Northeast: Bruins, Senators primed for playoff success

By John-Eric Iannicello

 

Photo: Forward Patrice Bergeron (37) and defenseman Zdeno Chara (33) will once again be two important pieces in the Bruins quest for a second consecutive Stanley Cup (courtesy of

Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)

Two teams from the NHL's Northeast Division will be taking part in the first round of the 2012 NHL Playoffs that begin Wednesday night. Below is a look at the keys for the Ottawa Senators and defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins against their opening round opponents.

Ottawa Senators (8) vs. New York Rangers (1): A late season struggle has scheduled the Senators for a date with the Rangers in round one of the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. In four meetings during the regular season, the Senators won three games and outscored the Rangers 14-8 in the process. The Senators will rely heavily on their youth and experience from years past in the opening round. Offense shouldn’t be a problem, but the defensive side of things could expose them over a seven game series. Names such as Erik Karlsson will need to continue their regular season success into the playoffs if the club plans to be advance beyond the first round. The Senators have a strong mix of NHL playoff experience to go along with the names that served in the Binghamton Senators (AHL) Calder Cup Championship last season. The complement of veteran presence and youth should bode well for the club, but the deciding factor could come down to goaltending, where Henrik Lundqvist takes the decisive edge heading into the series.

Boston Bruins (2) vs. Washington Capitals (7): While injuries have taken a toll on the Bruins over the season, they have experience on their side as they look to double dip on a Stanley Cup Championship for the second season in a row. Matched with perennial playoff underachieving contenders the Captials, the Bruins have the edge heading into the series. Expect the Captials front line players such as Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom to receive a heavy dose of Zdeno Chara all series long. The Bruins are four lines deep and can win games with both finesse and grit, which should prove to be a challenge for the Capitals. Unlike the Capitals, the Bruins boast a very strong defensive unit, so the series changer could be the play of the goaltenders. Tim Thomas is among the league’s elite goaltenders even with his controversial season, and has a penchant for raising his level of play when the games matter most.

Northeast Division Notes

Boston Bruins – Johnny Boychuck missed Saturday’s 4-3 shootout victory over the Buffalo Sabreswith a sprained knee. He remains day-to-day, but is expected to play on Thursday. Prior to Saturday’s game, the Bruins announced their regular season awards: Zdeno Chara won the Eddie Shore Award; Brad Marchand took home the Elizabeth Dufresne Trophy and John P. Bucyk Award. Tim Thomas, Patrice Bergeron and Milan Lucic were named the Bruins Three Stars.

Buffalo Sabres – Captain Jason Pominville finished first in Sabres scoring this year. His 30 goals is the second time in his career that he’s reached the 30-goal mark. He’s also surpassed the 70-point mark for the second time in his career. Only Pominville and Jhonas Enroth have dressed in every game this season. The Sabres lost a total of 329 man games this season.

Montreal Canadiens – Reports have speculated that Serge Savard has taken a permanent position as vice-president of hockey operations. He’s been working with the Canadiens in their search for the club's next general manager. Louis Leblanc, Blake Geoffrion, Robert Mayer, Gabriel Dumont, Frederic St-Denis and Aaron Palushaj were returned to Hamilton (AHL) after Saturday’s 4-1 victory over the Maple Leafs. Max Pacioretty is expected to suit up for the United States at the World Championships, while Carey Price is expected to sit out for Canada.

Ottawa Senators – Chris Neil was absent from Saturday’s 4-2 loss against the New Jersey Devils. He was hurt during practice last week. Jason Spezza finished the season with 84 points, which was fourth overall in league scoring. Erik Karlsson finished with a league-high 78 points in defensive scoring. He finished just outside the top 10 in league scoring, sitting at 11th overall.

Toronto Maple Leafs – Ben Scrivens, Matt Frattin, Jake Gardiner and Carter Ashton were reassigned to Toronto (AHL) over the weekend. Jay Rosehill was placed on waivers Sunday and is expected to join the club once he clears. Dion Phaneuf acknowledged on Saturday that he would play for Canada at the upcoming World Championships.