BOSTON BRUINS VERSUS MONTREAL CANADIENS
This will mark the 34th time that the Bruins and Canadiens have met in the postseason during their storied rivalry. Montreal has emerged victorious in 24 of those, but the Boston has won seven of the last 11 meetings, including the past two.
The Canadiens were the first team in the 2014 playoffs to advance after they dispatched an inexperienced Tampa Bay Lightning squad in four straight games. Three of the four games were decided by one goal and the first match went into overtime.
Gritty wingers Brendan Gallagher and Rene Bourque led the team in goals in the opening round with three apiece. Lars Eller and Tomas Plekanec followed close behind with two markers each. P.K. Subban didn't find the back of the net, but he will enter Round 2 tied for the club lead in points, with five, which he shares with Gallagher and Eller.
Carey Price posted a .904 save percentage and a 2.33 goals-against average against the Lightning. He wasn't forced to steal any games and generally played well, but he didn't shut the door on the competition either. The Lightning managed to claw their way back into games frequently in the series and Price's margin for error will be very slim against the Bruins.
The Habs got contributions from all four lines, which has to continue in Round 2 if they want to stop the postseason juggernaut that the Bruins have become.
Boston defeated the Detroit Red Wings in five contests. Some believed the Wings were a dangerous opponent for the Bruins, but their lack of playoff experience and a banged up lineup was no match for a team that has been to the Stanley Cup Final in two of the past three seasons.
Milan Lucic led the B's with three goals in the opening round, while Patrice Bergeron and rookie blueliner Torey Krug led the team with five points apiece. Jarome Iginla and Zdeno Chara added two goals each in Round 1's victory.
Tuukka Rask stonewalled the Wings throughout the series. He is first among all playoff netminders with a 1.16 goals-against average and a .961 save percentage. Rask was outstanding in last year's run to the Stanley Cup Final and he's prove that he will be tough to beat again this time around.
Montreal caught a break when they didn't have to face Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop in the first round, but they'll draw one in the semi-finals when they match up versus Boston. Rask's career record (3-10-3) against Montreal isn't impressive, but he played well against them this season (1.95 GAA and .932 save percentage). It's expected that his play will elevate when he starts against them in the playoffs for the first time. Canadiens' backup goaltender Peter Budaj was in goal for two of Montreal's three wins against the Bruins during the regular season, but it's highly unlikely that he'll play in the playoffs. Price is their number one option and it will be up to him to shoulder the load.
The winner of this hotly-contested series will have to stay disciplined. The Canadiens and Bruins will both be trying to get under the other's skin, but with a trip to the Eastern Conference Final on the line it would be surprising if either club lost their composure. Boston is expected to try to turn the series into a knock 'em down slugfest and if Montreal gets sucked into that style then they could get worn down quickly. Boston's playoff savvy, their toughness and home ice advantage should get them past Montreal and into Round 3. Look for the Bruins to win in six games.
Patrice Bergeron carried over his excellent ending to the regular season into the playoffs. He produced a goal and four assists in five games versus Detroit in Round 1. He was held off the scoresheet in the playoff opener, but recorded at least one point in each of Boston's next four contests. Blueliner Torey Krug also registered a goal and four helpers in Boston's first-round series. Three of his points, including his goal, came on the power play. Milan Lucic led the team with 14 shots and three goals against the Red Wings. He also added an assist and 19 hits.
Brad Marchand didn't pick up a point in Round 1 despite some glorious chances. He misfired on a couple of empty cages, so it probably won't be long before he capitalizes on his opportunities. Carl Soderberg recorded one assist in five matches against Detroit. It was the first point of his Stanley Cup Playoffs career.
Daniel Paille has been sidelined with a suspected concussion since April 12, but he should be good to go in Game 1 versus Montreal. He was cleared for contact last week and was questionable to play in Game 5 against the Red Wings. If Paille returns then Jordan Caron will probably be bumped into the press box.
Chris Kelly (back) probably won't be available when Round 2 starts. He has been out of action with a back injury since April 8 and hasn't been practicing. Corey Potter (arm) was hurt in practice last Friday, but he probably would've opened the series as a healthy scratch. He's a depth defender on the Bruins.
Boston's power play was great in the regular season and it was excellent in the opening round of the playoffs. The Bruins cashed in on six of their 16 opportunities for an impressive 37.5% efficiency rating. When Boston won the Stanley Cup in 2011, the team scored just 10 power-play markers on 88 chances.
The penalty kill was also strong in Round 1. The Bruins allowed just two power-play tallies on 20 tries by the Detroit Red Wings.
Brendan Gallagher netted three goals and earned two assists in four games versus the Lightning in Round 1. He potted a goal in three straight games to end the series and picked up at least one point in each contest. Lars Eller also enjoyed a four-game point streak in the opening round. He notched two goals and three helpers over that span. Defenseman P.K. Subban contributed five assists, including two on the power play, in Round 1.
Andrei Markov didn't register a point and posted a minus-2 rating in four matches during the opening round. He was first among Montreal's skaters in average ice time (27:09) and power-play time (4:05). Markov also had only five shots. Michael Bournival had one assist and two shots in four matches versus the Lightning. He averaged just 9:39 of ice time per game and probably won't play in Round 2 if Travis Moen is ready to return.
Travis Moen (concussion) was cleared for contact and he's been skating with his teammates. He appears to be on track to return for Game 1 of Montreal's second-round series against Boston. As mentioned above, he'll most likely replace Bournival in the lineup if he's ready to play.
Alex Galchenyuk (knee) isn't expected to be available when Round 2 of the playoffs begins. He resumed skating before his teammates practiced on Wednesday. There had been some speculation that he may not be ready to return unless the Canadiens advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, but now there is some hope that he could be ready at some point against the Bruins.
Rene Bourque emerged as potent producer for Montreal versus Tampa Bay in the opening round. He scored three goals and led the team with a whopping 22 shots. He recorded just nine goals in 63 games during the regular season.
Montreal's power play scored twice on 13 chances against Tampa Bay for a 15.4% success rate. The Canadiens were penalized just seven times in Round 1, but they allowed two goals so their 71.4% efficiency rating is tied with the Rangers for the worst among the playoffs' remaining teams.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS VERSUS NEW YORK RANGERS
Pittsburgh survived another first-round playoff scare, while the Rangers won after going the distance against Philadelphia. The Penguins were nearly pushed to the limit by the New York Islanders last year, but they emerged victorious in six games. This year, the pesky Columbus Blue Jackets did the same thing. The Rangers also had a case of deja vu after they went seven matches with Washington in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. If we are following the same script then the Penguins woke up a bit in Round 2 a year ago and quickly eliminated Ottawa in five contests, while the Rangers were ousted by Boston in five tilts. That may not be a good sign for New York.
The Penguins were led in scoring by a pair of defensemen against Columbus and surprisingly neither of them was Kris Letang. Matt Niskanen and Paul Martin registered eight points each to help lead Pittsburgh into the second round. Evgeni Malkin picked up seven points and Sidney Crosby finished with six.
Marc-Andre Fleury posted a .908 save percentage and a 2.81 save percentage versus the Blue Jackets. Aside from Game 4, when he made a couple of costly errors, Fleury actually didn't play that poorly in the series. He faced the fifth most shots in the first round (196) and allowed 18 goals. The Penguins definitely need to play better defensively in front of him, though.
In the Rangers' crease, Henrik Lundqvist had a .919 save percentage and a 2.11 goals-against average versus Philadelphia. He had a couple of lapses, but played well in the series. Lundqvist has advanced past the second round one time in his career and that came during the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Rangers were led in scoring during the first round by former Tampa Bay teammates Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards, who had six points apiece. New York benefited from a balanced attack in the series, as eight different players scored two goals.
The winner of this Pittsburgh-New York series may come down to which team's star breaks out of his goal funk first. Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and New York's Rick Nash are seeking their first tallies of the postseason. James Neal, Derick Brassard, Kris Letang and Ryan McDonagh are other notable players who will be looking to contribute more after disappoitning opening rounds.
The Rangers stand a much better chance to win if they stay out of the penalty box. The Penguins were excellent with the man advantage in Round 1, while New York struggled to keep the Flyers at bay. Pittsburgh scored five times on 14 attempts in four regular-season games versus New York.
The scheduling of the semi-final round didn't do the Rangers any favors either, as Game 1 will occur Friday night followed by Games 2 and 3 on Sunday and Monday, respectively. The Blueshirts are coming off back-to-back games, which occurred on Tuesday and Wednesday, to close out the Flyers, so the Penguins could be facing a weary group at the start of Round 2.
I'm expecting to see Crosby and the Penguins overwhelm the Rangers early in this series and use that to emerge victorious in six games.
Matt Niskanen was an offensive force for the Penguins in Round 1, while racking up two goals and six assists in six games. Six of his points came on the man advantage, where he averaged 4:47 of ice time per contest versus Columbus. Paul Martin amassed eight helpers and posted a plus-7 rating in Pittsburgh's opening round series. He saw slightly more ice time on the power play than Niskanen (4:52 per contest), but he picked up just three points in that capacity. Evgeni Malkin tallied a hat trick in Game 6 and he had four assists over his previous five matches.
It's a tad unfair to say that someone who earns six assists in six games isn't playing well, but this is Sidney Crosby we are talking about. He will enter Round 2 with an 11-game goalless drought in the postseason, which began last year. He recorded 19 shots against Columbus and the Art Ross Trophy winner should be able to get out of his goal funk soon. James Neal picked up a goal and no assists in six contests versus the Blue Jackets. He was credited with 24 shots and a minus-1 rating in the series. Kris Letang also had a disappointing opening round with one point, which was a goal, in six outings. He lost his spot on the Penguins' top power-play unit during the series.
Brian Gibbons suffered an unknown injury after scoring two goals in Game 2 and he wasn't able to play for the rest of the series. However, he did participate in the pregame warmup prior to Game 6, so there's a chance that he could be ready to play in Round 2.
Brandon Sutter enjoyed a great showing against Columbus, with three goals and two assists in six matches, but he wasn't able to finish Game 6 after it's suspected that he was hurt on a shot block. He expects to be ready for the start of Round 2.
Brooks Orpik sat out Games 5 and 6 with an undisclosed ailment. He may not be ready to play when the Penguins begin their second-round series against New York. Robert Bortuzzo stepped into the lineup in his place.
The Penguins scored six times with the man advantage on 29 opportunities against Columbus, but they also allowed three shorthanded goals. Those high risk/high reward plays shouldn't be expected to work in their favor in Round 2. Pittsburgh's penalty kill permitted seven goals during 27 power plays for Columbus. They also scored two shorthanded markers of their own.
Brad Richards didn't pick up a point in Game 7, but he accounted for two goals and four assists in the previous six games of the series. He also racked up 27 shots in seven contests.
Rick Nash produced four assists and a team-leading 30 shots in Round 1, but he wasn't able to score a goal. He's definitely due for a goal, but his lack of success against Pittsburgh this season (no points in three outings) is slightly concerning. Ryan McDonagh didn't register a point in seven games versus the Flyers after he broke out offensively this year. It's believed that he isn't quite 100 percent from his shoulder injury at the end of the season.
Chris Kreider (hand) is still out indefinitely. He has been skating on his own, but he's only taken light shots. Still there's a chance that he could return at some point in Round 2.
The Rangers didn't do any damage with their power play against Philadelphia. They scored three times on 29 opportunities for 10.3% success rate.
New York's penalty kill also allowed six goals when they were shorthanded 21 times, which gives them the worst percentage (71.4) among the remaining teams in the playoffs.