Eastern Conference semifinals preview | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaEastern Conference semifinals preview

Posted: Tuesday, May 14, 2013 | 10:57 AM

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Evgeni Malkin (71) led the Pittsburgh Penguins with 11 points in six games in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. (Jana Chytilova/Getty Images) Evgeni Malkin (71) led the Pittsburgh Penguins with 11 points in six games in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. (Jana Chytilova/Getty Images)

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CBC Sports senior hockey writer Tim Wharnsby previews the NHL Eastern Conference semifinals featuring the Penguins versus the Senators and Bruins versus the Rangers.

Pittsburgh (1) vs. Ottawa (7)

Penguins (36-12-0, 72 points)

Senators (25-17-6, 56 points)

Three storylines

1. Matt Cooke versus Erik Karlsson. There still is bitterness over the Feb. 13 incident in which the Senators defenceman had his right Achilles tendon 70 per cent severed from the left skate of Cooke. Even though on-ice officials and the NHL player safety office deemed the injury accidental, the Senators, in particular owner Eugene Melnyk, took a different view. Karlsson wound up missing 31 games, but made a remarkable swift recovery to return in time to play the final three games of the regular season. He led the Senators in ice time in the first round at 26 minutes 49 seconds. For his part, Karlsson has repeatedly said over the past few days that the incident is behind him and that his focus is on the second round.

2. The Senators will have the burden of being Canada's team. They're the lone survivors after they eliminated the Montreal Canadiens in five games and the Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs both went out in the first round. Maybe the Senators can even count on some Toronto fans to cheer on their provincial rivals. Maybe not.

3. When or will Senators centre Jason Spezza return to action in the second round. He has been practising with the Senators since Sunday, but continues to say that he is a long way off from rejoining the lineup. The 29-year-old Spezza has been out since the fifth game of the season after he required back surgery.

Season series: Penguins 3-0-0; Senators 0-2-1

Jan. 27 -- Penguins 2-1 at Ottawa (SO)

Feb. 13 -- Penguins 4-2 at Pittsburgh

Apr. 22 -- Penguins 3-1 at Pittsburgh

Prediction: Senators in 6

Boston (4) vs. N.Y. Rangers (6)

Bruins (28-14-6, 62 points)

Rangers (26-18-4, 56 points)

Three storylines

1. Which team received more of a spark from their seven-game, first-round victory? The Bruins seemed so relieved after their historic comeback on Monday, when they became the first NHL team to overcome a three-goal deficit in the third period to win a Game 7. Milan Lucic said the first round is the most difficult round to win. The Rangers had a much easier time in their Game 7, winning 5-0 over the Washington Capitals after blanking them 1-0 in Game 6.

2. The Bruins and Rangers both need the extra three days to recover before their second-round series begins in Boston on Thursday. Bruins veterans Wade Redden and Andrew Ference did not suit up on Monday with undisclosed injuries. Ference was seen hobbling around on crutches. There also is uncertainty surrounding Rangers stalwart Marc Staal. He played one game in the first round after he missed the final 27 games of the regular season with an eye injury.

3. Will Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist stay hot? Lundqvist posted shutouts in Games 6 and 7 with 62 saves to help New York overcome a 3-2 series deficit and advance to the second round. Only three other goaltenders in NHL history have recorded shutouts in Games 6 and 7 of a playoff series: Detroit's Harry Lumley in the 1950 semifinals against Toronto; Edmonton's Curtis Joseph in the 1998 Western Conference quarter-finals versus Colorado; and Detroit's Dominik Hasek in the 2002 Western final against Colorado.

Season series: Rangers 2-1-0; Bruins 1-0-2

Jan. 19 -- Bruins 3-1 at Boston

Jan. 23 -- Rangers 4-3 at New York (OT)

Feb. 12 -- Rangers 4-3 at Boston (SO)

Prediction: Bruins in 6

First-round record in East: 3-1 (Washington-Rangers only miss)

Overall first-round record: 6-2

Follow Tim Wharnsby on Twitter @WharnsbyCBC

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