Tuesday, April 10, 2012

POISON PEN: Round one preview, Eastern Conference

Does it suck that the Colorado Avalanche failed to make the NHL's annual postseason party? It sucks hard, real hard, sucks big giant rocks. But does that mean there isn't still hockey to be played? Of course it doesn't, and with that in mind, let's take a look at the 8 playoff matchups, where we test our powers of prognostication with an assist from Tonight Show legend Carnac the Magnificent. Today we start with the Eastern Conference, and tomorrow, we preview the Western Conference.

 (1E) New York Rangers
(8E) Ottawa Senators

The Matchup: The top seeded Rangers somewhat improbably emerged as the survivor of the Atlantic Division battle royal, earning home ice throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. Aside from star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and porcelain sniper Marian Gaborik, the Rangers are a mostly anonymous bunch led by media expert godd--n motherf---ing head f---ing coach John F---ing Tortorella. Meanwhile, the Senators somewhat improbably emerged from a division with arguably more talented teams like Montreal and Buffalo, to secure a playoff berth. The Sens attack is led by captain Daniel Alfredsson and giggling idiot Jason Spezza. The surprising Spezza-led Sens sparkled this season, suffering some setbacks and sliding from sixth to seventh and soon eighth. If GM Bryan Murray speaks that sentence out loud in your vicinity, wear a raincoat.

Most Interesting Player In This Series: Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, who will be leaned on to keep the dangerous Spezza and Milan Michalek from getting to Lundqvist and using their dual powers of "Creepy" and "Injury" as an attack.

Least Interesting Player In This Series: Sens goalie Craig Anderson, who has been known to build small ice barriers in front of the goal line using nothing but his own tears.

Carnac Says: "A John Tortorella press conference...Hugh Jessiman...and a goon."

"Name a gust, a bust, and a Prust."

Prediction: Rangers in 6

 (4E) Pittsburgh Penguins
(5E) Philadelphia Flyers

The Matchup: Finding information on this series has been kind of difficult, as both of these teams have been largely ignored by fans and media.

Fine, we'll try. The Pens and Flyers spent this season shadowboxing with each other, without much real doubt that they would be the 4/5 matchup in the East. Pittsburgh was led by the Terminator-like Evgeni Malkin and underrated goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, while Kris Letang was the engineer of a sometimes-frightening attack that AVERAGED over four goals a game through March and April. The remodeled Flyers successfully integrated newcomers Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, and uberprospect Brayden Schenn into a lineup that already featured superstar Claude Giroux. The Flyers lost Chris Pronger to a concussion in November, and have scrambled at times to ice an NHL-caliber defense. Niklas Grossmann revealed to the world that they've been spelling his name wrong for years, and he STILL can't find one of those little license plates with his name on it for his bicycle.

Most Interesting Player In This Series: Former Penguin, current Flyer, alltime troll Jaromir Jagr. Jagr was a pipebomb to start the season, but tailed off statistically in the second half of the season. I honestly have no idea what to expect from the now 40 year old Czech; he could score 5 goals in game one, he could wear a hoodie under his jersey in game two, or he could have that bizarre vertical mustache he grew in the 2008 playoffs by game 7. One way or the other, Jagr will be in the spotlight as he leads the charge against his former team, who he cockblocked over 9 months ago.

Least Interesting Player In This Series: Sounds silly, but Sidney Crosby is about the least compelling character in this series, in the same sense that Superman wasn't compelling. You KNOW what's going to happen, right? Crosby will get his points, pout his lips, and drive all non-Pittsburgh fans into a rage every time his mug shows up on the TV screen. Not at all boring, but there's no real suspense either.

He IS going to obliterate the Flyers, though. Sorry guys.

Carnac Says: "Superstar treatment".

"What's the name of the triple penicillin shot at all the free clinics in Pittsburgh?"

Prediction: Penguins in 5

 (2E) Boston Bruins
(7E) Washington Capitals

The Matchup: Tim Thomas vs Washington DC? Sure, why not? The Caps and the Bruins are a classic-ish matchup, one that preseason geniuses would have expected to see in the conference final. Alas, while the streaky Bruins accrued enough points to gain home ice advantage, the Caps were uneven, to put it politely. To be fair, who would have guessed that a team that traded its best goalie in order to sign a veteran with three career playoff wins would struggle? When Tomas Vokoun was unable to shoulder a lion's share of the games due to injury, Michael Neuvirth and Braden Holtby filled in to varying degrees of success. Holtby looks to be the starter to begin the series. Meanwhile, Alexander Ovechkin probably would not have selected Zdeno Chara to be his prom date for the first round. Ovechkin struggled against the rangy Hal Gill in the 2010 playoffs as the Caps were unceremoniously dumped by Montreal. Zdeno Chara is, uh, slightly better (and bigger!) than Gill. Ruh roh.

Most Interesting Player In This Series: Will Alex Semin stain his reputation heading into unrestricted free agency? Or will he rise to the occasion and go on a spurt? With Ovechkin and Chara likely trading musky European cologne scents with one another for the entirety of the series, Semin could be the difference between a spirited Caps upset bid, and a meek "Thanks for the invite" dismissal at the hands of the defending champs.

Least Interesting Player In This Series: Bruins ogre Milan Lucic is interesting in the same way that Nelson Munz is interesting. A one-dimensional rockhead, he's a perfect fit in Boston, where one-dimensional rockheads have been revered since the days of John Wensink. Milan Lucic has done exactly one productive thing in his life, and that's piss off Canucks fans. Lucic will find at least one opportunity during this series to drag his knuckles down the ice and give that dumb dog look to a frightened Capital.

Carnac Says: "Catch-22".

"Name something any average fan wearing ice skates for the first time could do in a race with Mike Knuble."

Prediction: Bruins in 5

 (3E) Florida Panthers
(6E) New Jersey Devils

The Matchup: Wow. Devils and Panthers, you say? And it's the playoffs? Well, Florida has that one guy... uh, he scored some goals for them. And their goalie must have been pretty good, right? Or did they have more than one goalie? Wait, who's Florida's goalie? Bouwmeester doesn't play for them anymore, right? Hmm. Okay. Dave Lowry, he's gotta be retired by now. We'll come back to the Panthers. Hah, just kidding, we won't. Isn't it just precious that they made the playoffs though?

The Devils are still the Devils. Even though Jay Pandolfo and Sergei Brylin have moved on, every time I watch a Devils game, I hear "Zach Parise", "Ilya Kovalchuk", and then Jay Pandolfo and Sergei Brylin dubbed over every other name, and I hear it in Gary Thorne's voice, even though Gary Thorne is out sailing a boat somewhere or something. I suppose that's a compliment for the Devils, who are basically a package of hockey Saltines. Lou Lamoriello looks like what Stewie Griffin would look like in about 60 years if he was a real person.

Most Interesting Player In This Series: Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who is doing his damndest to give us the answer to the "So why dont they just get a really fat guy to play goalie?" question that every non-hockey fan asks. Marty The One-Man Party, very quietly, has been really stinky in the playoffs since the lockout ended. The only way Brodeur can top his spectacular implosion in the final two minutes of Game 7 against Carolina in 2009 would be to strip naked and run one off on his ex-wife's mother in the postgame interview after the Devils are again eliminated in the first round. This needs to happen.

Least Interesting Player In This Series: Panthers defenseman Ed Jovanovski, the 2011-12 recipient of the "wait a second, he's still in the league???" trophy, annually voted on by newspaper writers. Wait a second, they still make newspapers???

Carnac Says: "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten".

"How many NBC affiliated networks begged not to be stuck showing this series?"

Prediction: Panthers in 7

COMING WEDNESDAY: Poison Pen previews the Western Conference

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