SIZING UP THE EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMI-FINALS
(2) New Jersey Devils vs. (5) Ottawa Senators
The Devils seemed to have troubles containing the Lightning’s top scoring line in the ECQF and if they plan on having success in this series, they will need to be better prepared to shut down more than one scoring line. The Senators are a terrifically deep team and can bring it offensively with all four lines. However, the Devils take a significantly better defensive approach then the Penguins do, so the Sens will have to increase their attack that much more.
The Devils have the playoffs’ leading scorer, Scott Gomez, who has registered nine points. The Sens will also have to deal with Zach Parise who had his way against the Lightning, scoring six goals in the series. The “EGG” line (Elias, Gionta, and Gomez) has combined for 22 points so far in these playoffs. The Senators will look to lean on Anton Volchenkov, who is turning heads in Ottawa, to help stop this fearless scoring line. Volchenkov leads the Sens in time on ice (21:15) in the playoffs and also led the NHL with 278 blocked shots this season.
The key to this series is the same old story: Brodeur against the opposition’s offense. This time it’s the Senators. Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley, and Ottawa’s seemingly endless depth will have to keep the pressure on Brodeur every night trying to get pucks by him. The Senators can produce scoring on any of their four lines and have the defensive depth that can shut down the Devils.
(1) Buffalo Sabres vs. (6) New York Rangers
Although the Sabres took care of the Islanders in only five games, if you look beyond the box score, the series wasn’t as easy as one may think. If it weren’t for Ryan Miller’s sensational performance in Game 3, this series could have been a different story. The Rangers, on the other hand, cruised past the Thrashers. Michael Nylander led the charge for the Blueshirts, recording four goals and four assists in only four games.
Similar to the Senators, the Sabres rely on a balanced attack that generates offense from at least three lines. Co-captain Chris Drury leads Buffalo with four playoff goals and he had success against the Rangers in the regular season, registering five goals in four games. However, Henrik Lundqvist only played in one game against the Sabres during the regular season. Lundqvist has been brilliant down the stretch for the Rangers and early in the playoffs. He recorded his first career playoff shutout in Game 3 and owns a 1.50 goals-against-average, fourth best in the playoffs.
Buffalo’s defensemen are going to have to find a way to shut down Jaromir Jagr and Nylander, something they failed to do during the regular season. The pair embarrassed the Sabres for 15 points in four games.
Then there’s the Sean Avery factor. It seemed he played nearly every shift of the Thrashers series and he will try to get under the skin of Buffalo’s top players. Avery’s line most likely will be put up against Buffalo’s top line, the Briere line, to try to throw the much smaller forward off his game.
The key to the series will be Buffalo’s defenseman against the Rangers top line and the Sabres’ ability to score against Lundqvist. If the Sabres can continue to score with all four lines, then they should be able to advance. Lundqvist however, could be a major roadblock to Buffalo’s drive into the next round. If Lundqvist can continue his dominance the pressure will be on the Sabres’ defenseman to keep Nylander and Jagr off the board to win low-scoring games.