Here we go! The NHL regular season is over, the detritus of the league has been cast aside, and now we get down to the playoff action. Sixteen teams are left in a quest for the Stanley Cup. I shall preview the Western Conference matchups later, but for now, here is a look at the first round matchups in the Eastern Conference.
Boston Bruins v. Detroit Red Wings: When the Wings got moved to the East from the West, I imagine the NHL was hoping for matchups like this. For the first time in a long time, the Bruins and Red Wings are meeting in the playoffs. Unfortunately, as a Detroit fan, I don't know if this matchup is going to last very long.
The Bruins were the best team in the league this season. They won the President's Trophy, and they had far and away the best goal differential. They were at plus-84, and nobody else was better than plus-57. That's a team that was clearly the top team. Meanwhile, the Wings are the only playoff team with a negative goal differential. However, and to be fair, they had a ton of injury issues. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, amongst others, missed large chunks of the year. Now, Datsyuk is healthy, and Zetterberg, and Jonathan Ericsson, may return for this first round series. This is a different Wings team.
That just means they won't get swept, though. The Bruins have the NHL's best goaltender, perhaps the league's best defenseman in Zdeno Chara AND the best defensive forward in Patrice Bergeron. Boston is deep, and they are hard to score on. Detroit has some promising young players that, in future seasons, could make some noise. It just won't happen this year. Bruins in five
Pittsburgh Penguins v. Columbus Blue Jackets: Speaking of teams from the West making the playoffs in the East, congrats to the Blue Jackets. They are back in the playoffs for the second time ever, and their reward is a matchup with the Penguins. Hey, maybe they will win a game this time.
That definitely seems possible. Pittsburgh was very good though, even with injuries to key guys like Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin. They are relatively healthy for the playoffs, though, and namely Sidney Crosby is healthy after a likely Hart Trophy winning season. The only real question is Marc-Andre Fleury, as is usually the case in the playoffs. It's sort of weird how he has had issues in the postseason after being fine in the regular season. He had a .915 save percentage this season, which is solid. If he can just do that, there are no concerns for the Penguins.
Columbus has some good players. Ryan Johansen had a breakout year. Sergei Bobrovsky won't win another Vezina, but he's a very good netminder. Maybe the Blue Jackets win a game. I think they win a couple. Hopefully at least one of them come at home. Let the Columbus fans see history get made. Penguins in six
Tampa Bay Lightning v. Montreal Canadiens: Even though Steven Stamkos missed a sizable portion of the season, and even though they had to trade a petulant Martin St. Louis, the Lightning are in the playoffs, and they have home-ice advantage. They owe that largely to Ben Bishop, who had a .924 save percentage. However, he started to slide down the stretch, and also he is hurt. He is expected back in the first round, but if Anders LIndback doesn't mind the store, it could be too little too late.
The Canadiens top notch goalie is healthy. So are Max Pacioretty, who scored 39 goals, and P.K. Subban, who is a great defenseman. At full strength, I think the talent on these teams is pretty even. The problem is that, without Bishop, the Lightning are missing a crucial piece. I think that ends up being the deciding factor. Canadiens in seven
New York Rangers v. Philadelphia Flyers: The battle of two teams who had their fans wringing their hands early in the year. Peter Laviolette got fired by the Flyers. Henrik Lundqvist was under fire, as was Claude Giroux. Lundqvist had a .921 SV% in the end, and Giroux finished with 86 points. So, you know, business as usual.
This is really a battle of offense versus defense. The Flyers have depth on offense, led by Giroux. The Rangers don't have a ton of scoring, but they have a strong defensive corps and King Henrik in net. Steve Mason did had a good year in net for Philly, though, which was big for them. This is a close matchup, but the Rangers had the better goal differential, the Flyers only finished at plus-1, and I'll take Lundqvist over Mason. Rangers in six