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NHL Playoff Predictions: How The Flyers, Rest of Eastern Conference Will Finish

Matt HunterCorrespondent IFebruary 3, 2011

NHL Playoff Predictions: How The Flyers, Rest of Eastern Conference Will Finish

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    The Eastern Conference started its race to the playoffs this week where teams find themselves with just over a third of the regular season left.

    Playoff races will begin to heat up over the next couple of months, with teams making trades to boost their lineups for a late season push, and playoff run.

    The Eastern Conference currently finds the the Philadelphia Flyers as the No. 1 team being closely pursued by both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins.

    There are currently three teams (Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, Buffalo Sabres) on the outside looking in currently who are all with in six points or less of the current No. 8 seeded Atlanta Thrashers.

    Can the current leading Flyers hold on to their number one spot?

    Will the Pittsburgh Penguins or Tampa Bay Lightning be able to put together a run and get home ice through out the East playoff series?

    Can a team put together a big second half and find themselves moving into the top eight and a chance to make a cup run?

    The Eastern Conference is sure to have an exciting playoff run, and the Western Conference surely will not disappoint either.

    Check out B/R writer Matthew Fairburn's take on the Red Wings and the rest of the Western Conference here:

    http://bleacherreport.com/articles/596087-nhl-playoff-predictions-how-red-wings-rest-of-western-conference-will-finish

No. 8 Seed- Carolina Hurricanes

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    The Carolina Hurricanes are coming off an exciting All-Star weekend where they had the opportunity to host this years event.

    The Hurricanes however find themselves currently out of the top eight in the East.

    They have 56 points and are only one point behind current No. 8 seed Atlanta with two extra games in hand.

    Carolina is the No. 8 team in the league in goals per game averaging 3.0 goals per game.

    They have a solid power play scoring 18.3 percent of the time giving them the No. 13 power play in the league.

    Carolina is 6-5-2 in its own Southeast Division, and will have face current No. 8 seed Atlanta four more times this year, and are 2-0 against the Thrashers, winning both in overtime.

    One spot that might hurt the Hurricanes is there penalty kill that is ranked No. 26 at only 78.9 percent, and their goals against of 3.0 per game puts them at No. 23.

    I think Carolina improves though in the second half with All-Star goaltender Cam Ward helping the team lower the goals against and getting their penalty kill up to 80 percent.

    Carolina will find themselves playing on the road through out all the playoffs, but they will beat out Atlanta for the final spot and help keep Buffalo and Florida from getting into the post season.

     

No. 7 Seed- New York Rangers

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    The New York Rangers are as of now the No. 7 team in the Eastern Conference, and they will finish the regular season in the same position.

    Rangers have played 53 games and have 62 points.

    They are currently in the No. 3 position in the Atlantic Division behind the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers.

    The Rangers are No. 14 in goals per game with 2.8 and No. 6 in goals against at 2.4. Two numbers that are key to making a strong playoff push and maintaining a hold on the seven seed.

    The Rangers are better on the road than at home this year, which will play into their hands since they will not have home ice advantage in the playoffs, unless they get lucky and the No. 8 seed makes it to the Eastern Conference finals.

    The Rangers are going to need strong play from the defense and goaltender. Two aspects that are most important for a playoff team.

    The Rangers are going to be tormented to keep the No. 7 seed from four other teams below them, while attempting to gain spots in the conference.

No. 6 Seed- Montreal Canadiens

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    The 2010 playoff buster team that knocked off conference power houses Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins.

    The Canadiens find themselves in the No. 6 seed in the East, and will remain in this spot when the playoff seeds are set in April.

    The Canadiens have 63 points, one point behind No. 5 seed Washington.

    The Candiens are giving up on average 2.4 goals a game and scoring 2.6. Giving them a No. 7 and No. 24 ranking respectively.

    The Canadiens have been getting solid goaltending from Carey Price, but have not given him much support on the other end of the ice.

    This has led to the Canadiens finding themselves on the bottom half of the conference ranking.

    The Canadiens are 24-13-3 agains tthe Eastern Conference.

    They also have a winning record against all eastern divisions.

    Montreal is a good home team at 17-6-4, but their road record is only 12-12-1.

    Montreal will need to work on their road work to be able play a formidable opponent against a higher seeded team come April.

    Watch for Montreal to give Boston a run for the top spot in the Northeast division, but fall short of the top spot.

     

No. 5 Seed- Washington Capitals

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    The Washington Capitals have been a regular season power house over the past two years. Storming into the playoffs as a top seed, and the faultering in the playoffs.

    Last year they were ousted in the first round by the Montreal Canadiens, and for the second year in a row ended their season with out reaching the Eastern Conference finals or even the Stanley Cup finals.

    Washington this year has been struggling.

    They currently have 64 points and find themselves trailing the No. 2 in the Conference and the top seed in the Southeast Division Tampa Bay Lightning by five points.

    The Capitals have been struggling putting the puck in the net, averaging only 2.7 goals per game. Last year they finished the year averaging 3.87 goals per game at the end of the regular season.

    They are getting good goaltending to help with the lack luster ability to put the puck in the net.

    The Washington Capitals goalies are giving up on average 2.4 goals a game placing them as the No. 8 in the category.

    Washington's strength though is their play in the Eastern Conference.

    The Capitals are an impressive 24-11-9 against the conference.

    The Capitals will have a to try to make up ground on the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second half. They will only have two more games against the division leaders.

    They are currently 2-1-1 against the Lightning.

    Alexander Ovechkin needs to pick up his goal scoring capabilities if he and the Capitals want to be guaranteed home ice in the first round and beyond.

    The late run by the Capitals will not be enough as Tampa Bay and young phenom Steven Stamkos will be able to hold off the Capitals that will finish in the No. 5 position in the East.

No. 4 Seed- Philadelphia Flyers

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    The Flyers are currently sitting atop the Eastern Conference with 71 points.

    They are one point ahead of in-state rival Pittsburgh and two in front of current No. 2 seed Tampa Bay.

    The Flyers are an overall solid hockey team at both home and away.

    They are 16-7-2 at home and 17-6-3 on the road.

    The Flyers also boast a +40 goal differential giving them the No. 4 rank in the NHL.

    Philadelphia is netting an average 3.4 goals a game and only giving up 2.6.

    The problem that the Flyers have is that they have a soaring Penguins team about to pass the Flyers if they have any faulters.

    The Flyers face the Penguins two more times, and have posted a 3-1-0 record against them.

    The problem for the Flyers is that the Penguins have kept up and actually closed the gap between the two with out Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the lineup.

    This is why the Flyers will finish as the No. 4 seed in the East. With Crosby and Malkins return the Penguins will catch and overcome the Flyers.

    Do not get me wrong they are not going to be passed then blown by. The Atlantic Division will be a tight race for the No. 1 overall seed in the East all the way down to the last week of the season.

    The Flyers will finish three points behind the Penguins, and will finish as the second best record in the East but get the No. 4 seed due to division leaders getting the top three spots.

No. 3 Seed- Boston Bruins

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    The Bruins better watch out because the Montreal Canadiens are right behind them.

    Boston last year had probably the worst out for any team in the playoffs. Getting beat in game seven against the Philadelphia Flyers after leading 3-0.

    The Bruins are scoring 3.0 goals a game giving them the No. 6 rank.

    The top statistic for the Bruins is the 2.1 goals against average thanks to goalie Tim Thomas, which is the No. 1 rank in the league in goals against average.

    Having the hottest goalie in the league right now is going to be a key aspect for the second half. If Thomas can stay hot, and Boston can maintain a strong offense they will be able to hold off the Capitals and possibly give Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia a push for the top seeds in the East.

    Boston has been playing as a better road team to this point posting a 16-6-4 record.

    Against the Eastern Conference they are 27-11-5.

    Boston is only 6-5-3 in their own division, but have owned the Southeast with a 13-4-1 record.

    The Bruins are going to need to depend on defense and goaltending in the second half.

    They should be able to hold off the Candiens who they are 0-2-1 against, but have been playing well against other Eastern teams.

    The Bruins will take the Northeast division but fail to beat out the Atlantic or Southeast division winners.

No. 2 Seed, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Tampa Bay is a team to reckon with this year.

    With league leader in goals Steven Stamkos, and fellow all-star Martin St.Louis the Lightning have gotten back to their winning ways.

    The Lightning find themselves only two points behind current conference leader Philadelphia.

    They are also riding a six game winning streak.

    A down point to the Lightning is goaltending and defense, where the team is giving up 2.9 goals per game ranking them the No. 21 team in the league.

    The Lightning are 27-10-3 in the Eastern Conference and have dominated their division with a record of
    10-4-1.

    The Lightning need to keep their pace up, because they know that the Capitals are going to go on a run and if they have a lull in their play they will find themselves in the bottom half of the conference come playoff time instead of a top seed.

    The Lightning should have a good second half and have a good young corp of players that will be able to stay healthy and maintain a competitive style through out the rest of the season.

    Look for the Capitals to make a small run at the Lightning, but in the end the Lightning just has too much for Washington to catch and will take the No. 2 seed in the East.

No. 1 Seed, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    When Sidney Crosby went down Penguins fans all thought the team would struggle.

    Then when Evgeni Malkin found the injured list all seemed that Philadelphia and others would pull away from Pittsburgh.

    The Penguins have gone 7-3-1 since Sidney Crosby has been out of the lineup and the Penguins are currently riding a four game win streak.

    With Crosby and Malkin returning to the lineup with in the next week the Penguins find themselves only one point behind the Flyers, and seem perfectly positioned to make a big second half run and push to the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

    Penguins are ranked No. 2 in the league giving up only 2.2 goals per game, and are scoring 3 goals a game, putting them in the No. 7 rank in the league.

    The Penguins currently boast the top penalty kill in the league, killing 88.6 percent of penalties.

    The Penguins are 26-12-3 against the Eastern Conference, and are 8-5-2 against the Atlantic Division.

    Pittsburgh has to worry about catching Philadelphia and then keeping Philadelphia in the rear view mirror the rest of the season.

    Pittsburgh is 1-3-0 against the Flyers this year, and the remaining two games could turn out to be huge games for both teams to see who gets home ice throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

    Pittsburgh is going to be a full healthy team come next week, and showing that they can play with out both Crosby and Malkin shows just how good they are.

    Pittsburgh is going to take the Eastern Conference, but will have their trouble getting there with strong Flyers and Lightning teams playing great hockey as well.

    Pittsburgh takes the top spot in the East and will have the advantage of having home ice for as far as they go in the Eastern Conference playoffs in 2011.

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