Here are my predictions on how the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals will play out.
The Rangers have been number 1 in the Eastern Conference since about late December, or early January I believe, and for good reason. They are an extremely well-balanced team with an above average offense and one of the best defenses in hockey. They rank third in the NHL in goals-against-average thanks to the play of their goalie, Henrik Lundqvist. He should without a doubt be a top 2 candidate to win the Vezina Trophy this year. As for the Senators, they have had a very nice “comeback season” after finishing 13th in the Eastern Conference last season. They have some good offensive weapons in Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson, and one of the league’s best defenseman in Erik Karlsson. With that said, however, the Rangers are too deep and skilled of a team for the Sens to beat in a 7-game series.
-New York wins series, 4-1.
The defending Stanley Cup champions are never an easy team to knock out of the playoffs. The Bruins showed no signs of a “Cup hangover” early on this season, but as the year progressed, they began to show some signs of exhaustion. For about the first 2-3 months of the season, it looked like the Bruins were going to run away with the number 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, but they have since come back down to earth. They, much like the Rangers, have an extremely deep team. All 4 lines are capable of scoring. Their defense is one of the best in hockey, and their goaltending is as well. The Capitals have been a tough team to figure out all year long. For the past few years, they have consistently been one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, but not so much this year. It wasn’t until recently that they finally started to step up their game and play some good, consistent hockey. Alex Ovechkin has had one of his most disappointing seasons so far in his career, and so has Alex Semin. I think this will be a surprisingly good series. The fact that the Bruins have had the fewest amount of rest from the end of last season until now (Vancouver as well), coupled with the fact that Washington has started to play a lot better and stronger as of late, I see this series being a very competitive one. In the end, it’s going to come down to goaltending and defense.
-Boston wins series, 4-3.
Both of these teams have had great turnaround seasons. Florida finished last season as the worst team in the Eastern Conference. This year, they went out and acquired Kris Versteeg and Brian Campbell, among a few others, and gave themselves a brand new identity. Their offense is not the best, but it is decent. The same can be said of their defense and goaltending. The Devils finished last season ranked 11th in the Eastern Conference, which completely surprised many people, myself included. This year, they have played the way that we expected them to a year ago. Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise are two of the game’s most lethal scorers. They also have rookie Adam Henrique, who has been a very pleasant surprise on the offensive end this season. As for their goaltending, do I even have to mention his name? Martin Brodeur is arguably the best goalie of all-time, and even though he is getting up there in age, he can still get the job done. I’m calling for an upset in this series (I am only saying it’s an upset because Florida has a higher seed).
New Jersey wins series, 4-2.
You want a physical series? Well, this should be all that, and more. This is arguably the best first-round series in the entire playoffs this year. Both of these teams are capable of going very deep into the playoffs, but only one of them will get through the first-round. Pittsburgh was able to climb the standings this year at an incredible pace and become one of the best teams in hockey, all without Sidney Crosby in the lineup. They have what could be the deepest team in the league offensively, and their defense isn’t anything to ignore either. Pittsburgh has the best trio of centers in the NHL now that Crosby is back: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal. This will make them a tough team for anyone to defend. Oh and by the way, the Penguins led the league in goals per game this season. Also, don’t forget they are only 3 years removed from winning the Cup and still have a number of players who were on that team, including Marc-Andre Fleury. The Flyers also have a very good offensive team, as they ranked second this season in goals per game. Their biggest problem is going to be defense. They went out and traded for Nicklas Grossman and Pavel Kubina at the trade deadline, which will help, but I am still not convinced that their D-unit is strong enough to beat the Penguins. Also, despite the recent play of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, I am not 100% sold that he can guide a team to the Stanley Cup. He showed too many weak spots early on this season. This is going to be a very entertaining series to watch, but I just don’t see the Flyers prevailing.
-Pittsburgh wins series, 4-2.
Check back later on for my Western Conference predictions.