NHL Eastern Conference Final: Defending champs have a tough foe in the underdog


Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins could have a tough time getting past Ottawa Senators netminder Craig Anderson. Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images

In a wild and whacky first round, the Eastern Conference competitors spent long shifts and more overtimes than we could count trying to tear each other to pieces. In Round 2, however, nuanced ways to settle old rivalries took shape. Now, just two squads remain. One team, the underdog from the previous round. The second, the defending champs. Here is a look at the rosters gearing up to face off in the Eastern Conference Final.

Ottawa Senators


Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson has heated up at right time for the Senators.  Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers were a heavy favorite in their matchup with Ottawa, with offense spread all throughout its roster and a goalie who got hot at the right time. The tough Senators had a different plan.

X-factor: No surprise here that it's Erik Karlsson. Mounting injuries did nothing to slow down the Norris-winning captain, who registered a goal and an assist in Ottawa's final tilt against New York. His leadership throughout these entire playoffs cannot be understated.

The difference maker for the Senators: Netminder Craig Anderson. He really turned on the jets when the playoffs started. He put the punctuation on the series against New York, making 37 saves in the series finale against the Rangers.

Player you might not be watching, but should be: Mark Stone. The Sens have been teeming with offensive support these playoffs, with Derick Brassard being "that guy" in the first round. Stone put his mark on Round 2, and could easily carry his momentum into the Eastern Conference Final.

Goalie performance so far in the playoffs: It really says something for Craig Anderson that he has helped his team this far in the playoffs. Maybe no matter than in Round 2, when he posted up on the ice opposite Henrik Lundqvist, who got hot for the Rangers at just the right time.

Extra edge over the Penguins: The toughness. Ottawa is going into the next series the underdog – again. But the Senators showed that flexing their muscle could beat the offensive depth of the Rangers, so why wouldn't they grind exactly the same against the Penguins?

Pittsburgh Penguins


Rookie Jake Guentzel put in an impressive effort for the Penguins during the playoffs.  Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Call it déjà vu, because that is basically what Pittsburgh is living right now. Just like last year, they bumped the rival Washington Capitals out of the post season in the second round. Now they tango in new territory, taking on the Senators.

X-factor: Everyone and their dog is going to point Sidney Crosby, but I think he should be sharing those honors with Jake Guentzel. The rookie notched eight goals in his first nine playoff tilts – a feat that has only been accomplished by the likes of Maurice Richard, Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky.

The difference maker for the Penguins: We discussed ahead of Round 2 that Marc-Andre Fleury could make or break the series against Washington. He remains a huge piece of the Penguins' winning puzzle. (But we will gush over him a bit more later.)

Player you might not be watching, but should be: Of all the interesting plays that the Pens have produced in these playoffs, some of the niftiest have ricocheted off of Bryan Rust's stick. SB Nation referred to the winger earlier this post-season as Pittsburgh's "clutch war horse" and it is hard not to agree.

Goalie performance so far in the playoffs: Fleury's resurgence in these playoffs is something to behold. His play was downright filthy against Washington's sharp-shooters, none more than in Game 7 when he shut the Capitals out all together.

Extra edge over the Senators: This sounds like a no-brainer, but yes, the Pens have the edge in experience here. Recent experience, no less. Plus, even the toughest teams have trouble containing Pittsburgh's speed, which should be on full display against Ottawa.

Chelena Goldman grew up on a street where the boys played street hockey and yelling at baseball and football over the radio was a standard -- making life as a sports geek the perfect fit. She believes in dominance on the blue line, good red wine, and the theory that you can never be too overdressed for any occasion. You can find her gabbing away on Twitter at @ChelenaGoldman.

MORE FROM YARDBARKER:
QUIZ: Name every NHL goaltender with 10 or more shutouts in a single season

54 NHL goaltenders have registered 10 or more shutouts in a single season. How many of them can you name?

Clue: Season (Number of shutouts)

Score:
0/54
Time:
12:00
1928-29 (22)
George Hainsworth
1925-26 (15)
Alec Connell
1927-28 (15)
Alec Connell
1969-70 (15)
Tony Esposito
1927-28 (15)
Hal Winkler
1926-27 (14)
George Hainsworth
1926-27 (13)
Clint Benedict
1926-27 (13)
Alec Connell
1927-28 (13)
George Hainsworth
1997-98 (13)
Dominik Hasek
1953-54 (13)
Harry Lumley
1928-29 (13)
John Ross Roach
1928-29 (13)
Roy Worters
2006-07 (12)
Martin Brodeur
1930-31 (12)
Charlie Gardiner
1955-56 (12)
Glenn Hall
1973-74 (12)
Bernie Parent
1974-75 (12)
Bernie Parent
1951-52 (12)
Terry Sawchuk
1953-54 (12)
Terry Sawchuk
1954-55 (12)
Terry Sawchuk
1928-29 (12)
Tiny Thompson
1928-29 (11)
Clint Benedict
2003-04 (11)
Martin Brodeur
1927-28 (11)
Lorne Chabot
2000-01 (11)
Dominik Hasek
1927-28 (11)
Hap Holmes
2010-11 (11)
Henrik Lundqvist
1928-29 (11)
Joe Miller
1950-51 (11)
Terry Sawchuk
1932-33 (11)
Tiny Thompson
1927-28 (11)
Roy Worters
2003-04 (10)
Ed Belfour
1938-39 (10)
Frank Brimsek
1996-97 (10)
Martin Brodeur
1997-98 (10)
Martin Brodeur
2000-01 (10)
Roman Cechmanek
1926-27 (10)
Lorne Chabot
1928-29 (10)
Lorne Chabot
1998-99 (10)
Byron Dafoe
1928-29 (10)
Dolly Dolson
1976-77 (10)
Ken Dryden
1948-49 (10)
Bill Durnan
1973-74 (10)
Tony Esposito
2014-15 (10)
Marc-Andre Fleury
1933-34 (10)
Charlie Gardiner
2005-06 (10)
Miikka Kiprusoff
1952-53 (10)
Harry Lumley
2007-08 (10)
Henrik Lundqvist
2008-09 (10)
Steve Mason
1952-53 (10)
Gerry McNeil
2011-12 (10)
Jonathan Quick
1932-33 (10)
John Ross Roach
1935-36 (10)
Tiny Thompson
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