#StanleyCup Playoff Preview: Eastern Conference Semifinals

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It is time to take a long at the Eastern Conference Semifinals where you have the New York Rangers vs the Ottawa Senators and the Pittsburgh Penguins vs the Washington Capitals.

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The Rangers are set to take on the Ottawa Senators in what is going to be a very fast paced series. Truthfully, this series can go either way. In the regular season, these two teams met 3 times with Ottawa winning the season series 2-1. They last met in the playoffs in the  2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals; Rangers won series 4-3. The Senators finished second in the Atlantic Division (98 points). The Rangers finished fourth in the Metropolitan Division (102 points) and got into the playoffs as the first wild card from the East. One of the big storylines coming into this series is – Who won the summer trade? on July 18 the New York Rangers acquired center Mika Zibanejad from the Senators for Derick Brassard. Zibanejad had 37 points (14 goals, 23 assists) in 56 games in the regular season, when he missed 25 games because of a broken left leg and Brassard had 39 points (14 goals, 25 assists) in 81 regular-season games. Another factor in this series will be Erik Karlsson. In a weird twist, Karlsson decided tot tell the media following Round 1 that he was playing with a broken foot. It is not uncommon for players to push themselves to play with injuries during the playoffs, however, it is very uncommon for them to disclose such injuries while still playing. Look for the Rangers to try to capitalize on this and take a few extra whacks at Karlsson’s foot. It will be interesting to see how the Senators Defense handles the Rangers four-line rotations. Senators coach Guy Boucher relies heavily on his top two defense pairs of Karlsson and Marc Methot, and Dion Phaneuf and Cody Ceci. He was inclined to do that in the first round because the Bruins didn’t have the type of four-line rotation the Rangers have. New York will try to push the pace by rolling four lines, each featuring one 20-goal scorer (Chris Kreider, Rick Nash, J.T. Miller and Michael Grabner). The goalies for this series will be Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers and Craig Anderson for the Senators Lundqvist is in the midst of his best stretch of the season after an inconsistent regular season. He led Eastern Conference goalies in goals-against average (1.70) and save percentage (.947) in the first round, and his 195 saves were second to Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals (197). Anderson’s numbers pale in comparison, but his 1.94 GAA and .921 save percentage are solid. He also is an emotional leader for the Senators.

If the Rangers want to win this series they need to do better on the Power Play after going 1 for 15 in the first round. This series will be fast paced for sure as both teams rely heavily upon out skating their opponent. This series will go the distance with the Rangers taking it in 7 games

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Capitals vs Penguins was an inevitable series coming out of the regular season. Many feel it is too soon for these two teams to meet, that they should be in the Eastern Conference Finals. The two teams met 4 times this season with the Capitals sweeping the season series 2-0-2. They last met in the 2016 Eastern Conference Second Round; Penguins won series 4-2. However, these two teams are no strangers to each other when it comes to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, having met 9 times prior to this season. Overall, the Penguins have the edge as they have out 8 of the previous 9 series against the Caps. The Washington Capitals, who won the Metropolitan Division and Presidents’ Trophy by going 55-19-8 (118 points), defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in six games in the Eastern Conference First Round. The Pittsburgh Penguins, who finished second in the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings by going 50-21-11 (111 points), defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games in the first round. This will be the third time Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin meet in the playoffs, however, there are big stories than that for this one. The Penguins will be without starting goalie Matt Murray who was injured during warm-ups prior to Game 1 of the first round, as well as Kris Letang who suffered a season-ending neck injury. The Penguins are also without Carl Hagelin, who was a big piece of the famed HBK line as well as the Penguins Stanley Cup win in 2016. Hagelin did skate and practice with the team earlier this week but seems unlikely for game 1 and is still listed as day to day.

The big key in this series is goaltending. Will Fleury play the way he used to and help carry the Penguins to victory or will Capitals goalie Braden Holtby once again outshine Marc-Andre Fleury similar to their playoff series last season?

This is a must win series for Washington. Their window of opportunity for a Cup is rapidly closing. This is the best lineup they have had in years, however, because of Salary Cap restraints, they will lose a lot of players to free agency in the offseason. However, their playoff history is not on their side as Washington tends to not be able to get it done when it matters the most. In the end, this year will not be any different and the Penguins will take this one in 6 games

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