Playoff Preview: Eastern Conference Round 1
Preview for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Eastern Conference Round 1
New York Rangers (M1) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (WC2)
It’s no secret that the Rangers were the best team in hockey this season, nor is it a secret that the Penguins barely got into the playoffs. Pittsburgh played a majority of it’s final games with five defensemen, and will still be missing two solid defensemen for at least the first round (Letang and Maatta).
Henrik Lundqvist has regained his form, and the Rangers have one of the most lethal bluelines in hockey. The Rangers seem like an easy pick here, but you can never count out a team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin up front. A lot of the Penguins success this postseason will rely on Marc-Andre Fleury.
Montreal Canadiens (A1) vs Ottawa Senators (WC1)
This may be the most interesting matchup coming out of the Eastern Conference. The Senators ended the season on a miracle 21-3-3 run, good enough to erase a 20 point wild card deficit in under eight weeks. Andrew Hammond will most likely get the Game 1 start, but expect head coach Dave Cameron to go to Craig Anderson quickly if things are not swaying in Ottawa’s favor.
On the other side, you have Carey Price and the Canadiens. Price has undoubtedly been the best goalie this season, boasting first place in wins (44), goals against average (1.96), and save percentage (.933), plus he is second in shutouts with nine, one behind Fleury. Max Pacioretty’s health is a big concern for Montreal, but if he can come back before the round is over, it will be a ginormous boost to the team.
Washington Capitals (M2) vs New York Islanders (M3)
Alex Ovechkin and John Tavares, two players who battled with each other for the Art Ross during the season, will become enemies once again in this series. The Capitals deadly powerplay, ranked first in the league at 25%, will be facing the abysmal (but better as of late) Islanders penalty kill, which is ranked 26th at 78%, even though the Islanders lead the league with ten short handed goals. The special teams will be a big determiner of who wins this series.
Three of the four contests this year between the teams went to overtime or a shootout, with the teams splitting the season series. The Islanders will try to use their speed against the Capitals, whereas the Capitals will try to use their size. Either way it goes, I’d say most games end in the 3-2 score range. If Braden Holtby can keep up his play, the Capitals will be in good shape.
Tampa Bay Lightning (A2) vs Detroit Red Wings (A3)
The Red Wings successfully kept their consecutive playoff streak alive, but face a tough challenge ahead of them in Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay will look to advance to the second round this year, a feat they couldn’t accomplish last season against Montreal due to an injury to Ben Bishop. Detroit will most likely go with Jimmy Howard in Game 1, but much like Ottawa, a switch to Petr Mrazek is possible if things go sour.
Both teams will need contributions from their young players if they want to win this series. Steven Stamkos, Pavel Datsyuk, and Henrik Zetterberg will be big factors of course, but the likes of Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat could be the turning points of this series.
Stay tuned for the West version in the upcoming days.