I decided to try and mix in a quick preview of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs while also preparing for our own playoffs, so we’ll see how this turns out…naturally this is the shortest one I’ve ever done. For most of the year I’ve thought that there were only four teams capable of winning the Stanley Cup and as I look at statistics for the regular season, I feel the same way. The real question is who will be the team that comes out of the Atlantic Division to play in the Eastern Conference Finals. It’s purely a toss up in my mind.
I could go on a huge tirade about the current playoff format and how seeding it 1-8 would give us better matchups and not screw over teams like Washington and Pittsburgh, but I won’t. Is it logical that the two best teams in the Eastern Conference be forced to play each other in round 2? (Hint: No).
#1 Washington Capitals vs. #4 Philadelphia Flyers
Sporting Charts: Capitals vs. Flyers
Great goaltending is the true separation here. Braden Holtby tied the record for most wins by a goalie in a single season with 48 and also managed to post a .922 save percentage and a 2.20 goals against average. Add in the fact that the Capitals have a 50-goal scorer in Alexander Ovechkin, as well as Nick Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov and I do not think the Flyers can match the offensive output.
Sure, the Flyers went on a massive run to get in to the playoffs and have stars like Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek but the Caps depth will be too much. They have one of the best top 4’s in all of the NHL now that Dmitry Orlov has emerged. Caps in 6
#2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #3 New York Rangers
Sporting Charts: Penguins vs. Rangers
The Pittsburgh Penguins are 13-1 since Malkin got hurt. To be perfectly honest, I was not sure about the Pens chances without Malkin until I saw that stat. Sidney Crosby has had an unbelievable second half and if Olli Maata and Marc-Andre Fleury can be healthy for this series…watch out. The Rangers are quite banged up right now and the extent of the injuries are not fully known. Henrik Lundqvist had a solid season with a .920 save percentage and a 2.48 goals against average but will it be enough?
The Rangers have a good team, but they did not want to play the Pens for a reason. Pens in 6
Division Final: #1 Washington Capitals vs. #2 Pittsburgh Penguins
Sporting Charts: Capitals vs. Penguins
I think the Capitals are one of the 4 best teams in the league and it is unfortunate these two have to play now…realistically this should be the Eastern Conference Final. The Caps have been incredible all season but I think the Pens pull off the upset. The Capitals have a deep forward group and a sturdy blue line, but if Holtby falters, they will struggle in a hurry. They have not had to battle through much adversity this season, so who knows what will happen if they struggle early on.
If the Pens can stay healthy, they match up well against any team in the league. I think the Pens defensive unit can shut down Alex Ovechkin and his line to put them over the top. Pens in 7
#1 Florida Panthers vs. #4 New York Islanders
Sporting Charts: Panthers vs. Islanders
The Islanders would be a candidate to advance if Jaroslav Halak was not hurt. Thomas Greiss, or whoever else they deploy, are no match for the Panthers right now. Jaromir Jagr is in rare form and the emergence of Sasha Barkov has proven to be a huge benefit. Short of John Tavares putting the Islanders on his back, I do not see anyway the Isles come through. Panthers will clean up well here. Panthers in 5…not 6.
#2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. #3 Detroit Red Wings
Sporting Charts: Lightning vs. Red Wings
Flip a coin right now for this matchup. The Lightning are good but battered and no Stamkos is major trouble. Add in the fact that the Lightning are also missing Anton Stralman and Tyler Johnson is banged up and it will come down to Ben Bishop. Bishop, statistically, had the best season of any goalie across the board with 35 wins, a .926 save percentage and a 2.06 goals against average. Bishop could carry the Lightning all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, but I do not see that happening this year.
While the Red Wings have been just plain bad and limped into the playoffs, I think they will manage to steal at least one series this year. It’s Pavel Datsyuk’s last go around and they get another crack at the team they should have beaten last year. Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek have had up and down seasons, but I think Jimmy could play well enough here for the Red Wings to steal one with the Lightning shorthanded. Red Wings in 7
Division Final: #1 Florida Panthers vs. #3 Detroit Red Wings
Sporting Charts: Panthers vs. Red Wings
I want to pick the Red Wings here so badly but I just can’t. They struggled too much down the stretch in must-win games for me to put them in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Panthers are by no means an unbelievable team, but I think this comes down to the Red Wings just not being that good this year. They are not deep enough on the blue line and I’m not sure Jimmy or Mrazek could steal a second series in the playoffs. On top of that Roberto Luongo has been stellar with a .922 save percentage and a 2.35 goals against average. The Red Wings won’t score enough to win here and come up short trying to make a run one last time with Datsyuk. Panthers in 7
Eastern Conference Finals
#2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #1 Florida Panthers
Sporting Charts: Penguins vs. Panthers
They said that Malkin could be back in mid to late May and that means he could be back for this series. That would be a monumental addition for the streaking Pens…and even without him, I don’t think the Panthers can take the Pens. The Pens are simply too deep on the blue line and the play of Marc-Andre Fleury will be a critical difference. The Panthers have a bright future, but it is not their time yet. Pens in 6