Pittsburgh Penguins (#1) VS New York Islanders (#4)
This is yet another prime example of an offence-first team battling it out against a defence-first team.
The Penguins averaged 3.45 goals a game this season, which was second in the entire NHL. That potent offence is led by non-other than Sidney Crosby, who had a tremendous season at 33 years of age. Along with Malkin and the rest of the Penguins offence, they will be a tough group for any team to try to slow down.
However, if any team can, it might as well be the Islanders. They averaged only 2.23 goals against per game this season, which was second-best in that category for the entire league. They also ranked 6th in penalty kill percentage, clicking at 84% during the regular season.
A dangerous offence versus exceptional defence, one has to break for this series to claim a victor. In these situations, not always, but often the offensive team comes out on top.
If the Islanders get stuck in a low-scoring game, that plays into their strength. However, if it’s a game where the Penguins can strike quickly and get a goal or two in the first period, it’s tough for a team like the Islanders, who averaged 2.71 goals a game, to fight their way back. On the other side, all it takes is one mistake by the Islanders, and the Penguins have the skill to capitalize.
If the Penguins can grab some early leads in this series, it might not be an enjoyable one for the Islanders. Expect a close, tight-checking series from these two teams, but the team with more goals wins. Plus, never doubt Sidney Crosby.
Prediction: Penguins in six
Washington Capitals (#2) VS Boston Bruins (#3)
Wow, this must be awkward for Zdeno Chara. After spending 14 seasons with the Bruins, he now enters a series trying to get under the skin of Brad Marchand, instead of being one of his bodyguards.
This series has a chance to be the most physical of all of the matchups in the first round. Two teams with loads of playoff experience won’t be shy to throw hits back and forth to gain momentum.
The Capitals have battled injuries to some key players as of late, including Ovechkin, Carlson, and Oshie. The likelihood of each of them being 100% for game one is likely, and the Bruins will be well prepared to make it a physicality nightmare when those players are on the ice.
The Bruins look so much deeper with the acquisition of Taylor Hall, and he has been excellent so far with his new team. It’s going to be critical for Boston not to be depending on all their offence coming from just the top line.
Boston will also have Tuukka Rask in the net, who has 92 career playoff games under his belt. In comparison, the Capitals played most of their games with either Ilya Samsonov or Vitek Vanecek in the net. Neither of them has a single game of playoff experience in the NHL.
Despite that, the Capitals have battled all season long, and they seem poised once again to make a deep playoff run. The Capitals have won a Stanley Cup with this current core; the Bruins haven’t, despite coming very close.
Washington versus Boston might be the closest series in the first round and seems destined to go seven games. Seven long, physical, exciting games of hockey. Maybe even a game seven overtime?
Prediction: Capitals in seven