With the playoffs starting tomorrow night, here are my predictions for the Eastern Conference matchups. It is a shame that the Panthers drew the third seed considering they find themselves ahead of five of the other seven teams in the bracket. I would have to think the playoff format will be addressed in the near future, because this year (more than others) has really shown off the biggest flaws in the system.
#1 New York Rangers vs. #8 Ottawa Senators
Ottawa was bumped down from seventh place due to the late charge put on by the Capitals. The Senators had a good regular season against the Rangers, but I have doubts about their chances for success in the playoffs.
Why the Rangers will win: Henrik Lundqvist has been one of the three best goaltenders in the league all year. He plays the type of game that will be successful in the clogged style of hockey that is prevalent in the playoffs. New York is a physical team that should have little trouble pushing a young Senators team around.
Why the Senators will win: They have plenty of offense. Erik Karlsson was magical all year long and is a key piece of Ottawa’s attack. However, their defensive zone struggles will probably bite them in the end. Still, Ottawa will win if they can create offense early and often.
Outcome: Rangers in five
#2 Boston Bruins vs. #7 Washington Capitals
The Caps should probably have won the Southeast and taken third in the East. However, their inconsistent play plagued them for the entire year. Their goaltending is a big question mark and they remain an offense first squad. Boston hasn’t been the juggernaut they were in 2011, but has a roster built for the playoffs. I think Tim Thomas will have a lot to do with their success.
Why Boston will win: They’re a deep, physical team who should have no trouble imposing their will on the Capitals. I expect the Bruins to grind out the Caps finesse players and stifle offense right off the bat. Tim Thomas will need to be their rock and I certainly give the edge in the goaltending department to the Bruins.
Why Washington will win: Their big guns have been heating up and they certainly have more top-end talent that the Bruins. If they can leverage the matchups correctly, the Caps should be able to get their scorers against Boston’s lesser defensive players. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom will need to be the difference makers.
Outcome: Bruins in six
#3 Florida Panthers vs. #6 New Jersey Devils
The Panthers don’t deserve their home ice advantage. However, I don’t think it will matter much in this series. The Panthers don’t matchup very well with the Devils. Only if Kevin Dineen can lock down defensively will the Cats have a chance.
Why Florida will win: The Panthers have a lot of pretty good hockey players. What they lack in superstars they have in depth. Only a few of these guys need to heat up for the Panthers to have the ability to exploit matchups.
Why New Jersey win will: The Devils pretty much own every matchup advantage over Florida in this series. Marty Brodeur has had a few real ugly playoff series in recent years but may not be tested much by the Panthers. Expect to see a boring series win for the Devils.
Outcome: Devils in six
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Philadelphia Flyers
This is easily the series I will be anticipating the most. I think the Penguins have the edge because of home ice and their two superstars playing such a high level of hockey. They also have the better goaltender. Philly is more of a muck and grind team and could find success if they lean on Crosby and Malkin.
Why Pittsburgh will win: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are playing terrific hockey and the Penguins have a number of players capable of scoring goals. Marc-Andre Fleury is a great playoff goalie and gives the Pens and edge in that department. Playing on home ice should help the Penguins, as well.
Why Philadelphia will win: The Flyers stand a chance because they’re equally deep offensively as the Pens and have more guys willing to play dirty. If they Flyers rough up Crosby and Malkin they may find themselves in control. That isn’t to say the Pens two stars are going to back down, but being physical with those two will eliminate time and space, a key for Philly’s success against the Pens.
Outcome: Penguins in seven