It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and it’s not Christmas; it’s time for the NHL playoffs to begin. Let’s look at the Eastern Conference first round matchups and see who will advance.
(1) Montreal Canadiens Vs. (8) Boston Bruins– It’s always a great thing to see two teams that missed out on the playoffs last season make it this season. The Boston Bruins haven’t seen what the second round looks like since 1999, and that will not change this season. The Bruins have the edge in terms of goaltending. Tim Thomas is having the best season of his career in net for Boston. Carey Price is also having a great rookie season for Montreal. Since taking over the starting duties in Montreal back on February 26, the day of the trade deadline, Price has gone 12-3-0; that record has been capped off by a current seven game winning streak. However, this is Price’s first playoff appearance and his number might drop a little bit; but that isn’t enough to take the Bruins in this matchup. Montreal dominated the season series, winning all eight games, seven of them in regulation and one in a shootout. Therefore, unless Boston pulls something out of their sleeve and figures out this Montreal team, the series should go to the Canadiens. Final Prediction: Montreal 4-1
(2) Pittsburgh Penguins Vs. (7) Ottawa Senators – After starting the season 15-2-0, Ottawa has gone way down hill and dropped to the seventh seed. The Sens have gone 28-29-8 since their tremendous start, a pretty good reason for the Penguins to be excited for this series, right? Wrong! Ottawa is 3-0-1 against Pittsburgh this season. The only game that the Penguins won was in a shootout, something they won’t be able to get to in the playoffs. To be fair to Pittsburgh, they did not have Sidney Crosby for two of the losses. The Penguins have the edge in goaltending. Pittsburgh can start either Marc-Andre Fleury or Ty Conklin, pending on who each is performing; whereas in Ottawa, it’s all on Martin Gerber’s shoulders. Backup Ray Emery has been awful in net for the Senators this season, posting a 3.13 goals-against average and a .890 save percentage. So what will happen with this series? Will the regular season head-to-head matchups factor in? No. This Penguins’ team has matured a lot since last year’s first round loss to the Senators. With Crosby healthy and Evgeni Malkin having the best season of his young career, the Penguins will take this series. Final Predcition: Pittsburgh 4-2
(3) Washington Capitals Vs. (6) Philadelphia Flyers– I don’t know how many people saw this matchup coming. The two worst teams in the Eastern Conference last season are playing each other in the first round of the playoffs this season. While the Flyers were hopeful for this season, no one thought the Capitals would be where they are now. Washington has won seven straight and 11 of 12. A team that started the season 8-16-2 is now the third seed in the playoffs. Soon-to-be MVP Alex Ovechkin has taken the Caps on his back and has skated circles around his opponents since December 1; the Capitals have gone 35-15-6 since that date. Also, since the addition of goalie Cristobal Huet back on February 26, the Caps have gone 15-4. Washington has split the season series with the Flyers and are 2-2-0 against them this season. The Flyers have taken a lot of experience from Buffalo, Daniel Briere and Marty Biron, both veterans who know the playoffs well. But right now the Capitals are the hottest team in the NHL and it doesn’t look like the Flyers will cool them down. Final Prediction: Washington 4-2
(4) New Jersey Devils Vs. New York Rangers– The key word for this matchup is “goaltending.” Martin Brodeur started 76 of 82 games this season, not too bad for a guy who turns 36 next month. Brodeur will be going up against Henrik Lundqvist, the man who leads the NHL in shutouts (10). The Devils rank fourth in total goals against (197) and the Rangers are right behind them in fifth (199). The Devils rank sixth in total goals for (206) and the Rangers are tied for eighth (213). It doesn’t look like there will be a lot of high-scoring games in this series judging from the numbers they’ve put up all season. The big stat that comes into play with these two teams is their record against each other; the Devils are 1-4-3 and the Rangers are 7-0-1. But this is the playoffs and it is Brodeur’s time to shine. This has the potential to be the best first round matchup in the league; the winner was not easy to pick. But… Final Prediction: Devils 4-3