NHL Playoffs Eastern Conferences First Round Predictions

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(1)New York Rangers vs. (8)Ottawa Senators. New York Rangers win in six games.

Although I like the Ottawa Senators attack and team-speed throughout their lineup, I think the Rangers are deeper at every position, more physical, and better defensively. It’s not like the Senators have no chance here, but I have to go with the more complete team in this one.

(2)Boston Bruins vs. (7)Washington Capitals. Boston Bruins win in six games.

Getting Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom back has been huge for the Capitals, and some of their other players look better to me now than they did earlier in the year, like Roman Hamrlik. Meanwhile, the Boston Bruins are not quite the same team as they were last season. Losing Michael Ryder and Mark Recchi last offseason, combined with Nathan Horton’s injury this season, has basically put them down an entire top-six forward line compared to last season, which is a huge loss. Tim Thomas also doesn’t look quite the same.

Still, I see the Capitals as a shell of a team. They may be playing better, but they have been terrible for most the year, playing uninspired hockey no matter who their coach-du-jour is. It feels like Alex Ovechkin is alone on an island out there sometimes. Getting Green and Backstrom back from injury, and Hamrlik back from playing below his capabilities, just means Ovechkin will have a bit more company on that island, but not enough to beat the Bruins. The Bruins are still deeper, better defensively, more physical, and just much better organized and coached. Tim Thomas will probably raise his game, too, at least at home.

(3)New Jersey Devils vs. (6)Florida Panthers. New Jersey Devils in six games.

I think people are underestimating the Panthers. They may not have a lot of star power, but their entire team can skate, similar to Ottawa, and their defense is much more talented than the Devils’. Brian Campbell, Jason Garrison, and Dimitry Kulikov give the Panthers a huge advantage over the Devils’ top-three defensemen.

However, the Devils are playing very well under Pete Deboer right now, where the Panthers sputtered into the playoffs, and I’m going to take the Devils superior forward depth to beat the Panthers superior defense core in six games. Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, Patrick Elias, Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique, David Clarkson, Petr Sykora, and Dainus Zubrus should prove too much for the Panthers in the end.

(4)Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5)Philadelphia Flyers. Pittsburgh Penguins win in six games.

I’m not sure this series will be as close as people think. I believe that when the Penguins got Crosby back, they let all the star power on their roster get to their heads. It seemed to give them a false sense of security where they got away from playing the smart, structured game that had defined their excellence the whole time Crosby was out. The result was some blowout wins, but also a few more blowout losses, and losses period, than they would have liked.

If Pittsburgh keeps playing sloppy hockey, like they’re indestructible, then it’s anyone’s game. But I think they’ve learned their lesson, and so long as they get back to playing “Penguins hockey,” they are the more talented team than the Flyers, they have a much better defense than the Flyers, their goaltender is better than the Flyers’, and they’re even better coached than the Flyers in their systems play.

Make no mistake, the Penguins at their best are a better hockey club than the Flyers at their best. Maybe the Penguins haven’t been at their best the last few weeks, but if you can’t trust Crosby, Malkin, Letang, and Bylsma to figure it out in the playoffs, who can you trust?

ME, THAS WHO! (If you’re not following, that’s a movie reference). In all seriousness, the Penguins are the better team top to bottom than the Flyers, and you have to trust that will prevail in the end to decide the series in the Penguins favor.