Eastern series dominated by mismatches

Four Eastern Conference teams already find themselves on the brink of elimination just four games into the postseason.

The Ottawa Senators, New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres and Montreal Canadiens are behind in their respective series by 3-1 margins and could find themselves on the golf course by next week.

The Senators' problem comes down to one player: Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. Try as they might, the Senators haven't been able to contain Crosby, who's been a scoring machine in this series by averaging nearly three points per game to lead all playoff scorers.

Containing Crosby is easier said than done. The danger in devoting too many assets toward shutting down the Penguins captain is it'll open up space for other Penguins stars like Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. But the Senators must continue in their efforts to slow down Crosby if they hope to upset the defending Stanley Cup champs..

Other factors contributing to the Senators' potential demise in this series have been a lack of second line production -- hampered by the loss of forwards Milan Michalek and Alex Kovalev to injury -- and the inconsistent performance of goaltender Brian Elliott, who was finally pulled midway through Game Four in favor of Pascal Leclaire.

The Senators weren't the favorites in their series against the Penguins so their current situation isn't a surprise. The same however cannot be said for the New Jersey Devils, who were expected to make short work of the Philadelphia Flyers but instead are staring at elimination.

The Devils were second in the Eastern Conference this season, yet a combination of poor defensive play and inconsistent offense has them struggling against the aggressive, tight-checking Flyers.

Their special-team play has also contributed to their woes, with their power play currently ranking 13th of the 16 playoff clubs while their penalty killing is 12th -- not the kind of performance required to win a playoff series.

New Jersey's top forwards are also finding it tough to score against the Flyers defense. Patrik Elias had four assists but no goals, Zach Parise four points but only one goal, linemate Travis Zajac only two points in four games and team captain Jamie Langenbrunner only one point in four games.

Finally, there's the play of 37-year-old goaltender Martin Brodeur, who has looked ordinary in most of this series, sporting numbers in the first four games (2.98 goal-against average, .890 save percentage) which pale in comparison to his superb regular-season stats.

It's been suggested in recent years his heavy regular season workload leaves Brodeur with little left in the tank for the playoffs. His performance in this series has done nothing to dispel that opinion.

The Sabres were also considered the favorites going into their matchup against a banged-up Boston Bruins club, but in a series where strong goaltending and tight defensive play has ruled the day, the Bruins have the Sabres against the ropes with the series heading back to Buffalo for Game Five.

While the Sabres were healthier heading into this series they haven't been the same team since losing sniper Thomas Vanek in Game Two to an ankle injury, struggling to score against the Bruins defense and rookie goalie Tuukka Rask, who's proven the equal of Buffalo's Ryan Miller.

As difficult as the Sabres have found scoring goals they've had considerable difficulty holding a lead. That was particularly notable in Games Two and Four, squandering two-goal leads and losing both games as a result.

If these issues aren't resolved soon the Sabres will find themselves cleaning out their lockers by the weekend.

As for the Canadiens, there's little surprise they're down to the powerhouse Washington Capitals. Few other than die-hard Montreal fans gave their team any real chance of pulling off an upset.

The Habs have given a good account of themselves at various times in this series but in Game Two and Four they were unable to hold onto leads, with late second period short-handed goals by the Capitals starting an offensive avalanche which buried the Canadiens.

Montreal goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price have tried their best but have been rattled by Washington's net-crashing forwards as their overmatched teammates lack the size and strength defensively to contain the Capitals' firepower.

With Capitals stars Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom leading the charge it's unlikely the Canadiens can dig themselves out of their current hole.