*Eastern Conference playoff series update as of April 18, 2014 - Detroit leads Boston, 1 game to 0. Pittsburgh leads Columbus, 1-0. New York Rangers lead Philadelphia, 1-0. Montreal leads Tampa Bay, 2-0.
The 2013-14 NHL regular season concluded on Sunday, April 13, 2014. The Boston Bruins just finished a dominant season, capturing the Presidents trophy. The Pittsburgh Penguins finished second in the conference. By virtue of the new NHL playoff format, in the first round, Boston will play the lowest seeded wildcard team, while Pittsburgh will face the wilcard team which finished in the number 7 spot overall. The numbers 2 and 3 seeded division teams will face each other.
Here is a look at the playoff matchups:
1) Boston Bruins vs (8) Detroit Red Wings - For the 23rd straight season, the Red Wings have qualified for postseason play. Last season, they qualified at the last minute, and then upset the number two seeded Anaheim Ducks. In round two, Detroit held a 3 games to 1 lead over the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, before losing in OT of Game 7. The Bruins meanwhile, represented the Eastern conference in the Stanley Cup final for the second time in three seasons. Boston has been the most complete team in the NHL this season, and goalie Tuuka Rask may win the Vezina. The Red Wings fought through much injury and adversity to make it to the postseason, and will now need all the grit and determination in the world in order to hang with the mighty Bruins. This 1 vs 8 matchup will not be quite as easy as it might look on paper. Prediction: Bruins win in 6.
2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs (7) Columbus Blue Jackets - The Penguins roster talent is far superior to that of Columbus. Were hockey not the consummate team sport that it is, this series would not be worth watching. Since hockey is the consummate team sport, there are several reasons why this series will be worth watching. A wide edge in goaltending, has to go to Columbus. Sergei Bobrovsky is the reigning Vezina trophy winner, and is still in top form. Marc-Andre Fleury on the other hand, has been anything but reliable. Fleury seems to lose focus from time to time, and is capable of brilliant play mixed with unfathomably bad moments. Pittsburgh as a team sometimes loses focus as well. If the Pens try to play too physical, it will work in the Jackets' favor. This has been a rather trendy upset pick by many media pundits as well. It is going to be quite a rollercoaster ride of a series, but the overall strength of the Pens is undeniable. Prediction: Penguins win in 7
Division playoff matchups:
New York Rangers vs Philadelphia Flyers - This is a classic rivalry, and a great matchup. Both teams got off to a rough start this season, but played themselves into the playoffs in the second half. The Flyers' top two lines may have an edge over the Rangers' top two lines, though Brad Richards, Martin St Louis, and Rick Nash are extremely talented. On the blueline, Kimmo Timonen provides a steady calm for Philly, but overall it is about even. The big edge has to be in goal, where Henrik Lundqvist has a huge edge over either Steve Mason (currently nursing an injury) or Ray Emery. All that said, the Flyers have been playing extremely well. They will need to get over their past Madison Square Garden misfortunes, and take full advantage of any lapses in the Rangers' play. Philly must maintain a relentless forecheck in order to be successful. This should be a good tough series. Prediction: Flyers in 6
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Montreal Canadiens - Two teams capable of playing great hockey, though they are somewhat flawed. With Ben Bishop having been injury in the final few games of the regular season, the edge in goal would have to go to Carey Price, and Montreal. As far as forwards, Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan (who is a UFA at season's end) give the edge to Tampa Bay. On defense, P.K. Subban is the best not only his team, but on both teams. Also worthy of note, Ryan Malone's recent arrest for partying like it's 1985 (driving while intoxicated, and in possession of cocaine), may prove detrimental to Tampa Bay's chances. In the end, the offensive pressure of Tampa Bay should be enough to eventually break down the Canadiens' defense. Prediction: Tampa Bay in 7