With the West taken care of I now move along to the Eastern Conference and who will earn the right to play the Penguins in the Conference finals. I don’t necessarily think that the Penguins are guaranteed to cruise to the Cup, but I certainly think they’re one of the easiest choices as a favorite.
#1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #8 New York Islanders
All the shuffling at the bottom of the standings found the Isles in eighth when the dust settled and they’re not heading to Pittsburgh for the first round series. The Isles get a raw deal here as they were a few wins away from a much more favorable seed.
Why Pittsburgh will win: You could basically go back and read the reasons for the Blackhawks if you want. They’re first powerplay unit is straight out of an All-Star game: Iginla and Letang on the point with Malkin, Crosby and Neal. That’s insane. This is not a team I’d want to play for seven games.
Why New York will win: The Isles have gotten strong goaltending from Evgeni Nabokov this season and certainly have a few horses that can run with the Penguins. They may not enough horses, but there is some talent on this roster.
Outcome: Penguins in 5
#2 Montreal Canadiens vs. #7 Ottawa Senators
A Northeast Division showdown that pits a pair of surprising clubs against each other. The Canadiens shocked the world by going from worst to first (more of less) this season. Meanwhile the Senators are a MASH unit that has managed to string together a very impressive season. What interests me most about this series is that neither team really stands out as a favorite. They each have their own respectable strengths, but nothing like what you see with other teams in the postseason. Even the Islanders have a few more names that pop out to me.
Why Montreal will win: The Habs get the edge in net in my book and have managed to maintain a nice bill of health for most of the season. I think the key for them will be in their middle lines and finding consistent secondary scoring. I’d say that’s the only area they will want to improve upon to have a deep run.
Why Ottawa will win: It’s all depending on goaltending for the Sens. If Craig Anderson (or even Lehner) steals a couple of games this will get very interesting. However if they’re average this will be a very short series.
Outcome: Montreal in 6
#3 Washington Capitals vs. #6 New York Rangers
The Blueshirts were the biggest beneficiaries of the final game shuffle at the bottom of the standings. From a showdown with Pittsburgh to a much more manageable opponent in Washington is a great trade-of. The key will be containing Ovechkin and solving Braden Holtby. Last year’s series between these two teams was entertaining despite the general lack of scoring. I look forward to following this one.
Why Washington will win: The Great 8 has gotten hot and is making everyone remember the guy who ran through the rest of the league like a freight train a few years ago. Having Ovechkin in top form makes the Caps a scary x-factor.
Why New York will win: The Rangers have a very good goaltender and the talent that should allow them to light up the scoreboard. Unfortunately they haven’t show much of the latter this season, despite their handsome payroll. I still think they’re going to be a nasty team to play in a seven-games series.
Outcome: Rangers in 6
#4 Boston Bruins vs. #5 Toronto Maple Leafs
Let’s just call this the Kessel Series and get everything out of the way up front. Yes, Kessel turned into Dougie Hamilton and Tyler Seguin. Yes, the trade did eventually get the Leafs to the playoffs. Yes, I expect this to be a nasty series. It could get real nasty if Toronto’s puck possession numbers remain dismal because I truly believe the Bruins could steamroll this series if the Leafs don’t wake from their slumber.
Why Boston will win: They’re deeper, bigger and more talented in may areas. No matter what Bill Dauterive says about timely saves, I like Tuukka Rask much more than James Reimer (fun fact: Rask was also acquired from Toronto in a terrible trade). Top to bottom I think the Bruins are vastly superior.
Why Toronto will win: I don’t think they will win this series. In fact I wonder if they will win a single game in this series. The Leafs have started to fall hard over the last few weeks and if this spiral gets any more out of control this will be a quick but uncomfortable four-game series.
Outcome: Bruins in 4