NHL Eastern Conference Playoff Predictions: Round One

Richard HouseholderContributor IApril 12, 2009

PITTSBURGH - MAY 11:  Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins is hooked by Derian Hatcher #2 of the Philadelphia Flyers who received a penalty in the third period of game two of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2008 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Mellon Arena on May 11, 2008 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Penguins won the game 4-2 and lead the series 2-0.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

After yesterday's games, the playoff matchups are set in the Eastern Conference. 

Let's take a quick-hit look at who might be victorious in the first round of the NHL's second season. 


No. 1 Boston Bruins vs. No. 8  Montreal Canadiens

The old time rivals are back at it again in a rematch of last years 1-8 matchup.  Only this year, the roles are reversed.  The Bruins come in as the top seed, while the Habs were able to hang on in the finals games to secure the eighth spot. 

The Bruins have played well all year, save a slow stretch a few weeks back.  They appear to be back at full health and had a nice finish to the regular season.  Goalie Tim Thomas and defenseman Zdeno Chara could be taking home some trophy hardware at seasons end. 

The Canadiens, with high expectations going into their 100th season, have faltered in the second half of the season.  Carey Price has not been the same since crumbling against the Flyers in last years semifinals.  Alexi Kovalev and the Kostitsyn brothers have had their troubles as well.   

Prediction:  Last year's opening round series went seven games.  Montreal is going to have to find their estranged offense to make it anywhere near that close.  I don't think they do.  Bruins in five.


No. 4 Philadelphia Flyers vs. No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins

(Note:  As of this writing, the Flyers hold the fourth seed.  If they would lose to the Rangers later this afternoon, the two teams will switch positions.)

This battle between two Atlantic division rivals is another rematch from last years playoffs.  The Penguins won that series rather easily, but the Flyers have taken big strides this season and have closed that gap.

Pittsburgh had injury problems a good part of the year and their defense has not been terrific.  The return of Sergei Gonchar has helped.  They can still score a lot of goals and adding veteran Bill Guerin to the offensive ranks of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby

The Flyers play very well balanced hockey and have goal scorers in Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne.  The only question seems to be whether Martin Biron or Antero Niittymaki can provide playoff quality goaltending.

Prediction:  A tough one to call.  It comes down to whether the Flyers goaltending can hold up against the Penguins' offensive fire power.  Forecast a Flyers win today against the Rangers, and I'll go with the team with home ice advantage in a game seven.  Flyers in seven.


No. 3 New Jersey Devils vs. No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes

The Devils and the Canes have developed a small rivalry, as this will be their fourth time playing each other in the playoffs since 2001.  New Jersey won the first while Carolina has taken the last two, the last of which occurred in 2006.

The Devils played on a tear after Martin Brodeur's return from injury.  But after Brodeur recorded his record breaking 552nd victory they slowed down considerably, finishing with a 5-7-1 record.  The team did finish April with a 4-2 record in April and appeared to have righted the ship somewhat. 

Carolina could be the hottest team in the conference.  Aaron Ward has been fantastic and Eric Staal (40 goals) and their offense has been on fire with the reacquisition of Erik Cole. 

Prediction:  Carolina has a history of giving New Jersey fits, but the Devils were able to beat the Canes for the first time this year in yesterday's season finale.  The Devils are more talented on offense than they have been in years past.  This will likely come down to Brodeur and Ward and if the Devils can stay off the penalty kill.  I'll go with Brodeur, who has not had the work load he has in years past.  Devils in six.


No. 2 Washington Capitals vs. No. 7 New York Rangers

An interesting matchup between two very different teams.  The Capitals and their high flying offense going against the low scoring highly defensive Rangers.

The Capitals continued their rise from last year by winning the Southeast Division with 108 points.  Superstar Alexander Ovechkin had another spectacular year.  He was complimented by Alex Semin, Brooks Laich, and Norris candidate defenseman Mike Green, who scored 31 goals from the blue line.  Seemingly, their only weakness is in goal with Jose Theodore. 

The Rangers started off well and led the East for a considerable stretch in the beginning of the season.  It's a good thing they got those points when they could, because they ended up saving the Rangers down the stretch.  Coach Tom Renney ended up being fired and was replaced with John Tortorella.  They were able to play more consistently after the coaching change and with the additions of Nik Antropov and Sean Avery. 

Prediction:  The Capitals score a lot of goals, while the Rangers do not.  But the Rangers play good defensively and have the better goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist.  If Ovechin and Co. have any trouble finding the back of the net, they could be in trouble.  I see the Rangers chasing Theodore in at least one game, making this one my upset special.  Rangers in six. 


That would make your second round matchups look like this:  Bruins-Rangers, Devils-Flyers. 

That's the East as I see it.  However the matchups end up, it will be exciting as always.  Check back for round two, and we'll see how I did.