By Mike Laybourne
The NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs are just around the corner, so here’s our preview of the Eastern Conference’s quarter final games along with some storylines to look out for, as well as our predictions! Think you can you can do better? Join our Bracket Challenge, assuming the website works. Face-off times for the opening games are below and games can be seen wherever hockey is usually seen. TVs, bars, actual arenas. You choose.
Montreal Canadiens vs New York Rangers
First in the competition for which team will eventually get knocked out by Pittsburgh is an original six rivalry. As discussed in episode 126; the Habs have bolstered their roster with slower, older guys. It’s a bold strategy, but when you’re backstopped by the robotic Carey Price you can put out an offensive line of retired beer-leaguers and still win a game. A strategy I believe Colorado are considering next season. Anyway, it took the Habs longer than it should have done to clinch their playoff spot and that might be a big hint as to how long they team will be in the playoffs. The team has strength across all positions and newbie Shea Weber has proven himself invaluable.
Spare a thought for Henrik Lundqvist. Not only is 2004’s Best Dressed man in Sweden going to miss the Olympics, but his Rangers have a good chance of falling short in round one. The Habs and Rangers have met many times over the years, but the Rangers have been the stronger playoff team recently. Alain Vigneault’s team has been alright during the regular season; Mats Zuccarello led the team in points, and strong contributions from the whole roster demonstrated good depth. The Jimmy Vesey Experience is playing in his first NHL playoffs, so that’ll be fun to watch in what will probably be a tight series.
Prediction: Montreal Canadiens win the series in six games.
Puck drops on Wednesday April 12th at 19:00 ET.
Ottawa Senators vs Boston Bruins
2017 marks the first time that the Sens and Bruins will have met in the playoffs and while Ottawa will be aiming to lift their first Stanley Cup, the challenge may be insurmountable. The Sens have been criticised as being one-dimensional with the majority of their points coming from too few players to be competitive. Remarkably Ottawa are 4/0/0 against the Bruins in the regular season and despite finishing ahead in the points, the Sens are behind the Bruins in pretty much every on-ice statistic. There’s a huge amount of pressure on Mike Hoffman, Kyle Turris and Mark Stone to defeat one the NHL’s stronger defenses. On the Blueline; Erik Karlsson and friends will have a serious challenge holding off the free-scoring Brad Marchand and his various… tactics.
Boston fans had a bit of an ordeal waiting for the team to seal their playoff place, but after a dominant surge toward the end of the season the Bruins nailed it, edging out Toronto for the third spot in the Atlantic. Stronger in every way; the Bruins are favourites going into this series. Boston has great roster depth, especially with the forwards so goals can come from anywhere. The bluelines are fairly evenly matched. Torey Krug has been Boston’s standout D-men, while Zdeno Chara has struggled a little to meet his usual points totals (for comparable seasons). Tuukka Rask has been reliable between the posts but hasn’t shone particularly brightly.
Prediction: Boston Bruins win the series in six games.
Puck drops on Wednesday April 12th at 19:00 ET.
Washington Capitals vs Toronto Maple Leafs
118 points. Presidents’ Trophy winner again. Best team in the league. The Washington Capitals have been dominant all season. The powerhouse trio of Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Ovechkin and Braden Holtby have driven the team forward and never shown signs of stopping. Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie combined for 66 goals and will definitely trouble the Maple Leafs’ blueline. Holtby has the second best save percentage and Goals Against Average in the league (more than 50 games). The Caps and Leafs have never met in the playoffs before, and this season will be the best chance Washington has to capture that elusive Stanley Cup. It’s the Caps’ world. The rest are just living in it.
The Maple Leafs gave their fans several twitchy moments in the last few games, especially when Boston and Tampa Bay gave a late surge. But youthful energy persevered, and with Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitchell Marner firing on all cylinders the team sealed themselves a playoff place. How the trio perform on the world’s biggest stage (don’t mention the Olympics) will be a lot of fun to watch, but whether or not the team can defeat Carl’s Caps remains to be seen.
Prediction: Washington Capitals win the series in five games.
Puck drops on Thursday April 13th at 19:00 ET.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Columbus Blue Jackets
The current Stanley Cup champions have some work to do if they want to defend their title (and who wouldn’t?), but not so much in the first round. Superstar manicurist Sidney Crosby has been awesome all season, as have Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. The Pens are my tip to win the whole competition and the first round shouldn’t put up much resistance. Pittsburgh have met the Blue Jackets just once in the playoffs, in 2014 and the Pens won the series in six games. I don’t think it’ll take that many this time. As for which goalie will get the nod remains to be seen, it’s possible that Marc-andre Fleury and Matt Murray will share duties.
John Tortorella’s Columbus Blue Jackets have played surprisingly well for a team that’s failed to make the playoffs in 13 of its previous 15 attempts. The whole two playoff games that the team has won came against Pittsburgh. So that’s something. Respect where it’s due though, the Jackets finished the season with a franchise record 108 points and 249 goals for. Cam Atkinson has carried the team offensively and has done wonders for #HiSticking, but the Blue Jackets squad feels like it’s lacking depth. I worry that after all the hard work that’s been put into the team, they’ll be heading for the exit shortly.
Prediction: Pittsburgh Penguins win the series in four games.
Puck drops on Wednesday April 12th at 19:30 ET.