Earlier we looked at the Western Conference first round match-ups. Now we're bringing the beloved (and better) Eastern Conference all up in your face. Here we go:
(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs (8) New York Islanders
Poor, poor New York Islanders. It's the first time they've made the playoffs since 2007, where they lost to Buffalo in 5 games in the first round. Now, 6 years later, they get to play one of the best NHL rosters put together, potentially in the history of the NHL. Yeah, that's a pretty big statement but you're looking at a roster with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla (sadface) and Brenden Morrow - and that list only contains three players who started the season with a C on their jersey.
Pittsburgh is a disgusting team. They finished the year first in the NHL in goals per game, scoring 3.38 goals per game. They also finished the year second in the NHL on the power play, converting 24.7% of all of their power plays. They are an offensive machine. Look at their goal scorers:
Chris Kunitz: 22
James Neal: 21 (in 40 games)
Pascal Dupuis: 20
Sidney Crosby: 15 (in 36 games; and has 41 assists)
Jarome Iginla: 14
And yet they don't have a large amount of guys who have played 48 games. The team was littered with injuries and still dominated the Eastern Conference in the second half of the season. When Evgeni Malkin has 9 goals, but the team led the NHL with 162 goals scored this season - it's a telling sign about depth.
Ah, depth. It's a funny thing how things shake out at the end of the season. Heading into the end of March, depth was an issue with Pittsburgh. Suddenly, Ray Shero does Ray Shero things and brings in Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray and Jussi Jokinen and depth is no longer a problem.
I guess you can make a case for the Penguins defense being an issue, but even then they're 12th in the NHL is GA/G (2.48) and have missed their best shutdown defenseman in Paul Martin for most of the season.
If you want to search for a problem, you could look at Marc-Andrew Fleury, who posted a 2.39 GAA and a SV% of .916 - but even then you're talking about respectable stats. If he had Tuukka Rask like stats, this team may not have lost a game all season (kidding, maybe).
Oh yeah, there's also the Islanders in this match-up, but not for long.
Prediction: Penguins in 4
After the jump...the rest of the Eastern Conference...
(2) Montreal Canadiens vs (7) Ottawa Senators
I wish I could pick nobody for this series because both teams piss me off. The Canadiens are the Canadiens. I don't think I need to tell you why I detest the Canadien fan. Those Senators fans, though, are just as bad. Jesus Christ - stop with this Erik Karlsson is the best bullshit. He's not even a defenseman! He's a forward stuck in the D position. But I digress, let's get into this preview.
Montreal is a weird team. They were playing so well and then they clinched the playoffs on April 11th and went 3-5 and looked bad in the process, giving up a large amount of goals to Philadelphia (7-3 loss), Pittsburgh (6-4 loss) and Washington (5-1 loss), but finished the season with two wins. They finished the season with one of the best offenses in the league (4th, 3.04 G/G) and a top five power play (5th, 20.7%).
Defense? The Canadiens are 14th in the NHL in GA/G (2.58) and their penalty kill comes in at 23rd overall (79.8%).
Ottawa is the complete opposite. They're a defensive minded team built around their goaltending and defense. Offensively they're terrible. They're ranked 27th overall in G/G (2.33) and their power play is abysmal at 15/9% success. With all of that said - they rank second in GA/G (2.07) and have the best penalty kill in the NHL at 88% success.
It's a tale of two completely opposite teams. However, defense wins championships.
Actually, that's a lie. Goaltending wins championships (see: Tim Thomas, Jonathan Quick) and Craig Anderson is better than Carey Price. I don't think there's any debate about this. Anderson is tops in the NHL in GAA (1.96) and SV% (.941) while Price is ranked 42nd in GAA (2.59) and 50th in SV% (.905). If it comes down to a goalie duel, I have to put my money on Anderson.
And I am.
Prediction: Senators in 7
(3) Washington Capitals vs (6) New York Rangers
The Washington Capitals are the hottest team in the NHL right now. In April, they went 11-1-1. They have one of the best offenses in the game right now (5th, 3.04 G/G) and the best power play in the NHL (26.8%). While they aren't as loaded as Pittsburgh - Alex Ovechkin finally woke the fuck up this season and is playing like a franchise player.
God, I hate writing good things about the Washingto Capitals.
I really do.
But I think they'll beat the Rangers. A lot of people picked the Rangers to win the Stanley Cup at the beginning of the season because they saw Rick Nash on the roster and cummed themselves. Well the Rangers added Nash at the expense of losing key role players (who almost got Columbus into the playoffs) and then at the deadline traded for Ryane Clowe and got rid of Marion Gaborik.
They are kind of a cluster fuck at the moment.
With that said - Pierre McGuire's dreamboat Braden Holtby has been fucking terrible against the Rangers. He's 1-2-0 against the Rangers this season with a 2.69 GAA and a SV% of .923.
I would love to see Holtby fail. .
But he won't in round 1.
Prediction: Capitals in 7
(4) Boston Bruins vs (5) Toronto Maple Leafs
Speed kills the Boston Bruins.
Look, I don't need to go into my Bruins fandom preamble and I'm not going to. I'm going to remain realistic here. These Boston Bruins are not your 2010-2011 Boston Bruins that won a Stanley Cup Championship. Stop comparing how they ended the season to how the cup team ended the season. Stop comparing the rosters.
Just stop it.
This Bruins team hasn't shown that they can play a complete game and that's what winning in the playoffs takes. They haven't finished a game since they dominated Philadelphia in Boston obn March 9 where they won 3-0. Since then, they've given up multiple two and three goal leads, pissed away third period leads and have generally looked like dogshit.
Can anyone tell me differently?
When the seeding was still was for grabs, I wanted nothing to do with the Toronto Maple Leafs. This is the first time they've made the playoffs since 2004 and the energy of the city is going to be behind them. Offensively, Toronto is 6th in the NHL in G/G (3.02) and their power play ranks 14th at 18.7% success. While their power play doesn't light the world on fire, Boston is known to get baited into penalties. Go watch the last Pittsburgh game, Jussi Jokinen baited Brad Marchand into about 100 penalties.
I just don't think this team has the drive they once had. I think they're tired, they're resting on their laurels and it's almost impossible to "flip the switch". This is a team that finished April 6-6-2 and it's because Tuukka Rask is putting up Vezina-like numbers this season.
Remind yourselves that this isn't a Toronto team of the past. These guys can fight (led the NHL in fights). These guys can hit (lead the NHL in recorded hits). They can play with the Bruins.
I'm sorry Boston, but I just can't see it happening this year. I hope I'm wrong.
Prediction: Leafs in 6