Check out Ryan Dadoun's Western Conference preview here.
The Pittsburgh Penguins didn't manhandle the New York Islanders the way some pundits, including myself, expected them to but they did move on into the second round in six games thanks to the relief netminding of backup Tomas Vokoun. The Ottawa Senators proved to be as stingy as advertised and behind the remarkable play of goaltender Craig Anderson, they quickly dispatched the Northeast Division champion Montreal Canadiens in five games. The Boston Bruins blew a 3-1 series lead against Toronto, but they stormed back from a three-goal deficit in the third period to claim Game 7 in overtime and advance into the second round. The New York Rangers and Washington Capitals exchanged wins on home ice throughout their quarterfinal series until the Blueshirts won the deciding contest in dominating fashion, by a score of 5-0, on the road in Game 7.
The Penguins will host Senators in the Eastern Conference Semifinals Tuesday night, while the Bruins will entertain the Rangers on Thursday. New York is the only team among the four that qualified for Round 2 of the postseason last season. Pittsburgh, Ottawa and Boston all lost in the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It should be pointed out again that you will see projected lineups below, but they are subject to change on a game-to-game and sometimes shift-to-shift basis.
Pittsburgh Penguins (1) vs. Ottawa Senators (7)
The Penguins defeated the Senators three times in three meetings during the regular season, with one victory coming in the shootout, and they outscored them by an 8-4 margin. Anderson started all three games for the Senators, while Marc-Andre Fleury and Vokoun shared starts in the regular season series. Vokoun, who should get the nod in Game 1 Tuesday night when Round 2 begins, played against Ottawa at the tail end of the year and stopped 34 of 35 shots in a 3-1 win.
Pittsburgh appeared to be drowning again in bad habits versus the Islanders in the first round. Their defensive play was not good enough and neither was the goaltending of Fleury, who posted a 3.40 GAA and an .891 save percentage. It was very similar to the woes they experienced in the 2012 playoffs against Philadelphia so a change had to be made. Vokoun entered the series in Game 5 and posted a shutout. He followed up that impressive performance by turning aside 35 of 38 shots in a 4-3 overtime win to send the Penguins into the second round.
Up front, Pittsburgh was led by five goals from Pascal Dupuis and the two-headed monster of Evgeni Malkin (11 points) and Sidney Crosby (nine points). Jarome Iginla picked up nine points in the series as well, while defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin got into the scoring act with six points apiece.
The Senators and Canadiens may have begun what could be a very bitter rivalry with a physical and at times nasty opening-round series. Eric Gryba's devastating hit on Montreal's Lars Eller became the lightning rod for the ill will. Eller was knocked out on the play and Gryba got a two-game suspension. Ottawa coach Paul MacLean and Habs bench boss Michel Therrien exchanged verbal barbs throughout the series. Senators goalie Craig Anderson was the hockey-related story of the series, as his play was the main reason for Ottawa's victory. He posted a 1.80 GAA and a .950 save percentage to backstop his club into the second round.
Ottawa isn't known for their offensive expertise, but they managed to get to Carey Price in the series before he was forced out in Game 4 due to injury. Daniel Alfredsson and Erik Karlsson generated six points each, while Kyle Turris, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Marc Methot were right behind them with five points apiece.
The Penguins survived their scare against the Islanders, which should make them more comfortable against the Senators. Ottawa may not attack them with same speed that the Islanders did, which means that Pittsburgh could attack them in waves with a bevy of offensive talent. The Penguins are a deeper team up front than the Canadiens and they won't be as easy to intimidate. The Senators will probably try to get under the skin of the Penguins, who can be very undisciplined at times, but their overreliance on Anderson may cost them against the Pens' shooters. Pittsburgh takes this series in six games.
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Jarome Iginla - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Brenden Morrow - Brandon Sutter - Matt Cooke
Tyler Kennedy - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams
Beau Bennett - Jussi Jokinen- Dustin Jeffrey
Simon Despres- Kris Letang
Brooks Orpik - Paul Martin
Doug Murray - Matt Niskanen
Deryk Engelland- Mark Eaton
Evgeni Malkin not only picked up a point in each game of Pittsburgh's first-round series against the Islanders but he had two points in every contest except one. Despite that, he wasn't completely satisfied with his play. Sidney Crosby also had a point in all of his playoff appearances in the first round after missing Game 1 because of his broken jaw. He notched three goals and six assists during his five-game scoring streak. Pascal Dupuis netted five goals in six matches versus the Isles, while adding two assists as well. Jarome Iginla had at least a point in all six matches of the series. He produced two goals and seven helpers over that span. Kris Letang and Paul Martin ended up as point-per-game players from the blueline with six points each in six games in the high-scoring series.
Brenden Morrow contributed one assist in six contests in the quarterfinals. He also finished with a minus-3 rating and 20 hits. Matt Niskanen had three points and a plus-2 rating in four games a year ago in the playoffs, but this season he collected one assist and a minus-2 rating in six outings. Brandon Sutter concluded the club's first-round series with a goal and an assist in six matches.
Deryk Engelland could easily draw into the lineup on the back end against Ottawa to oppose some of the big tough guys, like Chris Neil and Matt Kassian, whom the Senators like to use. If that happens then Simon Despres and Mark Eaton could sit. Jussi Jokinen should get back into Pittsburgh's lineup at some point in the series as well and don't be surprised if you see Fleury back in goal again before it's over.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that Pittsburgh had the best power play in the first round with a 33.3 efficiency rating. The Pens scored seven times on 21 opportunities versus the Islanders and their penalty kill was superb as well in allowing just two goals against when short 20 times for a 90.0 percent kill rate.
Doug Murray scored two goals against the Islanders, which is extremely rare offensive support from the stay-at-home defenseman. Another unlikely goal scorer, Brooks Orpik netted the game winner in overtime to send the Penguins into the second round.
Daniel Alfredsson- Kyle Turris - Colin Greening
Milan Michalek- Mika Zibanejad - Jakob Silfverberg
Matt Kassian- Zack Smith - Chris Neil
Erik Condra - Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Cory Conacher
Guillaume Latendresse- Jim O'Brien - Peter Regin
Marc Methot - Erik Karlsson
Sergei Gonchar - Chris Phillips
Eric Gryba- Jared Cowen
Patrick Wiercioch- Andre Benoit
Daniel Alfredsson, the Sens 40-year-old captain, continued to chug along in the first round of the playoffs with two power-play goals and four assists in five games against Montreal. Offensive rearguard Erik Karlsson chipped in six points (one goal, five assists) as well in the quarterfinals. Kyle Turris closed out the opening round with a goal in three straight games and chipped in with an assist. He had five points in the five-game series. Jean-Gabriel Pageau sniped a hat trick in Game 3 and also collected two assists in Game 5 versus the Canadiens.
Milan Michalek registered a goal and an assist in five games in Round 1 despite tying Alfredsson for the club lead with 15 shots on net. Colin Greening didn't have a point in five games against Montreal, while finishing with a minus-1 rating and five shots.
Jason Spezza is making positive progress as he recovers from January back surgery. He resumed practices on Sunday and depending on how his body reacts in the next few days, the Senators could have their top center back as soon as this series against Pittsburgh.
Chris Neil didn't have a goal in the first round, but he did record a team-leading 29 hits and he contributed two assists, with 19 penalty minutes. Guillaume Latendresse was a healthy scratch for three straight games after playing in Games 1 and 2. Patrick Wiercioch is listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury, but he probably wouldn't be playing even if he was healthy.
Ottawa scored on six power plays over 25 opportunities to earned the No. 5 spot with the man advantage after the first round. On the penalty kill, they allowed three goals on 19 chances which could bite them against Pittsburgh.