Breaking News:

Keep up with So Much Sports on Twitter @SoMuchSports

Round 1 Eastern Conference Preview

By: John Galletley

With arguably the greatest postseason in sports upon us, one article just isn’t enough to preview all of the matchups. Focusing on the Eastern Conference, it has in the past few years been looked at as the far inferior conference compared to the West. This year however, people seem to believe that the Eastern Conference has at least made up some ground since last year. Here’s a look at each first round matchup:

New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Penguins vs. rangers

The Rangers come into the playoffs as the league’s top team and President’s Trophy winners. They’re also in a strange role reversal from this series last year. They’re the team with the most pressure to win the Stanley Cup right now. The Rangers have an all-in philosophy with their trade earlier in the season acquiring Keith Yandle but giving up their future in draft picks and John Moore. Last year, Rick Nash was a non-factor in the playoffs scoring just one goal in their entire run. This year, he has led them to the league’s top record but the question is can he keep this up in the playoffs?

The Rangers also have the benefit of two goalies they can rely on in Henrik Lundquist and Cam Talbot. They offer a balanced attack being ranked third in offense (3.02 goals per game) and third in defense (2.28 goals against per game respectively). Last year in the playoffs, it was the younger guys like Mats Zuccarello, Ryan McDonagh, Carl Hagelin, and Derick Brassard who led them on their run to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Rangers have a similar squad to last year playing well going into the playoffs but the team we expect to win the Cup almost never does so you have to question how much stock can be put in a President’s Trophy.

As for the Penguins, they couldn’t be playing worse going into the playoffs. They also find themselves being in a strange role reversal since they usually claim one of top seeds in the East every year. The Penguins are the last seed in the East and are lucky Boston had a worse slump than them to avoid a major collapse.

The name everyone thinks of for the Penguins is Sidney Crosby of course who had 84 points (28 goals, 56 assists) this season. One can make an argument that he single-handedly carried this team to the playoffs. Evgeni Malkin is usually his sidekick but he is on a 10-game goal drought going into the playoffs. The Penguins also have a reputation of being a soft team so their play in the regular season hasn’t transitioned well into the playoffs in years past. If the Penguins want to pull the upset over the Rangers this year, they’re going to have to rely on other players besides Crosby and be more prepared for physical play in the postseason. It doesn’t help that Kris Letang is out indefinitely with a concussion.

Prediction: The Rangers have too much depth for the Penguins to handle and the Penguins are simply playing bad hockey at the worst time. Rangers in 5.

Washington Capitals vs. New York Islanders

Caps vs. Islanders

The Islanders are the redemption team this year. After finishing 14th in the East last year, they bounced back with the fifth best record in the conference this year. It’s also a special year since this is the last year they will be playing in Nassau Coliseum so there is definitely extra motivation for the Islanders to make a deep run in the playoffs. They’re led by John Tavares who has quickly become one of the best players in the NHL and was second in points with 86. They have a young supporting cast for the long-term so it seems like this team won’t be going away anytime soon.

The Islanders have a high flying offense leading the league with 62.5 shot attempts per game and fourth in the NHL with 2.99 goals per game. Not a lot of players on the Islanders have playoff experience so the question is will their youth and energy be enough to carry them or will their inexperience hurt them?

The Capitals on the other hand have a lot of experience in the playoffs but very little success in them. They had a surprisingly good year thanks in large part to the monster season by Alexander Ovechkin who led the league in goals scored by 10 with 53 of his own. Nicklas Backstrom also had a great season of his own to compliment Ovechkin with 60 assists on the year. The Capitals also have the goalie edge with Braden Holtby starting a league leading 72 games on the year with a 2.22 goals-against average.

The Capitals issue will be keeping up with the fast-paced Islanders and if experience will help them get through a young and hungry team.

Prediction: Despite the great tandem the Capitals have and experience, my gut is telling me the Islanders are a more complete team that is ready to take a step up. Islanders in 6.

Montreal Canadiens vs. Ottawa Senators

Canadiens vs. Senators

Montreal is a team that is looking for another chance at glory after having a nice playoff run last year upsetting the top seeded Bruins but then getting embarrassed in the Conference Finals against the Rangers. The team is led by their goaltender Carey Price who will probably win Vezina Trophy and is a candidate for the Hart Trophy as well. Price led the league with a 1.96 goals-against average (in minimum amount of games) that carried the Canadiens to an Atlantic Division title.

Having Max Pacioretty up front as a great scorer always helps with his 37 goals and 30 assists in the regular season. Despite having him, the Canadiens are a team that struggle to score entering the playoffs with the lowest goals per game average at 2.61. Last time they played the Senators, they were a 2-seed that got upset in five games. The question is can they avoid repeating history?

The Senators are probably the biggest story going into the playoffs. They were always the team flirting with the bubble but give them credit, they played red hot in the last six weeks of the season considering they trailed the Bruins by 10 points on February 17.

Their goalie Andrew Hammond has carried this team on his back boasting a 20-1-2 record since he’s been called up from the minors. He has been on an absolute historical run and in 23 games has a 1.79 goals-against average. The Senators can’t just rely on Hammond to carry them in the playoffs though. They’re going to have to continue to get production from Erik Karlsson, their rookie Mark Stone and several other players if they want to pull off the upset.

Prediction: I’ve learned a lesson with the Kings in the past few years to never bet against a hot team with a hot goalie going into the playoffs. This is why I think the Senators are a dark horse to make a deep playoff run and they’ll start it here in this series. Senators in 7.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Detroit Red Wings

lightning vs. red wings

The Lightning are a young team that has a high-flying offense similar to the Islanders. They’re led by Steven Stamkos and rookie Tyler Johnson who each had 72 points on the season. The thing that makes the Lightning dangerous though is that’s not the only line that can score. Nikita Kucherov had 64 points and Ondrej Palat had 63 points for the Lightning this year that made them a reliable second line to go to.

There doesn’t seem to be a glaring weakness on this Lightning team besides that they’re young. The Lightning are looking to make some noise this year after getting swept out of the playoffs last year. The question is has this team grown up enough and developed the chemistry in the regular season to make a deep playoff run?

Detroit certainly had their scary moment at the end of the regular season falling into the playoff bubble and were very close to becoming a wild card team. Nonetheless, they survived and are here in this matchup. One advantage the Red Wings have is that they have a very good mix of veteran players and younger talent.

The Red Wings have now made it to the playoffs for 24 straight years a lot of the latter half have had Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk leading the way. Their past experience should help younger guys that may have jitters or not know how to handle the moment. Detroit also has younger talent behind them in Thomas Tatar who had 29 goals this season and Gustav Nyquist who had 27 goals. One issue the Red Wings will have to overcome is their goalie Jimmy Howard who did struggle in the regular season.

Prediction: Despite the Red Wings veteran leadership, it’s never a good sign to have question marks with your goalie going up against one of the best offenses in the NHL. Lightning in 7.

The following two tabs change content below.
Want to talk sports? John Galletley is the man to go to. He has been following sports of all kinds since he was a child but had a first love for baseball being in a family of Yankees fans. He also loves to travel and has used sports in order to do this including taking several road trips to MLB stadiums and other sports venues. John has always dreamed of working in the sports world and wants to make his way there as a writer in order to follow the philosophy of never working a day in your life if you love what you do.

Latest posts by John Galletley (see all)

Comments are closed.