Unlike the Western Conference predictions these are on time, albeit barely. This is one of the few years where I love all of the matchups and short of the Edmonton Oilers making the playoffs in the West or the Philadelphia Flyers in the East, it worked out fantastically. The East is more balanced this year than it has been in years, which is probably partially due to the shortened season, but it is still great to see. The Eastern Conference has been too top heavy for far too long.
#1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #8 New York Islanders
The Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders have some serious history. Almost every time these two teams meet up, something crazy happens. Sidney Crosby took a puck to the face against the Islanders, and who can forget this ridiculous fight night or the goalie fight between DiPietro and Johnson? This series has a chance to be an instant classic, despite the fact that the Penguins are the far better team. John Tavares has played well this year and so has Matt Moulson, but outside of these two the Islanders will struggle for goals. Evgeni Nabakov has been very solid in net and is one of the key reasons that the Islanders even made it this far. The only issue is, their defenseman aren’t good enough to stop the ridiculous attack of Jarome Iginla, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Brandon Sutter and Sidney Crosby (when he is healthy again). Penguins GM Ray Shero dumped a lot of future prospects and draft picks in order to make this Stanley Cup run and the Penguins are ready for it. They were only missing grit and so they added Iginla, Brendan Morrow and Douglas Murray at the trade deadline. As long as Marc-Andre Fleury doesn’t blow it, this Penguins team is going to be a runaway freight train. Penguins in 5
#2 Montreal Canadiens vs. #7 Ottawa Senators
The Ottawa Senators would have likely gotten a top 4 seed if they had been healthy all year, but they have had major injury issues. Jason Spezza has been out the whole year, Erik Karlsson sliced his Achilles and miraculously returned after two months and Craig Anderson has been battling some injury issues as well. If Anderson is healthy enough to carry the load, then the Senators could be a force during the playoffs and could knock off the Canadiens. The Montreal Canadiens may seem like a team that struggles to score goals without any marquee names on the roster but they were tied for third highest scoring offense with the Washington Capitals, only behind the Penguins and Blackhawks. The Senators have struggled for goals and with Carey Price playing well in net for the Canadiens and Anderson’s health a question mark, the Sens will have to wait until next year to make their cup run. Canadiens in 5
#3 Washington Capitals vs. #6 New York Rangers
The Washington Capitals got hot at the right time and they are led by their Captain and Hart Trophy Candidate Alexander Ovechkin. Ovechkin struggled mightily to start the year and was shredded by Mike Milbury, but since March 17th he has scored 22 goals and led the NHL in goals with 32 to capture his third Rocket Richard Trophy.
Yes, those stats are from before the final games of the season, the Capitals played two games after that. The important part though, is that Ovechkin has been on an absolute tear, and so has his teammate Troy Brouwer, the Caps have posted an 8-1-1 record the last 10 games. The Capitals have been weak on the road posting a 12-10-2 record and have given up a fair amount of goals this year. Their defense isn’t very deep and they have had issues in net. Meanwhile, the Rangers have one of the best goalies in the planet with Henrik Ludqvist and retooled their roster at the deadline. The Rangers have a solid balance with their forwards and defenseman skill wise, and don’t have one group that is better than the other. Rick Nash will bring loads of excitement to the playoffs and I expect Lundqvist to be rock solid. The Caps will have to cool off sometime and Lundqvist is the man for the job. Rangers in 7
#4 Boston Bruins vs. #5 Toronto Maple Leafs
This series won’t have the same nastiness that a Bruins-Canadiens or Leafs-Canadiens playoff series would have had, but don’t think for a second that these teams aren’t major rivals.
A fight in the streets before game 1? Yeah, these fan bases hate each other, which makes their trade history with each other bizarre. The Bruins traded Andrew Raycroft to the Leafs for Tuukka Rask, when he was a prospect and when the Bruins traded Phil Kessel, they used the picks to draft Tyler Sequin and Dougie Hamilton…pretty weird. Onto the games though. The Maple Leafs go around intimidating teams, though they are weak on the blue line and in net. They have scored a lot of goals and have quite a bit of grit on the front end. Unfortunately that grit isn’t going to help them with the Boston Bruins who have a fantastic roster and added Jaromir Jagr at the deadline. The Bruins have been ice cold in their last ten games but matchup well with the Leafs. Their defenseman are capable of shutting down any offense in the league and they’ll start off by quieting Phil Kessel and the Leafs. Bruins in 6
#1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #6 New York Rangers
This would make for one of the better playoff series in a long time and most would have predicted this as an Eastern Conference Final matchup before the season started. The Rangers have strong goaltending, good forwards up front and a solid back end, but unfortunately the Penguins do too. The Penguins goaltending may be weaker, but assuming that Sidney Crosby is back, having one of the best players in the world healthy will help you win games. Unless Marc Staal gets healthy and is able to play, the Rangers will have a tough time controlling the Penguins depth with just Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh. The Penguins scoring depth will help lead them through this one, but it won’t be a cake walk. Penguins in 7
#2 Montreal Canadiens vs. #4 Boston Bruins
This would make for an absolutely epic playoff series and the Eastern Conference Semifinals would be pure gold with these two series. The Montreal Canadiens don’t have enough depth or strength on defense to contain the Bruins forwards. P.K. Subban is great and Andre Markov is good when healthy, but that is not nearly enough to contain Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic, Jaromir Jagr, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron…you get the point. Unless Carey Price magically turns into the best goalie in the world, the Canadiens will not only struggle to score goals on Rask, but they will struggle to keep them out of their own net. Montreal may have won the regular season series 3-1, but I don’t see Rask playing as badly during the playoffs as he did in those games. Bruins in 7
#1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #4 Boston Bruins
This would be a marquee matchup and the Bruins fans would have a little extra hate in store for the Penguins after they practically stole Jarome Iginla from them. Marc-Andre Fleury has been known for his wildly inconsistent playoff series and I see this coming into play here. Only once has Fleury had higher than a .908 save percentage in the playoffs and that was the lone year that the Penguins won the playoffs. The Bruins are very deep on the blue line and if Tuukka Rask can play well, I see the Bruins matching up with the Penguins very nicely. They have the depth on offense to stay with the Penguins and the depth on the blue line can keep Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin at bay. Zdeno Chara, Andrew Ference, Dennis Seidenberg and Dougie Hamilton will help keep pucks out of the net while guys like Marchand and Bergeron make life hell for the Penguins. Bruins in 7
Stanley Cup Finals
#1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #4 Boston Bruins
This would be the type of situation where I think the Bruins also matchup well with the Blackhawks and could beat them, except that they will run out of gas. Their playoff run will be long if they are going to make it the Stanley Cup Finals and the Blackhawks could make quick work of a tired Bruins team. Just like I said with Pittsburgh, Chara, Ference, and the rest matchup well with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but the difference will be in goaltending and exhaustion. I think Corey Crawford has been one of the best goalies in the league this year, how I’m not quite sure, and if he plays as well as he did during the regular season, I don’t see anyone beating the Hawks. Toews, Kane, Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad will be too much on the front end, while Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Nick Leddy lock down the opposing forwards. Another long series and the Bruins exhaustion coupled with the Blackhawks relentlessness will be too much for them and their run will be cut short. Blackhawks in 6