Washington Capitals (3) vs. New York Rangers (6)
The Capitals and Rangers have met three times in the past four years, so they should be fairly familiar with one another. The Blueshirts won two of three meetings from the Caps during the regular season.
The Capitals began the first two months of the lockout-shortened campaign with a troubling 7-11-1 record and they didn't appear to be close to a playoff contending team. Thanks to a red hot April and the struggles of their Southeast Division brethren, Washington was able to finish atop their division and make it into the postseason. The Rangers also performed below expectations for the greater part of the year before they turned it around and claimed a playoff berth late in the season.
Washington was led by Alex Ovechkin, who received plenty of criticism in the early going, before he ended up netting an NHL-best 32 goals and registering 56 points in 48 games. Offensive defenseman Mike Green also re-emerged as a legitimate fantasy threat with 10 markers and nine assists in his past 18 contests. Mike Ribeiro's arrival in Washington gave the club newfound depth in the middle that they've never had before behind Nicklas Backstrom, while Braden Holtby performed well between the pipes en route to snagging the team's number one job.
The Rangers posted a 10-3-1 record in April to finish sixth in the Eastern Conference. It was bold of the team to trade away disgruntled sniper Marian Gaborik, but the roster overhaul appeared to spark New York. New acquisitions Derick Brassard, John Moore and Ryane Clowe, who was acquired from San Jose, played a helping hand in the team's late-season surge. However, most of the heavy lifting was done by Rick Nash and his team-leading 21 goals as well leading scorer Derek Stepan, who had 44 points in 48 games, and Brad Richards, who ended the regular season on a high note. In goal, Henrik Lundqvist managed to post a solid year despite the team's struggles.
Both teams have been playing at a high level for a while now, so neither one has an advantage in that respect. The Capitals have home ice advantage this time, which helped the Rangers in Game 7 of the 2012 playoffs. Washington's lethal power play could also give them an edge in the series and it will be harder to hold Ovechkin in check if Marc Staal remains absent from the Rangers' blueline. Look for the Caps to win in six games.
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Marcus Johansson
Troy Brouwer - Mike Ribeiro - Martin Erat
Eric Fehr - Mathieu Perreault - Jason Chimera
Jay Beagle - Matt Hendricks - Aaron Volpatti
Brooks Laich - Wojtek Wolski - Joel Ward
Karl Alzner - Mike Green
John Erskine - John Carlson
Jack Hillen - Steven Oleksy
Tom Poti - Jeff Schultz
Alex Ovechkin has been firing on all cylinders. He tallied 14 goals and eight helpers in 13 matches during the month of April to vault his way back into fantasy stardom. Mike Green concluded the regular season with four markers and 11 points in his last eight contests. Braden Holtby has won nine of his past 10 outings heading into the postseason.
Marcus Johansson doesn't really qualify as cold with nine assists in his last 13 games, but he has only goal during that span and had six in 34 contests this season. Trade-deadline acquisition Martin Erat has one goal and two assists in nine matches with Washington since being traded from Nashville. He ended the regular season with no points in four games. John Carlson had no points in his final five contests and two helpers in his last eight appearances.
Brooks Laich and Joel Ward would probably be on Washington's opening day playoff roster, but injuries may relegate them both to the sidelines. Laich reportedly underwent sports hernia surgery earlier this month and he may not be available until the second round of the postseason. Ward has been dealing with a knee contusion and his status is uncertain for Game 1. Tom Poti hasn't played since March 17 due to back injury and if he was healthy then he would still be hard pressed to play since he has dropped down the team's depth chart.
The Capitals finished the league's best power play after they scored 44 goals on 164 opportunities for a 26.8 efficiency rating. Their penalty kill proved to be an issue though, as they finished 27th in the NHL with a 77.9 kill rate.
NEW YORK RANGERS
Rick Nash - Brad Richards - Mats Zuccarello
Carl Hagelin - Derek Stepan - Ryan Callahan
Taylor Pyatt - Derick Brassard - Chris Kreider
Darroll Powe - Kris Newbury - Arron Asham
Ryane Clowe - Brian Boyle - Derek Dorsett
Michael Del Zotto - Daniel Girardi
Ryan McDonagh - Anton Stralman
John Moore - Steve Eminger
Matt Gilroy - Roman Hamrlik
Ryan Callahan will head into the postseason riding a seven-game scoring streak. During that time, he has picked up five goals and six assists. Brad Richards also ended the regular season on a scoring tear with 11 points during his six-game spree. Derek Stepan racked up eight goals and 11 helpers in 14 April contests.
Rick Nash ended a mini three-game pointless skid with two goals in New York's season finale against New Jersey. Carl Hagelin posted two goals and four assists in his last nine matches to somewhat shake off a seven-game scoring drought before that.
Ryane Clowe's status going into the playoffs is unclear after he missed the last game of the year because of a leg issue and an elbow he took to the head. If he's available to play in Game 1 then he'll probably slot onto the third line and rookie Chris Kreider could come out of the lineup. Brian Boyle has been out of action since April 16th because of a lower-body injury. He likely won't be ready for the start of the postseason. Derek Dorsett, who the Rangers acquired as part of the Gaborik trade, is hoping to get clearance for contact soon after he suffered a broken clavicle back on March 7th. Marc Staal hasn't played since March 5th after he was hit the face by a puck and his return is still cloudy at best. He continues to suffer from blurry vision, but he has been skating with his teammates.
The Rangers had one of the better records in the East at home this season, with a mark of 16-6-2, but they weren't nearly as effective on the road with a 10-12-2 record.
New York finished with the league's 23rd ranked power play and they were 15th on the penalty kill, so they shouldn't be expected to make much noise on special teams.
Boston Bruins (4) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (5)
The Bruins won three out of the four games they played Toronto during the regular season and the Leafs had trouble with Boston over the past couple of years. The Original Six clubs have not faced off in the postseason since 1974. The Leafs are also back in the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
Boston struggled down the stretch with a 3-5-2 record in their last 10 games and it ended up costing them the Northeast Division title. They were a powerhouse in the league earlier in the year though and could be one of the better teams in the East if they can rediscover their touch in the postseason. The Bruins got the bulk of their offense from the line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin, but David Krejci had a solid campaign as well despite the ineffective production of his linemates Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton. Jaromir Jagr helped make up for some of that offense after came over in a trade from Dallas. Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg will be counted to be pillars on the blueline, while Tuukka Rask did a superb job as the team's starter after Tim Thomas decided to take the year off.
Toronto isn't playing their best hockey either as the playoffs begin. The club was outshot often by the opposition in their final games and they haven't put up many shots against opposing goaltenders, which isn't usually a recipe for success. Toronto will need netminder James Reimer to be at his best if they want to advance against Boston. He has posted a .924 save percentage and four shutouts this year and has played the Bruins fairly well this campaign. The Leafs were led in scoring by Phil Kessel, who finished in a tie for seventh in the league, with 52 points in 48 games. New regulars Nazem Kadri and James van Riemsdyk followed behind the former Bruins winger in Toronto's point hierarchy, while Joffrey Lupul was productive when he wasn't injured. Dion Phaneuf and Cody Franson were very good contributors on Toronto's back end.
The Bruins and Leafs should be one of, if not the most physical series in the opening round. Both teams pride themselves on playing a tough style and their meetings in the regular season had plenty of big hits as well. If Toronto can outplay Boston at their own game and Kessel can find a way to break free of Chara then they may stand a chance, but the playoff hardened Bruins will be tough to beat. I'll say Boston takes the series in six games.
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Tyler Seguin
Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Nathan Horton
Jaromir Jagr - Chris Kelly - Rich Peverley
Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Shawn Thornton
Carl Soderberg - Kaspars Daugavins - Jay Pandolfo
Zdeno Chara - Dennis Seidenberg
Andrew Ference - Johnny Boychuk
Wade Redden - Adam McQuaid
Dougie Hamilton - Aaron Johnson
Jaromir Jagr has nine points in 11 games with the Bruins since being traded from Dallas. While it doesn't qualify as hot, Milan Lucic displayed a lukewarm streak to end the regular season by posting a goal and two assists in his last two games. He had just two points in his previous nine matches.
Patrice Bergeron picked up one assist in nine contests to close out the regular season. Zdeno Chara has no goals, two helpers and a minus-three rating in his past eight appearances. Chris Kelly has registered three points in his last 11 contests and he has posted a mere nine points in 34 matches this campaign.
Nathan Horton has missed five games with an upper-body injury, but he might be ready for Game 1 of the series. If he isn't good to go then Rich Peverley or Jaromir Jagr are likely candidates to move up to the second line. Dougie Hamilton, Carl Soderberg and Kaspars Daugavins are probable to start out as healthy scratches due to their lack of experience, but that doesn't mean they won't get a chance to play at some point. Jagr has sat out the last three contests with the flu, but we expect him to play in the series opener.
The Bruins finished 26th with the man advantage this campaign and ended up with the fourth best penalty kill to offset the difference.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Joffrey Lupul - Nazem Kadri - Nikolai Kulemin
Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail Grabovski - Leo Komarov
Frazer McLaren - Jay McClement - Colton Orr
Matt Frattin - Joe Colborne - Ryan Hamilton
Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
Cody Franson - Mark Fraser
Ryan O'Bryne - John-Michael Liles
Mike Kostka - Jake Gardiner
Phil Kessel has been scorching hot with 10 goals and 18 points in his last 11 outings. Cody Franson racked up 10 points in 12 contests to finish the regular season. Joffrey Lupul totaled three markers and one assist in five matches at the end of the year. He skated in just 16 games this season, but amassed 11 goals and 18 points when he wasn't sidelined due to injury.
Nikolai Kulemin has no goals and only two assists in 11 games entering the postseason. James van Riemsdyk has two markers in seven tilts and Mikhail Grabovski has one goal and one assist in his past 15 appearances.
The status of Toronto center Tyler Bozak is unclear after he missed the last two games of the regular season with what is believed to be shoulder injury. He is listed as day-to-day and if he can't play in Game 1 then the Leafs will be without their top faceoff man when the playoffs begin in Boston. Nazem Kadri would probably center the top line if Bozak isn't able to dress. Ryan O'Byrne may get a chance to re-enter the lineup to give the Leafs some size on the blueline against the big Bruins.
Toronto's penalty kill vastly improved this season after years of issues. The Leafs had the second-best penalty kill in 2013 and they owned the league's 14th-ranked power play.
The Leafs also finished third in the league in blocked shots (428) and first in the NHL with 1,626 hits. Leo Komarov led the team in that regard with 176, which placed him fifth among all skaters.