NHL·Analysis

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Eastern Conference semifinals preview

Can Crosby again get the best of Ovechkin? Will a tough seven-game series against the Leafs prove too much for the Bruins in their series against the rested Lighning?

Playoff experience is deep in the four teams remaining in the East

Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins have got the best of Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals all three times the teams have met in the post-season. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)

You may recognize some familiar faces in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

After all, the Pittsburgh Penguins (2015-16 and 2016-17), Tampa Bay Lightning (2014-15), New York Rangers (2013-14) and Boston Bruins (2013) make up the previous five East champions.

Yes, we know the Rangers didn't make the playoffs this spring, but more than one-third of their 2013-14 roster is sprinkled among the Lightning (Ryan Callahan, Anton Stralman, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, J.T. Miller), the Bruins (Rick Nash) and the Penguins (Derick Brassard, Carl Hagelin).

The Washington Capitals are no slouch either. Sure they have been chastised for their inability to advance past the second round. But the Capitals are the only NHL club to have won at least one series in each of the past four post-seasons.

Here is a glance at the second-round matchups in the Eastern Conference:  

Boston vs. Tampa Bay

Regular season records:

  • Boston: 50-20-12 (112 points)
  • Tampa Bay: 54-23-5 (113 points)

Season series: Bruins won 3-1-0 (Lightning 1-3-0).

  • Nov. 29 @ Boston — Bruins 3-2
  • Mar. 17 @ Tampa Bay — Bruins 3-0
  • Mar. 29 @ Boston — Bruins 4-2
  • Apr. 3 @ Tampa Bay — Lightning 4-0

The skinny: This is the second post-season clash between the Lightning and Bruins. The Bruins defeated Tampa Bay in seven games in the 2011 East final … Boston's Rick Nash goes up against former Rangers teammates now with Tampa Bay in Stralman, Callahan, Miller, McDonagh and Girardi … Both Lightning's Kucherov and Boston's David Pastrnak and Jake DeBrusk led their teams in the first round with five goals apiece … There will be some familiar foes from the AHL Calder Cup East final last year, when the Lightning's farm team, the Syracuse Crunch, defeated the Providence Bruins in five games. Current Boston players Danton Heinen, Matt Grzelcyk, Sean Kuraly, Noel Acciari and DeBrusk suited up for Providence in that series, while Lightning forwards Cory Conacher and Yanni Gourde played for Syracuse. Lightning third-line centre Anthony Cirelli didn't join the Crunch until the Calder Cup final … Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness was Boston's head coach in 1991-92 when he had current Bruins president Cam Neely and general manager Don Sweeney on his team.

Player to watch: Boston D Zdeno Chara. Can the 41-year-old Bruins captain rebound from an exhausting stretch that saw the Bruins finish the regular season with six games in the final nine days followed by a hard-fought, seven-game, 14-day series with the Toronto Maple Leafs? Chara led Boston in ice time at 23:27 in the first round.

Prediction: Lightning in seven. Tampa Bay is rested and loaded with a nice blend of high-end veteran and youthful talent.

Crosby vs. Ovechkin never gets old

Sports

3 years ago
1:35
With Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin going head-to-head for the third consecutive playoff year, Rob Pizzo breaks down the rivalry that fans love watching. 1:35

Pittsburgh vs. Washington

Regular season records:

  • Pittsburgh: 47-29-6 (100 points)  
  • Washington: 49-26-7 (105 points)

Season series: Tied at 2-2-0.

  • Oct. 11 @ Washington — Penguins 3-2
  • Nov. 10 @ Washington — Capitals 4-1
  • Feb. 2 @ Pittsburgh — Penguins 7-4
  • Apr. 1 @ Pittsburgh — Capitals 3-1

The skinny: This is the fourth meeting and third in a row between Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and his Washington counterpart Alex Ovechkin in the playoffs in their 13-year career. Pittsburgh has won each series … The opener on Thursday will mark the 20th head-to-head playoff matchup for Crosby and Ovechkin … Crosby has six goals and 13 points in the previous 19 games, while Ovechkin has checked in with five goals and eight points … Ovechkin and the Capitals have made the playoffs in 10 of his 13 seasons, but they have never advanced past the second round … The Capitals come in hot after reeling off four straight wins to finish off the Columbus Blue Jackets after falling behind 2-0 … The Penguins have won nine consecutive playoff series, the longest streak since the Detroit Red Wings won nine straight between 1997-99 … Pittsburgh forwards Evgeni Malkin (knee) and Carl Hagelin (upper body) will miss Game 1 on Thursday. Both players are important to the success of the Penguins special teams … Crosby and his lineman Jake Guentzel scored six goals and 13 points apiece in their first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Player to watch: Penguins C Derick Brassard. Acquired at the trade deadline to bolster the team's middle, Brassard will be even more important to Pittsburgh's cause if Malkin's absence is prolonged. Brassard has a knack for performing well in the post-season with runs to the Stanley Cup final with the Rangers in 2014 and to the East final with the Ottawa Senators a year ago.

Prediction: Penguins in six. We've seen Crosby-led teams get the upper hand on Ovechkin-led teams too many times in the NHL, Olympics, world championships and world junior tournaments.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tim has covered the hockey landscape and other sports in Canada for more than 25 years for CBC Sports, the Globe and Mail and Toronto Sun. He has been to three Winter Olympics, 11 Stanley Cups, a world championship as well as 17 world junior championships, 13 Memorial Cups and 13 University Cups. The native of Waterloo, Ont., always has his eye out for an underdog story.

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