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2010 Eastern Conference Preview

by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
Will the Penguins advance out of the Eastern Conference for the third straight year?
NEW YORK (April 29, 2010) -- To support your coverage of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, following are storylines for the Eastern Conference Semifinal series:


#4 PITTSBURGH PENGUINS vs. #8 MONTREAL CANADIENS
How They Got Here

The fourth-seeded Penguins withstood a strong challenge from the #5 Ottawa Senators, capturing the Eastern Conference Quarter-Final series in six games. The Penguins won all three of their road games, highlighted by a stirring comeback in Game 6 that turned a 3-0 deficit halfway through the second period into a 4-3 overtime win on a goal by Pascal Dupuis.

The Canadiens made history by becoming the first #8 seed to win a playoff series in which it trailed three games to one, taking down the top-ranked Washington Capitals in a seven-game thriller. Goaltender Jaroslav Halak backstopped the Canadiens to victories in Games 5-7, stopping 131 of 134 shots (.978). Michael Cammalleri sparked the offense, tallying points in each of the first six games and leading the club with 10 points (five goals, five assists) in seven games.

Series Storylines
Pittsburgh won three of the four regular-season meetings, outscoring the Canadiens 9-2 in a pair of victories at Mellon Arena and 15-9 overall. C Sidney Crosby and RW Bill Guerin led the Penguins' attack with six points apiece (Crosby 4-2--6, Guerin 2-4--6), while LW Chris Kunitz notched four points (one goal, three assists) and a +3 rating in his lone appearance. Defenseman Brooks Orpik had three assists and was a +7. Canadiens first-round hero Jaroslav Halak posted a 1-1 record with a 4.20 goals-against average in two appearances against Pittsburgh.

Rare Playoff Meeting: The Penguins and Canadiens have met just once before in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a 1998 first-round series won by the Canadiens in six games. Led by RW Jaromir Jagr and C Ron Francis, the Penguins entered the playoffs as the #2 seed, finishing 11 points ahead of the #7 Canadiens in the regular season (98 to 87). Canadiens goaltender Andy Moog outdueled Tom Barrasso in a battle of veteran goaltenders, posting a 21-save shutout in a series-clinching 3-0 win.

From La Belle Province to Pittsburgh:
Four players on the Penguins roster hail from the Montreal area, forwards Maxime Talbot (LeMoyne) and Pascal Dupuis (Laval); goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (Sorel) and defenseman Kris Letang (Montreal). Each brought the Stanley Cup home to Quebec last summer to share with family, friends and tens of thousands of fans at parades and gatherings throughout the province. In addition, captain Sidney Crosby played two seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the Rimouski Oceanic.

Hal's Back: Penguins fans aren't used to seeing 6-7, 250 lb. defenseman Hal Gill in an opposition uniform. Gill, whose two-year stay in Pittsburgh featured two trips to the Stanley Cup Final and a championship in 2009, appeared in 44 postseason games for the Penguins in 2008 and 2009.

Pittsburgh Penguins
The Crosby Show:
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby turned in one of the top performances of the opening round, leading all players in scoring with 14 points (five goals, nine assists) and posting a +7 rating in six games against Ottawa. Crosby established a personal high for points in a series, surpassing the 13 (eight goals, five assists) he notched against the Washington Capitals in the second round last season.

Crosby's Clutch Plays: Crosby conjured up some playoff magic to get the Penguins out of a jam early in their first-round series. Down 1-0 in the series, the Penguins were tied 1-1 with Ottawa late in the third period of Game 2 when Crosby dove through the crease to swat away an Anton Volchenkov shot that had eluded goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, preserving the tie with 9:13 left in regulation. Later, he repeatedly eluded checkers behind the Senators' net before setting up Kris Letang for the game-winning goal with 4:12 left in regulation.

More Malkin:
Evgeni Malkin continued his playoff scoring binge in the first round, tallying eight points (four goals, four assists) in six games. Malkin has averaged better than a point per game in each of his past five playoff series, recording 44 points (18 goals, 26 assists) in 30 games.

Montreal Canadiens
All Hail Halak:
Jaroslav Halak experienced highs and lows in a roller-coaster first round. He was brilliant in turning aside 45 of 47 shots in the series-opening 3-2 win at Washington, surrendered six goals in the Game 2 collapse and was pulled in Game 3 after allowing three goals on 13 shots. After teammate Carey Price took the loss in Game 4, the Canadiens turned to Halak with the club on the brink of elimination. In a performance reminiscent of famous playoff exploits by Canadiens goaltenders like Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy, Halak stopped 37, 53 and 41 shots, respectively, in three victories to capture the series. Halak improved to 10-0-1 this season when facing 40-or-more shots.

Special Teams: The Canadiens' penalty killing stymied the vaunted Washington Capitals power play that had led the NHL in goals (79) and percentage (25.2) during the regular season. Washington went 1-for-33 with the man advantage and in fact scored more goals shorthanded (two) in the series. Receiving the most shorthanded ice time were defensemen Josh Gorges (4:44 per game) and Hal Gill (4:42), ranking fourth and fifth in the League, respectively. The Montreal power play, which ranked second in the NHL in the regular season (21.8%), connected in six of the seven games against Washington (6 for 30).

Block Party:
The Canadiens recorded 182 blocked shots in the first round, an average of 26 per game and more than 40% ahead of second-ranked Ottawa (129). They blocked 41 alone in their Game 7 win at Washington. Four Montreal defensemen ranked in the League's top eight in the first round: Hal Gill had 31, Josh Gorges 20, Roman Hamrlik 19 and Andrei Markov 18.

#6 BOSTON BRUINS vs. #7 PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
How They Got Here

The sixth-seeded Bruins defeated the Buffalo Sabres in six games in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. In his first career NHL playoff action, rookie Tuukka Rask won a series-long goaltending duel with Sabres Vezina Trophy finalist Ryan Miller. Mark Recchi made a series-turning play by winning a puck battle to set up Patrice Bergeron’s winning goal late in Game 3 and then Miro Satan scored in double-overtime to win Game 4 as Boston, which lost the opener, won three straight to seize control.

The seventh-seeded Flyers, who required a shootout victory on the last day of the regular season to qualify for the playoffs, defeated the New Jersey Devils in five games in their Conference Quarterfinal. Daniel Carcillo’s goal 3:35 into overtime lifted Philadelphia to a Game 3 victory from which the Flyers never looked back. In his first significant NHL postseason action in 10 years, veteran Brian Boucher was brilliant, posting a 1.59 goals against average and .940 save percentage, both tops among playoff goaltenders.

Series Storylines
Boston won the season series against Philadelphia with a 2-1-1 record, including the Winter Classic on Jan. 1, a 2-1 overtime win. In their most recent game, a 5-1 Bruins win on Mar. 11, Philadelphia G Brian Boucher came in as relief for Michael Leighton in the second period stopping 11 of 12 shots -- the 28:44 that Boucher played was the only time that he went head-to-head with Boston G Tuukka Rask in the four games. Boston’s Marco Sturm (2-2--4), David Krejci (1-3--4) and Patrice Bergeron (1-3--4) led the way for the Bruins in the season series with four points each, while Kimmo Timonen (2-1--3) was the leading scorer for the Flyers with seven other players registering two points.

Rivalry Renewed: This will be the first time since 1978 that the Bruins and Flyers will face each other in the playoffs. Boston won that series, 4-1, and Philadelphia hasn’t won a playoff game in Boston since 1976. But who can forget the 1974 Stanley Cup Final that saw the “Broad Street Bullies” defeat the “Big Bad Bruins” in six games to become the first expansion team to win the Stanley Cup?

No. 6 vs. No. 7: This is the first time since 2006 (Anaheim vs. Colorado) that a sixth and seventh seed have faced each other in the Conference Semifinals and the first time in the Eastern Conference since 1999 when sixth seeded Boston lost to Buffalo in six games. These two seeds have only met four times (1998, 1999, 2003 and 2006) since the current playoff format was adopted in 1994, three of the four were sweeps and each seed won twice.

Special Teams Neck-and-Neck: The Bruins were No. 1 in penalty-killing in the first round, fending off all 19 Buffalo attempts while Philadelphia’s penalty kill was fourth (4 of 39 -- 87.5%). With both teams averaging 17.2 penalty minutes per-game and both power-plays clicking at around the 27 percent mark, staying disciplined could be a key to second round success.

Losses and Gains: The Flyers lost some key players in their first round series against New Jersey -- top goal-scorer Jeff Carter and skilled winger Simon Gagne were felled by foot injuries and key penalty killer Ian Laperriere suffered a head injury blocking a shot. In contrast, the Bruins likely will be buoyed by the return of play-making center Marc Savard, who has been out since Mar. 7.

Boston Bruins
Finnish-Flash:
Rookie G Tuukka Rask outdueled Vezina Trophy candidate Ryan Miller in the first round, posting a 2.18 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage in the 4-2 series win. Rask showed flashes of brilliance under pressure and no save was more important than the glove save made on Buffalo forward Thomas Vanek’s partial breakaway in the second period of Game 6. It kept the score at 2-1 for the Bruins, who held on for a 4-3 series-clinching victory.

Familiar Foe: Boston RW Mark Recchi, the Bruins’ leading scorer so far (3-2--5), had two long stints in Philadelphia (1992 to 1995, 1999 to 2004) and was a part of each of the Flyers’ last two runs to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2004 and 2000. Recchi, at 42 years old, made key plays in key moments during round one, including a pivotal assist on Patrice Bergeron’s game-winning goal in Game 3 and scoring a power-play goal in Game 6 that gave the Bruins a 2-0 lead in the second period.

Philadelphia Flyers
A Better ‘Boosh’: Ten years later, G Brian Boucher successfully exorcized the ghosts of goaltending past, defeating the New Jersey Devils in round one. As a rookie in 2000, his team held a 3-1 series lead against New Jersey before losing the Conference Finals in seven. Boucher led all goalies in the 2010 first round with a 1.59 goals-against average and .940 save percentage -- he hasn't allowed an even-strength goal in 187:39, or nine-plus periods.

Filling the Void: With the absence of Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne late in the series, 22-year-old sophomore RW Claude Giroux stepped up to fill the void, scoring two goals in the series-clinching win and finishing the series with six points (4-2--6). His four goals rank first among all players in this series.

The Upset Specialist: The Flyers' Chris Pronger averaged 29:03 per game for the Flyers while providing key offense (2-3--5) to add another upset to his playoff repertoire. Pronger was on the Edmonton Oilers (No. 8) when they knocked off the top-seeded Detroit Red Wings en route to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006 and on the Anaheim Ducks (No. 8) when they defeated the San Jose Sharks (No. 1) in 2009.
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