First Round Predictions for the Eastern Conference

Check out my Western Conference predictions here.

The Eastern Conference has been wide open this season, with as many as 11 teams in the hunt for a playoff berth up until the last five or six games of the regular season.  After nearly upsetting the Bruins in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals last year, the Toronto Maple Leafs failed to qualify for the postseason, representing the biggest disappointment in the East.  Ottawa, a team on rise after acquiring Bobby Ryan in the summer, also failed to extend their season, leaving Canada with just one team in the postseason.  Due to the history (five of the Original Six teams) in the Eastern Conference, the matchups are a little more interesting, albeit with less overall talent.  So here’s what the first round looks like in my eyes.

Eastern Conference

(#1) Boston Bruins vs. (WC #2) Detroit Red Wings: Bruins in 6

Eastern Conference Playoffs Patrice Bergeron
Can Patrice Bergeron shutdown Pavel Datsyuk and silence the Red Wings?(Michael Ivins-US PRESSWIRE)

The Bruins took home the President’s Trophy this year, finishing with an NHL best 117 points in the regular season.  Detroit battled injuries all season and had to settle for the second wild card spot in the East.  Based on the regular season, the Bruins should win this series with relative ease.  However, the Red Wings are an experienced team that plays strong at both ends of the ice, possessing elite team speed.  In addition to struggling against the Red Wings in recent years, the Bruins have struggled to combat fast teams.  Beyond that, the Bruins have the edge in this series.  Boston has superior depth, due in part to the lingering injuries of the Red Wings, and the Bruins have been playing their best hockey as of late.  Detroit will put up a fight, but the Bruins will prove to be more than the Red Wings can handle.

(#1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (WC #1) Columbus Blue Jackets: Penguins in 5

Eastern Conference Playoffs Sidney Crosby Evgeni Malkin
Will Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin carry the Penguins by Sergei Bobrovsky and the Blue Jackets? (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Last year, the Penguins were heavy favorites in the first round but were nearly upset by the lowly New York Islanders.  This time around, they won’t overlook their opponent, and that’s good, because the Blue Jackets are a surprisingly strong team, despite their short playoff resume.  In Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus boasts an elite goaltender, giving them a sizable advantage on paper.  Defensively, both teams leave a bit to be desired, but that plays into Pittsburgh’s hand, possessing what is arguably the strongest offensive attack in the NHL.  If Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin remain healthy, Columbus’ will need Bobrovsky to steal not only a game, but the entire series.  Even for last year’s Vezina Trophy winner, that’s asking an awful lot.

(#2) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (#3) Montreal Canadiens: Lightning in 7

Eastern Conference Playoffs Ben Bishop
Will the Lightning be able to overcome the loss of Ben Bishop? (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Tampa Bay was able to secure the second seed in the Atlantic Division, despite being without Steven Stamkos for a few months in the middle of the season.  Feeling that overcoming that challenge wasn’t impressive enough, GM Steve Yzerman traded the team’s captain Martin St. Louis at the Trade Deadline for Rangers captain Ryan Callahan.  For Montreal, they were a streaky team this year, really coming into their own down the stretch after acquiring Tomas Vanek from the New York Islanders at the Trade Deadline.  Tampa Bay’s offense will present Montreal with a number of matchup problems, but unfortunately, the Lightning do not have a strong defensive core to balance out their game.  If Montreal’s offense gets going, this could be a short series.  Factor in that Ben Bishop’s health is a question mark going into the series, and Tampa has their work cut out for them.  In the end, Steven Stamkos wills Tampa Bay into the second round.

(#2) New York Rangers vs. (#3) Philadelphia Flyers: Flyers in 7

Eastern Conference Playoffs Claude Giroux
Can Claude Giroux help lead the Flyers past Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers? (Photo by Andy Martin Jr)

The New York Rangers will look to make up for their pitiful performance in last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals this year, having earned home ice advantage for their matchup with the Philadelphia Flyers.  The Flyers will look to prove that their poor start to the regular season was an anomaly, upsetting the Rangers and earning a spot in hockey’s Elite Eight.  For the Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist will need to re-establish himself as an elite playoff goalie, after being hung out to dry last spring.  A stellar performance from Lundqvist could carry the Rangers into the second round, even if the team suffers from a subpar showing.  The Flyers, on the other hand, will look to wear the Rangers down with their forward depth and rely heavily on their ability to score goals.  Their defense is still not a strength and for yet another playoff run, the goalie situation in Philadelphia is questionable.  Neither of these teams are a runaway favorite, but the Flyers scoring depth will be too much for the Rangers to contain.

Check out my Western Conference predictions here.

Let me know what you think of these predictions in the comments or on twitter @kirkvance, and be sure to check back for more predictions and updates as the playoffs move forward.