NHL Playoff Prediction: Eastern Conference Round 1
The NHL playoffs are upon us and the guessing game can now begin. The NHL playoffs usually come with plenty of excitement and surprises, so many times it can prove difficult to predict what will happen. Regardless, here’s a go at it.
(M1) Washington Capitals vs. (WC2) Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs squeaked into the playoffs for the first time in 2013 and the first time in a full season since 2004. They made it by one point over the Islanders and Lightning, sending the city of Toronto into a frenzy. However, they drew a matchup with Washington due to a loss against Columbus on the last day of the season.
It’s easy to pick the consistent Capitals, who have now won the Presidents Trophy two seasons in a row, over the young Leafs. Toronto could put up a bit more of a fight than people expect though.
Still, the Capitals are hard to bet against. They have one of the top powerplay units in the league, especially now that Kevin Shattenkirk is added into the mix. Braden Holtby’s transformation into an elite goalie over the past two seasons has propelled the Capitals far above the median of the league as well.
Verdict: Capitals in 5
(M2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (M3) Columbus Blue Jackets
If there was any sure fire pick for a series that is going to go off the rails with bad blood, it’s this one. These two teams met in the 2014 playoffs and have had a bombastic relationship ever since, mainly sparking from a feud between Brandon Dubinsky and Sidney Crosby.
The Blue Jackets have faltered of late and have not won a game against a playoff team in over a month. Meanwhile, the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Penguins are coming in hot despite losing top defenseman Kris Letang to injury.
Despite the factors from the past month, it will be hard to predict this series. Sergei Bobrovsky has been hot all year and is a top Vezina candidate. He may have a tough time stopping Phil Kessel, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and company though.
Verdict: Penguins in 6
(A1) Montreal Canadiens vs. (WC2) New York Rangers
After meeting up in the 2014 Conference Finals, the Rangers and Canadiens are playoff foes once again. Two of the premiere NHL goaltenders, Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price will be going head-to-head in what will probably be the lowest scoring series of the first round.
The Rangers have gotten significantly more skilled and faster up front over the recent years, whereas the Canadiens have gotten bigger and grittier. It’ll be an interesting combo, especially in the fact of how Montreal will manage to get pucks past Lundqvist (outside of Pacioretty and Radulov).
Verdict: Rangers in 7
(A2) Ottawa Senators vs. (M3) Boston Bruins
For the first time in a few years, the Boston Bruins are back in the playoffs. Lead by Bruce Cassidy in the second half of the season, the B’s were able to salvage their year and return to the playoffs.
They’ll be going up against the Ottawa Senators, lead by top defenseman Erik Karlsson and inspired goaltender Craig Anderson. The ghosts of Andrew Hammond are far in the past for Ottawa, so Anderson being in net for the whole series (barring injury) will provide the team with some much needed consistency.
The Bruins defense is still a concern. Adam McQuaid and Zdeno Chara are slowing down and Torey Krug is likely out for the entire first round. Charlie McAvoy will be stepping in immediately, but it could be a little intimidating for him given the circumstances. However, he is a good player so he’ll likely be fine. Regardless, Ottawa should feast on Boston’s less than stellar defensive core.
Verdict: Senators in 7
Western Conference coming soon.