The Stanley Cup Playoffs are upon us. There really is no equal in sports to the passion and intensity found in the NHL’s rite of spring. 16 teams start their arduous journey this Wednesday, culminating sometime in June with a team hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup above their heads.
Here are my predictions for the first round matchups in the Eastern Conference.
#1 New York Rangers vs. #8 Ottawa Senators
Rangers in 5. It’s hard to imagine that Craig Anderson can steal this series. The Senator’s modus operandi has been a opportunistic top-six and scrappy D. The Sens trot out high octane scorers in Spezza, Alfredsson, Michalek, as well as Erik Karlsson that the Rangers’ offense can’t compare with. However, their team defense is stout and their goaltending advantage is so great that they have to win this series, and it should come fairly easily.
#2 Boston Bruins vs. #7 Washington Capitals
Bruins in 6. After a trying year, the Capitals got hot at the right time, while finally getting stars Backstrom and Green back in the lineup to round out a dangerous team. The Bruins have lost three of four against the Caps this year, and Tim Thomas doesn’t look the same as last year. The Capitals have wilted under the pressure of being favorites the last few years, but as underdogs this year, they may play a little looser. In the end, the Bruins six 20 goal scorers and stellar defensive system will let them eke out a victory in a tight series.
#3 Florida Panthers vs. #6 New Jersey Devils
Devils in 5. The Devils are underdogs in name only. Although the Panthers won their first division title in history, they also allowed 24 more goals than they scored, and got 18 free points by losing in overtime or the shootout. The Devils had 102 points, same as the #2 seed Bruins, had a +19 goal differential, and were eighth in the league in goals allowed. The Panthers, making their first postseason in 11 years makes for a good story, but this ragtag bunch is just that. New Jersey should win this rather easily with their high-end offensive players and talented blue line.
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Penguins in 7. The Flyers have owned the Penguins of late. After a tumultuous offseason, the Flyers find themselves in the playoffs with their familiar offensive depth and improved goaltending. After a tumultuous season, the Penguins have finally recovered from extended injuries to Crosby, Staal, and Letang to become what may be the NHL’s best team. Both teams genuinely hate each other, and are equally deep up front and in back. Ilya Bryzgalov may flake again, like he did in last year’s playoffs, while Marc-Andre Fleury and Pittsburgh’s stars makes the difference in what should be the best first round series in either conference.
Mark Bruso can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.