Playoff Predictions – Round 1 – Eastern Conference
1 – Washington Capitals vs. 8 – Toronto Maple Leafs
Washington had another impressive regular season. At the other end, Toronto had to put together a very entertaining run to simply be a part of the spring event known as the NHL Playoffs. While this may seem like a mismatch on paper, anyone following the game knows about Washington’s inability to get it done in the Spring. Add to this the fact that the Leafs have been playing playoff hockey for a couple weeks and truly are a team that is playing with nothing to lose. If the Leafs can get any kind of momentum in this series, it could be very mentally dangerous for Washington.
On paper, Washington boasts the better goaltender as Brayden Holtby is once again a likely Vezina trophy nominee whereas the Leafs are dealing with a battered and bruised Anderson with little to no safety net in McElhinney behind him; Advantage Washington. The blue line is even more slanted in Washington’s favour. As impressive as Morgan Reilly is, he has very little depth behind him. Now consider that they are facing a relatively proven blue line in Washington and the advantage is clear. The top end talent matches up quite nicely so ironically, what Washington will want to stay away from in this series is an offensive shootout. Toronto gets some playoffs and the kids get some experience, but Washington are far too strong an opponent as a first test.
Prediction: Washington in 5
2 – Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 3 – Columbus Blue Jackets
This is a very tough series to call. The Penguins are the defending champs and should remain the odds-on favourite to win this series. Despite this fact, I think the additions made by Pittsburgh on the blueline are soft and could really exposed by the Jackets who play an up-tempo and very physical brand of hockey. In addition to this, Columbus boasts some very underrated young talent such as Atkinson, Wennberg, Werenski, etc. The Blue Jackets are not to be taken lightly which is why this series is one of the best the East will offer in the first round this year.
The Pens are playing goaltending Russian roulette while the Jackets are sending the likely Vezina winner to the ice; advantage Columbus in net. On the blue line, I already prefer a top-4 of Jones-Werenski-Johnson-Savard over Letang-Schultz-Hainsey-Streit. Now remove Letang and this is a landslide. Up front, Pittsburgh is still the scariest group to face in the NHL over a 7-game series.
This series sways in favour of the Jackets the longer it goes. If they can get any kind of confidence, I think the absence of Letang will be too huge to overcome when the teams are matched this closely. Ironically, a Penguins first-round exit might be exactly what is needed for the NHL to make some changes to the playoff format, so that’s just another reason to hope the Jackets pull it off.
Prediction – Columbus in 7
1 – Montreal Canadiens vs. 7 – New York Rangers
This is an interesting match-up because both teams are so similar. They boast impressive blue lines, try to score by committee, and require excellent play by their goaltender to really be considered a threat in the Eastern Conference. Barring another Kreider-like incident, this should be a long series.
Not much debate about the better goaltender in this series. Lundqvist has had a roller-coaster of a season, while Price remains one of the best in the league. Blue lines are very evenly matched as the Rangers likely have more intelligent players while Montreal has more ability to score on their blue line. I would give the offensive advantage to the Rangers, but with the Montreal depth scoring ramping up in recent weeks, it’s another photo-finish here. If Lehkonen and Galchenyuk can score over the course of the series, it should be advantage Montreal.
Prediction – Unless Lundqvist can find a way to match the play of Price, Montreal wins this in 6 If he does, all bets are off.
2 – Ottawa Senators vs. 3 – Boston Bruins
One team is backing into the playoffs while the other has had an impressive second half to the season to earn the right not to play Washington. Boston remains an advanced stats favourite, which makes me want to see the Sens win the series. I think this series is bound to be incredibly physical with both teams offering some good young talent up-front and some proven veteran leadership on the blue line. Both teams are counting on goaltenders that need to find consistency in their games, with very little strength in the back-up options.
I’m giving the goaltending edge to Boston as Rask is the most talented of the two, should they both play up to their potential. On the blue line, the presence of Methot will give the advantage to the Sens, if he is 100%. Otherwise, Karlsson is the best, but the Bruins have better depth. Toss up. The offense is the exact opposite, where Ottawa has better depth, but the Boston top-line can really cause some damage, if Marchand can stay on the ice.
Prediction – Boston in 7.
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