Friday, April 06, 2007


In Pursuit of the Cup: Potential First Round Opponents

Now that the Devils have secured the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference, they will obviously play the team with the 7th best record in the Eastern Conference in the first round of the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs. While the Devils still have their final regular season game for this season (and at the Continental Airlines Arena), I think now is as good as any time to look at who the Devils could possibly be playing. James Mirtle has an incredibly useful chart that showcases the NHL playoff picture from yesterday's games at his blog right here.

Some games were played today that does affect the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The Atlanta Thrashers soundly defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1. With a one-point lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning going into tonight's games, a Tampa Bay loss would secure the Southeast Division for Atlanta. Tampa Bay did lose tonight, by a score of 7-2 to the Florida Panthers. Not only are the Thrashers going to the playoffs for the first time ever, they get the #3 seed that goes along with being division champions (well, that's namely due to Atlanta having the third best record among division champions). Those two links go to's recap of those respective games.

In any case, Tampa Bay has secured a spot in the post-season and Saturday has a number of games that will help determine where everyone ends up for the playoffs. In the East, the eighth seed is wide open between the New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens, and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Devils do play the Islanders in both teams' respective final games of the season; so that game could clearly be important for the Islanders. That said, with the way things are structured, the Devils have two possible opponents for the first round from what I understand of the situation.

1. The New York Rangers (42-29-10, 94 points). Currently in 6th in the East.
Devils' Record Vs. Rangers this season: 5-3-1
Likelihood of facing the Devils: Low
Remaining Games: @ Pittsburgh (Saturday)

The Rangers are no longer a bunch of sucks from the other side of the river. Yes, they give up 2-0 leads like nobody's business; but they've ended this season on a high note. They secured a playoff berth early and sit among the top of the rest in the East. After being swept in a glorious fashion by the New Jersey Devils last season, the Rangers would love another crack at the Devils. Henrik Lundqvist (37-21-8, 2.34 GAA, 91.7 Sv%, 5 SO) hasn't as dominating a season as last year's, but he's been more than good enough. They also boast some incredibly potent forwards with Jaromir Jagr (30 G, 66 A), Michael Nylander (26 G, 57 A), Martin Straka (29 G, 41 A), and Brendan Shanahan (29 G, 33 A). Their defense has improved as of late; so the Rangers of this season would match up fairly well. Unfortunately for the Blueshirts, the Devils would be definitely up for a match up against the Rangers and really take it to them. However, with 94 points, they'd have to lose to Pittsburgh on the road tomorrow and Tampa Bay would have to win at Atlanta. The tiebreaking match up would favor the Lightning by virtue of number of wins.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning (44-33-4, 92 points). Currently 7th in the East.
Devils' Record Vs. Lightning this season: 1-2-1
Likelihood of facing the Devils: High
Remaining Games: @ Atlanta (Saturday)

The Tampa Bay Lightning sit right in the seventh seed and if the playoffs started today, they'd face the Devils in the first round. Fortunately, the Lightning has another game play at Atlanta. Personally, the Lightning would not be good first round opponents for the Devils. Head coach John Tortorella preaches "Safe is death" to the Lightning and they used it to great success in the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In any case, the Devils compiled a losing record against Tampa Bay and where the Devils excel with defense and strong goaltending; the Lightning tend to do it with offense and good enough defense and goaltending. The Lightning are led up front by Vincent Lecavalier (52 G, 55 A) and Martin St. Louis (43 G, 58 A) - both of whom has had incredible seasons. Brad Richards (25 G, 44 A), Vaclav Prospal (13 G, 41 A), and Dan Boyle (20 G, 43 A) at the point add further offensive dimensions to the Lightning. Their goaltender seems to be Johan Holmqvist (27-14-2, 2.80 GAA, 89.3 Sv%, 1 SO) who has had an OK season; but that may be the weak link of the Lightning. However, as we see again and again in the playoffs, a goalie doesn't necessarily need to be great going into the playoffs if they can get hot in the playoffs. In any case, Tampa Bay can cause problems for the Devils and unfortunately they may be the most likely opponents unless the 3 teams below Tampa Bay make some noise.

Now, what of the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, and the New York Islanders? Well, the Montreal Canadiens could tie the Lightning for points; but the first tie-breaker is the number of wins. Even if Montreal wins at Toronto and the Lightning lose at Atlanta, the Lightning's 44 wins is still more than Montreal's potential of 43 wins. The Islanders could win their final two games of the season (@ Philadelphia and then @ Devils) to tie the Lightning in points but again the Lightning would have more wins than the Islanders.

So there you have it. Personally, I'd like to see the Devils take on the Rangers in the first round. It's a better match-up for the Devils and it would pump both teams up for a great series. However, the Rangers need to lose and the Lightning needs to win for that to happen. So before Sunday, I'd like to say go Penguins and go Lightning. That said, do not be surprised if the Lightning will be the first round opponents for the New Jersey Devils. I think that would be a tough series, but not impossible. Since that the Devils are always pushing to win the Stanley Cup each year, such a challenge will almost undoubtedly come up - perhaps it may be better to face one right in the first round. All the same, I hope the team will prepare themselves accordingly for the first round of the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs.


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