The entire hockey world was hoping for a Habs vs Leafs first round matchup, but instead we'll get to see Montreal vs Ottawa. It may not have the history or bad blood that a Toronto series would've brought, but this is as compelling of a matchup that we'll find in round one. Let's take a closer look at the key factors.
Surprised? On paper, this should be a very close duel between Anderson and Price, but I'm going to focus on Price here because I think he is the make-or-break factor of the series. I know that's not ground-breaking analysis, but no one is quite sure what this guy is made of when the spotlight is on. He won a series in his rookie season, but nothing since then. He is often heralded as the best Canadian goaltender and praised as one of the elite. Can someone smarter than me explain how that happened? By my measure, I like to know what a guy can do in the playoffs before I declare him the best anything. Putting up nice regular season stats is nice for poolies, but I'm still not sure Price is the guy who can lead Montreal to glory.
If there's one series I don't feel good about picking, it's this one. There isn't a lot separating these teams and it could come down to random luck.
What is a Canucks preview without some goaltending discussion? The situation here is simple. Schneider is as good as they come in goal and if he's healthy, Vancouver is not a team I'd want to face. He can cover up for whatever flaws there might be in front of him and give his forwards enough time to find the back of the net. If for some reason he doesn't live up to expectations as the go-to guy, Luongo can come in as the sentimental underdog and do just fine. No one expected him to even be here, so if he's thrust into action to save the day it could be a nice final chapter to his days in Vancouver.
On the flip side, the Sharks will be relying solely on Niemi. That's not a bad thing because he's been great this season. I don't expect a dropoff in play unless something bizarre happens. With that said, I still give this duel to Schneider.
Much like the Wild in the West, no one is giving the Islanders much a chance in this series. Sportsbooks have made them a full two game underdog for the series, so the prevailing perception is that Pittsburgh will take care of business in four or five games. Is this a true representation of the matchup? Well it is and it isn't. Let's take a closer look at the key factors.
One reason why I wouldn't completely count out an Islanders upset in this series is due to the situation between the pipes. Fleury has had a nice bounceback season from last year's playoff debacle, but until he wins another round it will continue to be an issue. This is why the Penguins were smart to secure Vokoun as the backup. If Fleury falters, I don't think they will hesitate to park him on the bench to right the ship.
When the Ottawa Senators beat the Boston Bruins on the final day of the regular season, I was disappointed we weren't going to see a Leafs/Habs first round matchup. That said, getting to see the Toronto try to match-up against Boston might be the next best thing. This is perhaps one of the easiest first round series to breakdown and there's no question in my mind which side has the decided edge.
If you're a stat-geek, you'll know that the Leafs have dramatically overachieved in this shortened season. Not only has Reimer played well above his head, but the team's shooting percentage is also abnormally high. The result is a 1030 PDO rating, tied with Pittsburgh for the best in the league. Now which of these teams do you think is more likely going to regress to the mean? If this was a regular NHL season, I'd have fun betting against Toronto down the stretch, but due to the lockout I'll have to settle for the here and now.
When it comes to predicting the Conne Smythe winners, the obvious names are going to show up on most lists you see - Crosby, Kane, Toews, Fleury, Crawford, and Malkin. Parting ways with your hard earned cash on one of these players is not worth the investment. It's much more likely that one, if not both, of these teams fall short of the Stanley Cup Final. Therefore we have to search for the best bang for our buck choice. Here are my top five value picks for the playoff M.V.P. this year.
1) Zdeno Chara (50/1): I'm a huge fan of Tuukka Rask, but can someone explain to me why he is 20/1 to win MVP and Chara is 50/1? I do agree that goalies have a natural advantage and play the most critical role by default, but it would be foolish to overlook Chara at these odds. There isn't any elite, standout forward on this Bruins team, unless Seguin has a breakout playoffs. Chara is going to log more minutes than any other defender in the league and he has tremendous respect around the league in every media circle. If Boston reach the final, there's no question that Chara will be among the favorites to win the award.