Washington Capitals (1) vs. New York Rangers (8)
Capitals to add: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Mike Knuble, Mike Green
Possible sleepers: Brooks Laich, Jason Arnott, John Carlson, Semyon Varlamov
Players to avoid: Marcus Johansson, Jason Chimera, Matt Hendricks, Marco Sturm, Dennis Wideman (injury), Jeff Schultz, Scott Hannan, Tom Poti (injury)
Rangers to add: Henrik Lundqvist, Marian Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky, Brian Boyle
Possible sleepers: Brandon Prust, Derek Stepan, Vinny Prospal, Marc Staal, Bryan McCabe, Dan Girardi
Players to avoid: Ryan Callahan (injured), Mats Zuccarello, Artem Anisimov, Erik Christensen, Ruslan Fedotenko, Sean Avery, Wojtek Wolski, Chris Drury, Martin Biron
Starting with the goalies, the only one you’ll want to consider here is No. 30 from New York. Lundqvist has excelled this season and led the league with 11 shutouts. Yes, the Capitals have generally had high-scoring offenses, but this season, the Rangers actually outscored them 233-224. That is almost 100 goals fewer than Washington scored last year (318). Capitals goalies haven’t been the best playoff options in recent years, and their goaltending situation isn’t always clear, so I would not recommend drafting one of them as a high pick. If you play in a post-season league that allows roster moves to be made once the playoffs start, Neuvirth or Varlamov might be worth a pickup if Washington advances to the second round. For now, Neuvirth would be the goalie to draft, since he is projected to be the Game 1 starter.
On the offensive side of things, Ovechkin had the output of his career, with 32 goals and 85 points. It was only the second time in his six years he failed to notch 100 points, and the first time he did not score at least 46 goals. That being said, he is still one of the best scorers in the game. In his 28 career playoff games, Ovie has 20 goals and 40 points. Backstrom and Semin are also must-drafts for offense. The second line and beyond for the Caps is a mixed bag. Mike Knuble and Brooks Laich are solid additions, but Marcus Johansson, Jason Chimera, and Matt Hendricks could be good or but could also be busts.
For the Rangers, five players scored at least 20 goals (Dubinsky, Gaborik, Callahan, Boyle and Stepan). Boyle and Stepan will probably be available in most leagues, unless they are very deep ones. Prust scored five shorthanded goals and racked up 160 penalty minutes, so he can help in other areas. Prospal (nine goals in 60 playoff games) and Mats Zuccarello (who has 27 points in 15 European playoff games) only had six goals during the regular season.
Moving to the defense, Mike Green was injured, but still scored 24 points in 49 games and added 48 penalty minutes. John Carlson did an excellent job this season (37 points, plus-21) and should be considered once all the big names are gone.
The Rangers have Marc Staal (seven goals this season), Dan Girardi (31 points) and Bryan Mccabe (26 points in 51 playoff games) and not much else. Most of the blueliners are rookies, and the five others that could see ice time have combined for just 11 goals.
Prediction: Capitals in 6. Yes, Lundqvist is the better goalie, and the Capitals have been struggling. But they blew a 3-1 series lead last year to the Canadiens, scoring only three goals in those three games. Combine that with the fact that Washington came back from a 3-1 series deficit two years ago against these same Rangers with Lundqvist in net, Washington is too hungry and will find a way to win this series. Lundqvist can definitely steal a game or two, but look for the offense of the Capitals to succeed.
Philadelphia (2) vs. Buffalo (7)
Flyers to add: Claude Giroux, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Danny Briere
Possible sleepers: Ville Leino, James van Riemsdyk, Chris Pronger (watch injury status, but expected to return in series), Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen, Andrej Meszaros, Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher, Michael Leighton
Players to avoid: Daniel Carcillo, Kris Versteeg, Nikolai Zherdev, Andreas Nodl, Darroll Powe, Braydon Coburn
Sabres to add: Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Drew Stafford, Ryan Miller
Possible sleepers: Tyler Ennis, Derek Roy (if returns from injury), Tim Connolly, Nathan Gerbe, Brad Boyes, Tyler Myers, Jordan Leopold, Andrej Sekera
Players to avoid: Jochen Hecht (injured), Rob Niedermayer, Paul Gaustad, Patrick Kaleta, Cody McCormick, Steve Montador, Jhonas Enroth
Starting with the goalies, Buffalo wins here. Despite a dropoff form last season, Ryan Miller was still very effective (34-22-8, 2.59 GAA, .916 SV%). Not only is the Flyers situation unclear with three goalies in the mix, but the potential starter, Sergei Bobrovsky, has never appeared in a playoff game. You never want to draft a playoff goalie that could be yanked after one bad game and never seen again, so I’d avoid Flyers goalies.
Defensively, the Flyers have the clear advantage. Everyone knows what Chris Pronger brings. Matt Carle and Kimmo Timonen had very good regular seasons, as did Andrej Meszaros. They all had 30+ points and two of the three were a plus-30. The Sabres have Tyler Myers and Jordan Leopold, neither who has ever been a factor in the playoffs.
Mike Richards (43 points in 52 games) leads a talented core of offensive stars. Giroux had 21 points in last years playoffs alone, and Briere (87 points in 86 games) had 30 points in the Flyers run to the finals last season. Despite just 19 points in 41 playoff games, Carter is still worth a pickup. There’s not many offensive guys on the Flyers I’d avoid, but something tells me Kris Versteeg, who didn’t have a strong season since the Flyers acquired him, won’t be much of a factor in the playoffs.
The Sabres have three wingers worth drafting in Vanek, Pominville and Stafford (despite only four career playoff points in 13 games). Ennis, Roy, and Connolly have put up solid playoff numbers, so they could be considered in later rounds. Jochen Hecht (injured) and Rob Niedermayer (defensive presence only) definitely need to be avoided.
Prediction: Flyers in 5. As good as Ryan Miller is, the Flyers have too much depth that the Sabres can’t compete with. They still have the core of last years team intact, and got better. Despite stumbling to a 5-10 record down the stretch, the Flyers should win this one in five games.