NHL Playoff Preview: Eastern Conference

It’s that time of year again, time for Playoff hockey! This year’s first round features some lopsided matches, rematches of previous years, and a couple teams that haven’t seen the light of playoff hockey in quiet some time. Without further delay, let’s preview the first round matchups in the Eastern conference!

Tampa Bay Lightning (62-16-4) vs Columbus Blue Jackets (47-31-4)

The Columbus Blue Jackets mortgaged some of the future to load up for the playoffs with much uncertainty about the future of Panarin and Bobrovsky, and they still barely squeezed into the final playoff spot in the east. Ever since they acquired Duchene and Dzingel around the trade deadline, it’s looked as if the chemistry of this team has been a little off.

And even though in the end they made the playoffs, their first round matchup doesn’t look very favourable at all. The Lightning are coming off a mind boggling 62 win season and look as if there are no clear weaknesses on their roster.

The Blue Jackets are a deep team, and they will defiantly fight for 60 minutes every game against the Lightning, but with the chemistry of the team looking so off the past month or so, I can’t see it turning around quick enough to be fixed by game 1.

The Lightning are too deep, with too much talent in all 4 forward lines. They have as strong as a top 6 defence group as they come, and 1 of the only goalies in the league you could say is better than Bobrovsky. The Blue Jackets might be able to make the lightning sweat a little, but thats about all.

Winner: Tampa Bay in 5

Boston Bruins (49-24-9) vs Toronto Maple Leafs (46-28-8)

This is, on paper, the closest series in the east. This rematch of last years 7 game series win by Boston won’t have much surprise in the way these teams stack up. The Maple Leafs are an elite offensive team that are much deeper at the forward position than the Bruins. Boston however, uses their size to slow down the Leafs, and can defend much better then Toronto.

This series will likely come down to if the Maple Leafs let the Bruins bully them or not. Game 7 last year was a bad third period and not-so-great goaltending that led to the bruins winning that game. If we look at last year’s series as a whole, the leafs weren’t rattled by the Bruins physical play in games three, five and six, and those were the games they ended up winning.

The Bruins have a similar team to what they had last year. The Leafs have added Tavares and Jake Muzzin, plus a much more dominant Mitch Marner.

Andersen will undoubtably have to be one of the best plays on the ice every game for the Maple Leafs to win this series. I won’t lie, this might be a bit of a bias statement, but I do believe the Maple Leafs have learned a lot from last years first round exit to Boston, and they stack up much better against them this year than they did last year.

Winner: Toronto in 6

Washignton Capitals (48-26-8) vs Carolina Hurricanes (46-29-7)

I’m going to take some heat for this one, but each year I like to take a big underdog to upset in the first round, and the Hurricanes are my pick this year.

The Capitals are a very solid team, but last year they have a huge drive to finally get over the hump and win the Stanley Cup, and they did. They will have a drive to repeat this year, but it might not be as strong as the one they had last year.

I personally think the Capitals are focused on finding ways to beat the Penguins and Lightning again this year, and might take the Hurricanes for granted just a little bit.

The Hurricanes are coming in hot, having played a great last couple months of the seasons to get into the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade. They have an extremely solid defensive group, and a surprisingly well-rounded group of forwards.

Ferlund is one of the players in the east that can go toe-to-toe with Tom Wilson. And if Aho can lit the lamp for the Huricanes, they might just ride the way of energy they have from finally giving their fans a playoff series right into the second round.

It will go the distance, but if there is going to be 1 massive upset in the first round, this would be my pick.

Winner: Carolina in 7

Pittsburgh Penguins (44-26-12) vs New York Islanders (48-27-7)

The Islanders surprised the hockey world and have made the playoffs after loosing John Tavares for nothing in the off-season. Not only did they make the playoffs, but they have secured home ice-advantage over the always dangerous Pittsburgh Penguins.

A big part of that is credited to new head coach Barry Trotz, who has implemented a very strong defensive system into the Islanders. Not to mention Robin Lehner having a career year in-between the pipes.

However, a lot of Islanders players have little to no playoff experience, including their young superstar Matthew Barzal. The Penguins on the other hand have loads of playoff experience, and even though their regular season was little disappointing by their standards, it’s hard to count them out as contenders in the post season.

The Islanders will have trouble out-scoring the high flying Penguins, and unless they can completely shut them down defensively, the experience of the Penguins will be a huge factor in the end result of this series.

Winner: Penguins in 6

Will all my predictions be correct? Highly unlikely, but I can hope for some! All-in-all, it’s a first round filled with interesting storylines, and I don’t see any sweeps happening in the east, which is always a good thing if you like close, heart pounding hockey. The first round matchups should provide some great entertainment, but honestly, when do they not?

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