Who would have thought that the Eastern Conference playoff teams would not consist of the Philadelphia Flyers? I didn’t predict that, that’s for sure. Nonetheless, it is nice to see some new faces in the playoffs this year, like the Islanders and Maple Leafs. And how about the Senators? After all the adversity that this team has faced this season, it is pretty remarkable that they’re in the postseason again. So having said that, let’s get to the predictions.
Season series: Penguins 4-1-0 against Islanders.
Well it’s no surprise to see Pittsburgh as the number 1 seed in the East, but it is a surprise to see the Islanders as the number 8 seed. I am confident in saying that I don’t believe many people projected the Islanders to be a playoff team this year. John Tavares, on the other hand, had different thoughts about his team and willed them to the postseason. Him and Matt Moulson recorded 47 and 44 points respectively this year, and they are going to need to continue to produce against the Penguins. Evgeni Nabakov had a major bounce back season this year by going 23-11-7, and his playoff experience is huge for the Islanders. Not many guys on that team have ever played in the postseason before, so it’s nice for them to have a goalie with experience. He’s going to need to be great for the Islanders to advance.
The Penguins have shown all year long that they are a force in the Eastern Conference, and they are going to be the toughest out in the East. They went out and really upgraded their team at the trade deadline by acquiring Jarome Iginla and Brendan Morrow, and both of those guys have fit pretty well into the lineup since. The biggest concern for Pittsburgh right now is the health of Sidney Crosby. He recently started practicing again after sitting out for a month with a broken jaw, but it is unclear as to when he may return to game action. Although I feel that the Penguins should still take down the Islanders without much of a problem even without Crosby, I wouldn’t ink them in as the Eastern Conference champs like many people are. Marc Andre Fleury worries me about the Penguins chances with his sub-par play in recent postseasons.
-Pittsburgh wins series, 4-1.
Season series: Senators 2-1-1 against Canadiens.
After a couple years of missing the playoffs, Montreal is back as the number 2 seed in the East after barely edging out the Bruins for the division championship. Ottawa, meanwhile, is back in the playoffs yet again even after all the injuries they suffered this season. Daniel Alfredsson (their captain) missed the entire season, and Jason Spezza (their best goal scorer) played in just 5 games. Neither will play in the postseason. Erik Karlsson only played in 17 games because of a severed achilles, but made a remarkable return to the lineup for the last game of the regular season. His presence in the lineup will be HUGE for the Senators in the playoffs. Craig Anderson had his best season as a goalie, posting 1.69 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage. He should be a Vezina finalist, and rightfully so. Ottawa will need Anderson to continue his strong play into the postseason. If he does, this is a team that could do some damage.
Montreal had a great start to the season, but saw their play slip a little in April (a 7-7-0 record). They had 5 players record at least 30 points this year, including 2 defensemen. One of which, P.K. Subban, should be a Norris Trophy finalist. But to me, the biggest story-line surrounding this team will be the play of Carey Price. He went 21-13-4 this season with a 2.59 GAA and a .905 save percentage. Over the last month or so, however, Price has really started to fade. Fans in Montreal have become extremely critical of Price, and I am sure that if he slips up early in this series that Peter Budaj will take over in net. To me, the Canadiens go as Carey Price goes.
-Ottawa wins series, 4-2.
Season series: Rangers 2-0-1 against Capitals.
Thanks to the unbelievable play of Alex Ovechkin down the home stretch of the season, the Capitals find themselves as division champions and the 3 seed in the East. The Rangers, however, cannot be happy with their 6th place finish in the conference. This was a team that almost everyone had winning the conference and advancing to the Finals prior to the season after their acquisition of Rick Nash. Unexpectedly, the Rangers just couldn’t get things rolling until April where they went 10-3-1. At the trade deadline, they parted ways with Marian Gaborik and received Derek Dorsett, Derick Brassard, and John Moore in return. This was apparently the spark that the Rangers needed to get going, because they have been a much better team since. Henrik Lundqvist is still one of the top goalies in hockey, and he has the ability to single-handedly win a series for New York. If he plays well and Derek Stepan keeps up his torrid pace, this team will get by the first round.
-New York wins series, 4-3.
Season series: Boston 3-1-0 against Maple Leafs.
Talk about a classic rivalry series… I think I speak on behalf of most NHL fans when I say that I am excited to watch these two teams go at it. Finally, the Maple Leafs are back in the playoffs, and their fans are going to be going nuts at the Air Canada Centre for Game 3. After all that talk of Toronto possibly trading for either Roberto Luongo or Mikka Kiprusoff, their goaltending really hasn’t been bad. James Reimer went 19-8-5 this year with a 2.46 GAA and a .924 save percentage. He doesn’t have playoff experience, which could hurt, but the Leafs have to have some confidence in this guy after the season he had. Phil Kessel, who led the Leafs with 52 points, will get a chance to eliminate his former team, and the Maple Leafs are going to need him to give everything he’s got.
After a great start to the season, Boston was eventually caught and overrun by the Canadiens in the division. But don’t let that fool you. The Bruins are still one of the best teams in hockey, and one of the toughest teams to play against. Tuukka Rask was one of the better goalies in hockey this season with a 2.00 GAA and a .929 save percentage. His play, plus the team defense of the Bruins resulted in Boston finishing third in the league in GA/G. Teams with a good GA/G always tend to fare well in the postseason. The addition of Jaromir Jagr at the trade deadline could pay off now more than it has up to this point in the season, as Jagr is a very experienced postseason player and knows how to win big games. Also, the Bruins are just 2 years removed from winning the Cup and know what it takes to get back there. Don’t let their finish in the conference fool you. This is a dangerous team.
-Boston wins series, 4-1.
Look for my second round predictions for both conferences once the first round ends.
Thanks for reading.