PANTHERS (3) vs. DEVILS (6)
With just 94 points, Florida is your Southeast Division champion. It’s also Florida’s first dip in the playoff pool since 1999-2000. A dozen or so new faces on this team helped push the Panthers back into the second season. The Panthers are led by Tomas Fleischmann and Stephen Weiss (both are 60+ scorers this season). After being floated between two teams this past year, Kris Versteeg (54 points in 71 GP) looks to have found a permanent address. Defenceman Ed Jovanovski came back to Florida where it all started, and the Panthers will depend on Brian Campbell to be a big minute guy. In the net, the Panthers will either go with Jose Theodore (.91 SV%, 3 shutouts) or Scott Clemmensen (.913 SV%, 1 shutout). The Devils didn’t win the Atlantic, but they’ve got Ilya Kovalchuk as their top gun on offence (83 points in 77 GP). Usual suspects Patrick Elias (78 points in 81 GP) and Zach Parise (69 points in 82 GP) are likely to be New Jersey’s top contributors. Calder Candidate Adam Henrique finished the regular season with 51 points in 74 GP. On defence, the Devils don’t do much scoring, but they’ve got a solid core. And, they’ve got Adam Larsson, who I think is going to be the bee’s knees in a year or two. Bryce Salvador and Marek Zidlicky will be taking the lion’s share of the ice on defence for the Devils.
Then, there’s first ballot hall-of-famer Martin Brodeur for New Jersey. Brodeur is in the twilight of his career, but he still is good for a .907 SV% this year. Not sure how far that is going to take him, but then again, I’m not sure if Florida is ready to take this into the second round.
I’m going with New Jersey in a squeaker.
WHY FLORIDA COULD WIN
I like New Jersey’s offence here, but again, it comes down to the goaltending. Theodore has been nearly .01 better than Brodeur this year. That doesn’t look like a big number, but it could work out to an extra two or three goals over a series. Not expecting bunches of goals in this series, but if Theodore plays to his season average and New Jersey is just average on offence, Florida could see the second round.
Devils in 7.
PITTSBURGH (4) vs. PHILADELPHIA (5)
The series that everybody’s talking about, or “Bloodbath ’12″, Pittsburgh is defined by their prowess on offence. Evgeni Malkin had 109 freakin’ points in 75 games. James Neal averaged a point per game over 80 games this year, and Sidney Crosby was able to put up 37 points…in 22 games. To say the Penguins are an embarrassment of riches on offence is an understatement of the decade. Kris Letang is my go-to-guy on defence for the Penguins (42 points in 51 GP) followed up with Matt Niskanen and Paul Martin. If I was Pittsburgh, I’d be most concerned about my goaltending. Marc-Andre Fleury is a Stanley Cup Champion, it’s true, but his SV% is just .913. This isn’t a problem if Pittsburgh scores 4 or more goals every night, but it could come into play if it’s 1-all late in the second OT. For Philadelphia, it’s been a good year for Claude Giroux (93 points in 77 GP), and it’s been a pretty good year for Scott Hartnell (67 points in 82 GP) and this guy named Jaromir Jagr (54 points in 73 GP). Wayne Simmonds has 28 goals, and that’s a pretty good number. The Flyers are missing Chris Pronger, and that means Matt Carle, Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen are Philly’s big guns on back. Pavel Kubina is also here to help. In net, Ilya Bryzgalov has had a really hot March, and he’s also allowed nine goals veruss the Jets. Which goaltender you’ll get remains a mystery.
I’ve got to take the Penguins in this one.
WHY PHILADELPHIA COULD WIN
Ilya Bryzgalov is 11-3-1 from March 1st to today, only turning in two real clunkers during that span. Philly’s defence is going to have their hands full with Pittsburgh’s first and second lines, and Bryzgalov will have his chance to earn that hefty nine year deal he was signed to this past offseason. If he’s up to it, Philadelphia will be a force to be reckoned with.
Penguins in 6.
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