2011 NHL Playoffs: Eastern Conference Playoff Bracket Set

Mark RitterSenior Writer IApril 10, 2011

PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 09:  Adam Burish #37 of the Chicago Blackhawks hoists the Stanley Cup after teammate Patrick Kane scored the game-winning goal in overtime to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 and win the Stanley Cup in Game Six of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the Wachovia Center on June 9, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

All eyes were on a couple of key Eastern Conference matchups yesterday as both the New York Rangers vs. New Jersey Devils match and the Carolina Hurricanes vs. Tampa Bay Lightning match had huge playoff implications.

The Rangers kicked off Saturday by defeating the Devils by a final score of 5-2, giving them possession of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East—that is IF the Carolina Hurricanes did not pull off a win over the Lightning.

Carolina went into their match with the Lightning on a 8-1-1 streak, but failed miserably against the Lightning, losing 6-2, including two empty-net goals in the final minutes of the game.

With the bottom end of the standings set, the focus was on the Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Islanders game.

The Islanders surprised us all by keeping it close for the first two periods, but the Flyers eventually pulled away in the third, making a close game look like more of a blowout as the Flyers thumped the Islanders by a final score of 7-4.

With the results of these two games in the books the Eastern Conference playoff picture is now complete with several juicy first-round matches emerging.

The Washington Capitals (No. 1 seed) will face the New York Rangers (No. 8 seed), while the Philadelphia Flyers (No. 2) will face the Buffalo Sabres (No. 7).

Despite the Washington Capitals having the better offense on paper, it is interesting to note that the Rangers have beaten the Caps by a final score of 7-0 and 6-0 this season, which should put some doubt in the Caps' minds.

The Flyers look to have the advantage heading into their match against Buffalo, but it should be noted that the Flyers have been kind of flat down the stretch, while the Sabres (who have also had their fair share of ups and downs this season, but were 8-1-1 down the stretch) have been playing “playoff hockey” for over a month now.

Let’s face it, the Flyers will be the favorites on most people’s brackets, but anything can happen when Ryan Miller is in net for your team, which may bode well for the Sabres.

The other two matchups will see the Boston Bruins (No. 3 seed) facing the Montreal Canadiens (No. 6 seed) in what will likely be a hard fought, sometimes bloody series.

No need to go into the history of these two old-school teams, no need to re-hash the Zdeno Chara hit—this has the potential to be the best series of the playoffs from a dramatic standpoint.

The last series will see the Pittsburgh Penguins (No. 4 seed) facing the Tampa Bay Lightning (No. 5 seed).

Pittsburgh will likely be without the services of both Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, but they have done a great job without them, which is a great credit to Penguins head coach Dan Blysma.

Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis will lead the charge in Tampa, whose two weak spots look to be goaltending (which has been better of late) and defense.

I will have more to say about each of these series this week, as well as a full look at the Western Conference matchups, many of which are yet to be set.

Until next time,