied at one game a piece and both games have gone into at least one overtime.  Boston's Chris Kelly broke a scoreless tie 1:18 into the first overtime period in game one given the Bruins a one game lead.  That lead would not last long however as Holtby and the Capitals would come back and take game two on Nicklas Backstrom's double overtime goal which came just 2:56 into the second overtime period.  Game three is tonight at 7:30 in Washington as Holtby looks to remain strong in net and Ovechkin looks to find the back of the net.

FLA vs NJD- The Florida Panthers had not won a playoff game in over a decade (1997) until game two last night in Florida.  The Panthers earned the third seed in the Eastern Conference by beating out the Washington Capitals for the South Eastern division title with 94 points, Washington just missed with 92.  Those extra two points earned the Panthers home ice advantage and even though the Devils took game one 3-2, the Panthers were able to give their fans a much needed playoff win by defeating the Devils 4-2 last night in game two.  Florida is getting a ton of help from their off season acquisitions getting goals from Sean Berhenheim (TBL and ex-Islander) and Kris Versteeg (PHI) in game one and from Marcel Goc (NSH) and Tomas Fleischmann (COL) in game two.  Game three will be played tomorrow night in New Jersey, the puck drops at 7:00.  The Devils hope to impress their home crowd, while the Floridian newcomers are hoping to show why they were brought into the mix.  

PIT vs PHI- I don't even know where to begin with this series.  The Penguins and the Flyers played twice in the last week of the regular season, the first game was an exhibit of disgusting hockey.  Where was Mario Lemieux during that game?  Enough has been said about the disgrace of a game that I will let it be and focus on the disgrace and the massacre currently at hand.  The perennial favorite Pittsburgh Penguins and their super"man" Sidney Crosby came into this years playoffs with a burst of momentum and what seemed like the inability to lose.  When the matchups were locked up everyone said that this was going to be a physical, gritty, cheap and fun series to watch and I bet that most "experts" had their money on Pittsburgh to take the series.  While I would not count the Penguins out yet, they are one of the most skilled hockey teams in the NHL, all of those predictions have been correct except for the "experts."  So far through three games the Flyers have combined for 20 goals and a three game lead.  The Flyers scored eight goals in both games two and three including four shorthanded goals (2 in each).  The series has been marred with cheap shots, fighting, and of course crying (Crosby), but will anyone be suspended or fined?  Of course not, the NHL would never touch their golden child or his organization.  As a New Yorker it may be against all unwritten codes to root for the Flyers, but I hope that they run Crosby and his Penguins at of Philly Wednesday night in such a fashion that even the NHL can't defend them.  Game four (and the possible sweep) will be played Wednesday night at 7:30 at Philadelphia.

The Eastern Conference Playoffs are far from decided right now, and with only one team holding a lead everything is up for grabs.  After watching the first few days of the playoff my picks would be:

Rangers in 5
Bruins in 6
Devils in 6
Philadelphia in 5 (I really hope they sweep the Penguins, but I cannot see Pittsburgh being swept in the first round. This is the one pick I am hoping is wrong).

Stay Tuned for my continued coverage of the Playoffs as well as other relevant hockey news that I just may throw your way. 

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