Thursday, May 2, 2013

Eastern Conference Playoff Predictions

Sid the Kid's health could be the key for a return to the Stanley Cup finals.

I've given you the separate Rangers-Caps prediction, now for the rest of the Eastern Confernce first round series.

Pittsburgh Penguins-New York Islanders

Evgeni Malkin returned to the Pens' lineup for Game 1 after missing 17 games, four recently, due to an upper body injury. Sidney Crosby missed the last month of the season after a puck broke his jaw, ironically against the Islanders. Word is that he's close to returning. Kris Letang returned from injury as well and the Pens hope Jarome Iginla still has some spark.

The Islanders made the playoffs and could have finished as high as 5th or 6th in the Eastern Conference before losing ground the last week of the season. The Isles went from being awful this year to playing well and blowing games in the 3rd period to playing solid.

John Tavares has been a scoring machine and 37-year old goalie Evgeni Nabakov was tremendous down the stretch. Despite being blown out in Game 1 (5-0), the Isles are in this series for the distance.

Prediction: Penguins in 7

Montreal Canadiens vs. Ottawa Senators

Le Habs held on for dear life to win the Northeast Division. Play came down to the last day - had Boston beaten Ottawa they would have won the division and the Canadiens would have been the #4 seed. Instead the Canadiens have the #2 seed and home ice in the series.

Montreal's offense is paced by Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban, who had 19 assists and 26 points with the man advantage. The Canadiens will have to rely heavily on Carey Price, who hasn't been as consistent as last year.

Ottawa is a big, physical team that got a big boost with the return of Erik Karlsson in the last week of the season. But they took a big blow when Jason Spezza needed back surgery after just five games this season.

Goalie Craig Anderson missed a chunk of time, but in 24 games he saved 94% of shots faced and has a miniscule 1.69 goals against average.

Prediction: Canadiens in 6

Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

The Bruins are just two years removed from the Stanley Cup championship, but now they rely on Tuukka Rask in goal instead of Tim Thomas. A .929 save percentage and  a 2.00 GAA proved he could do the job in the regular season. This will be the first time in four years that Rask will see significant playing time in the playoffs.

The Bruins were led in offense by Brad Marchand's 36 points, but it is their stingy defense that stands out. With Zdeno Chara bolstering the blue line, the Maple Leafs will have a tough time getting the puck in the net.

Toronto is one of the all-time great hockey towns and you can bet the city will be going crazy after the Leafs made the playoffs for the first time in nine years. It took Phil Kessell 11 games before he scored his first goal, but he finished with 20 and a team high 52 points. (21 on the power play)

The emergence of center Nazem Kadri (44 points) helped the Leafs to not only earned a playoff spot, but get the #5 seed. Goalie James Reimer had better numbers than Rask (2.46 GAA, .924 Save Pct), but needless to say he has no playoff experience.

Prediction: Bruins in 5. Rask is the better goalie and the Bruins' defensive style will win out.

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