No rest for three Eastern survivors 0
It took the Philadelphia Flyers six games to eliminate the Pittsburgh Penguins in a playoff series that was a throwback to the 1980s with all its goals.
The Flyers got off lightly.
The three other opening-round series in the East all went the maximum seven games -- and more. Which is to say three of these teams already have been through a meat grinder.
The Washington Capitals needed overtime in Game 7 against the Boston Bruins, and the New Jersey Devils needed double overtime to eliminate the Florida Panthers, the first Game 7 to do double overtime since 1996.
The New York Rangers held off the overachieving Ottawa Senators and are the only surviving top seed after the Vancouver Canucks were eliminated in the West. Interesting, too, that after the Rangers in the East, the next surviving seed is the fifth-seeded Flyers.
Just goes to show you how little there is to choose between the teams in this era of parity inspired by the salary cap (and the fact teams with poorer records get higher seeds based on rewarding division winners).
Interesting to note, too, that the four surviving teams in the East come from what would have been one of the proposed new conferences in the NHL's ill-fated new alignment plan. They would have met in the first round of the new playoff format, so two of the surviving teams would have been eliminated already.
The top-seeded Rangers will be looking to get back to the Conference final for the first time since 1997, the longest span among the East's surviving teams. Washington was there in 1999, the Devils in 2003 on the way to winning the Cup and the Flyers made it all the way to the final two years ago.
New Jersey Devils vs. Philadelphia Flyers
How they got here: The Devils (6) defeated the Florida Panthers (3) in seven games: the Flyers (5) beat the Pittsburgh Penguins (4) in six games.
It wasn't easy, but the Devils got by the opening round for the first time since 2007.
Now they get to face a familiar rival in the Flyers, who steamrolled their way over the Penguins.
This will be the second playoff meeting in three years between these teams, in addition to the six regular-season games they play annually. They have met four times in the post-season with the Flyers winning the past two, in 2004 and 2010.
There will be no secrets.
Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, who will celebrate his 40th birthday May 6 -- the day of Game 4 -- was New Jersey's best player in Game 7 against the Panthers. He'll need to be at his best again against the Flyers, who scored 30 goals against the Penguins, double what 10 other teams managed in the first round.
Brodeur and the rest of the Devils will face a Flyers offence that was led by Claude Giroux (his 14 points leads the post-season), but he got good support through the lineup. Thirteen different Flyers scored in the opening round and eight of them had at least two goals.
It's easy to characterize this as the Flyers offence against Brodeur and the Devils defence and that might very well be the way it shakes out. Encouraging for the Devils is star forward Ilya Kovalchuk scoring three goals against Florida as he won a playoff round for the first time in his career.
The Flyers seem to have too much going for them offensively. They are a great mix of young and older -- it's hard to believe Giroux is only 24 -- and they are all talented. That's a tough combination to overcome.
Pick: Flyers in six.
New York Rangers vs. Washington Capitals
How they got here: The Rangers (1) beat the Ottawa Senators (8) in seven games; the Caps (7) defeated the Boston Bruins (2) in seven games.
So, they meet again. The Rangers and the Caps have been frequent dance partners the past few seasons. This is the third time in four years they have met with the Caps prevailing in 2009 and last year. The regular-season series between the clubs this year was split.
"The past is the past," said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, a nominee for the Vezina and Hart trophies who posted a .945 save percentage in the elimination of the Senators.
"I don't think about what happened last year or whatever. We're in a different place and they're in a different place. I'm going to approach it the same way I approached this one, not overthink it or try to do too much. Their top guys are really talented and can make some big plays out of nothing, so we have to be ready."
If blocked shots are a barometer by which you measure a team's dedication to the playoff cause, then these are your teams. The Rangers and the Capitals were one and two in sticking various body parts in front of pucks during the first round. The Rangers blocked 155 shots against the Senators and the Caps 139 against the Bruins. The Phoenix Coyotes were third with 128.
Goals usually aren't pretty in the playoffs -- the Penguins and Flyers series notwithstanding -- but it figures to be especially the case in this series. You can imagine both teams collapsing around their goaltender waiting for the other team to attack, maybe both at the same time, the puck lying at centre ice.
You would like to give the edge in the always critical area of goaltending to Lundqvist and the Rangers, but there's a case to be made for the Caps and rookie Braden Holtby, who is writing one of those great stories about a goaltender who comes from nowhere to have playoff success.
The Rangers look like they have just a little bit more grit and grind and a defence, led by Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, that can match up against Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin led the Caps against the Bruins with five points in the low-scoring opening series.
As Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is fond of saying, the team that wins will be the one that can stick to its game longer and harder than the other guys.
Pick: Rangers in six.
First round record: 4-4.