NHL Eastern Conference 1st Round Preview

The Stanley Cup Playoffs start on Wednesday.  The Eastern Conference playoffs will have no Alex Ovechkin and no Toronto Maple Leafs this season.  In their first season in the East the Detroit Red Wings kept their 23 year playoff streak alive. The match ups are as follows:

Boston Bruins v Detroit Red Wings

Boston Bruins v Detroit Red Wings

Pavel Datsyuk will be a key player for Detroit in the playoffs.

Season Series: Detroit 3 Boston 1

The Bruins have been an unstoppable machine in clinching top spot in the East. They set a franchise record away win streak and have looked too hot to handle for anyone in the East.  However, despite all that, they come up against a Red Wings side that have the season series edge and who have looked very good in the closing stretch.  Gustav Nyquist has been a revelation since the beginning of the calendar year and leads the Wings with 28 goals.  In skilled veterans like Daniel Alfredsson and Pavel Datsyuk the Red Wings are a dangerous first round opponent.  Last year the Red Wings came the closest to beating the Chicago Blackhawks, they lead the series 3-1 before the Blackhawks came back to win out on their way to Stanley Cup success.  This is a tricky first round match up for Boston but they have too much depth to not be able to pass this stern test.

Verdict: Boston in 6

Tampa Bay Lightning v Montreal Canadiens 

Montreal Canadiens v Tampa Bay Lightning

Stamkos v Price will be a key element of the Montreal and Tampa Bay series.

Season Series: Tampa 3 Montreal 1

That Tampa lost Steven Stamkos for a large part of the season through a broken leg and they still comfortably made the playoffs is testament to how good Tampa have been.  Tucked away in Florida they can go unnoticed compared to bigger market teams, but they have had a phenomenal season.  Martin St Louis, now of the New York Rangers, is a big part of why they are in the position they are in due to his outstanding goal scoring in the absence of Stamkos.  Goal tender Ben Bishop is also a huge reason behind their great season with a save percentage of .924.  He left Tampa’s game with Toronto last week with an elbow injury and is a doubt to be ready in time.  The Lightning will look to Stamkos to provide enough goals to help them overcome the Montreal challenge.

Montreal have reached the 100 point mark for just the second time since they won the Stanley Cup in 1993.  They are also the sole Canadian representative in this year’s playoffs.  In Carey Price they may have the best goaltender in the game.  In PK Subban they have an enigmatic defence man.  Max Pacioretty is having a career year with 39 goals in the regular season.  David Desharnais endured a torrid start to the year, even the mayor of Montreal tweeted for him to be traded, but has finished the year in top form.  The acquisition of Thomas Vanek from Buffalo at the trade deadline has also given Montreal a further attacking edge.  Add in Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk and there is a depth of talent in the Montreal side.

Verdict: Montreal in 6

Pittsburgh Penguins v Columbus Blue Jackets

Pittsburgh Penguins v Columbus Blue Jackets.

Pittsburgh swept the season series between themselves and Columbus 5-0.

Season Series: Pittsburgh 5 Columbus 0

Columbus have edged out some more favoured teams, Washington Capitals, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators who were all playoff teams last year to earn themselves a wild card sport.  Columbus narrowly missed out last year on a playoff spot in the Western Conference so it is not that surprising that they would make it in the weaker East.  They are unfortunate that they will come up against one of the elite teams in the NHL in the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team who has swept the season series, a five game series at that.  They have set a franchise record for wins (43) road wins (21) and goals (231)

Pittsburgh have arguably the best player in the game in Sidney Crosby.  Evgeni Malkin is another Penguin who is among the world’s best.  Kris Letang has returned to the line up after a 10 week absence due to a stroke.  The Pens have had their injuries throughout the season but appear to be getting healthy at the right time.

The Blue Jackets may have the edge in goaltending.  Sergei Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy last year and has maintained a high standard this year.  Marc Andre Fleury of the Pens had a terrible playoffs last season and has struggled down the stretch allowing 15 goals on 157 shots.  If there is an area where the Blue Jackets have the edge then this is it.  Bobrovsky may win them a game or two but it is a tall order to keep out the Penguins offence in a seven game series.

Verdict: Pittsburgh in 5

New York Rangers v Philadelphia Flyers

Philadelphia Flyers v New York Rangers.

Flyers and Rangers is arguably the toughest to call.

Season Series: New York 2 Philadelphia 2

This may be the most difficult match up to call.  Claude Giroux has been in flying form for the Flyers, pardon the pun, but the Rangers are always able to grind out one playoff round.  The Flyers had a poor start to the season but have turned it around to get in the 3rd spot in the Metropolitan Division.  The Rangers have the reliable Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes who is capable of stealing some games for New York.  They will hope that Martin St Louis can replicate his goal scoring form from Tampa in the playoffs.  Both sides have a physical edge to them, Flyers lead the league in penalty minutes, so discipline, power play and penalty kill could be hugely important in this series.

This is the series that is most likely to go all the way.  The season series is tied and it is perfectly poised to be a marathon match up

Verdict: Philadelphia in 7


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