The NHL Playoffs are in full swing.
With all 82 games played, and the seeds now set, we are ready for playoff hockey once again.
The road to the playoffs this season was a race to the finish for both Conferences, where many teams did not know their playoff fate until the very last game of the season.
The Eastern Conference was particularly tight atop the conference this season, as the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds flip-flopped many times coming down the stretch.
Also, the No. 6, 7 and 8 seeds were being fought for by as many as five teams at one point nearing the end of the season, and was still a close race until the very last game.
Now that all of the confusion and questions are gone, here are my predictions on how the first round of the NHL Eastern Conference playoffs will play out.
The first matchup is the No. 1 seed Washington Capitals taking on the No. 8 seed New York Rangers.
The Capitals managed to have a very impressive season. Despite their star player Alexander Ovechkin not having a very good year until the middle of the season, the Capitals still managed to win and managed to climb to the top of the Eastern Conference.
The Rangers season was one of ups and downs. Starting off strong, as usual, the Rangers looked to be serious contenders for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. But key injuries to big names like Ryan Callahan and Chris Drury crippled the Rangers during the middle of the season, and they had to fight their way into the playoffs yet again, grabbing the eight spot.
Although many feel that the Capitals should win this series easily, I do not feel that this is the case. The Rangers defeated the Capitals three of the four times they played them this season, but that is a recurring theme for the Rangers.
The Rangers always seem to play well against better opponents, while losing to the easier, more beatable ones. The Capitals seemed to have trouble against the Rangers this season, losing their last three meetings.
Both teams are very defensively sound, being in the top five in Goals Against this season, and both the Rangers and Capitals average around 2.4 goals per game, so goals might be at a minimum in this series.
If the Rangers are able to play solid defense behind Henrik Lundqvuist and can shut down Ovechkin like they did in the regular season, I think the Rangers can win this series and upset the Capitals 4-2.
Next up is the No. 2 seeded Philadelphia Flyers taking on the No. 7 seeded Buffalo Sabres.
The Flyers are an all-around solid team. Although they are the No. 2 seed in the East, they have the potential of a No. 1. They score frequently and sometimes it seems at whim, and they are an above average defensive team.
The Sabres had a solid season on their way to notching the No. 7 seed in the East. The Sabres, like the Rangers, had to fight their way into the playoffs. The Sabres played very well down the stretch, winning eight of their last 10 games, allowing them to leap frog pass the Rangers to seventh.
The Sabres split the season series with the Flyers two games a piece, with Buffalo winning the last two meetings of the season. However, I think that the Flyers will have a very easy series against the Sabres.
The Flyers are a much better scoring team than the Sabres, and although the Sabres have the slight edge on defense, the Flyers will still be able to score plenty of goals. With such an explosive offense, I see the Flyers defeating the Sabres 4-2.
Next up, a Northeast Division battle between the No. 3 Boston Bruins vs. the No. 6 Montreal Canadians.
The Bruins had a very good season on their way to winning the Northeast Division and taking the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. Much like the Flyers, the Bruins are also a very solid team all around, being top five both goals for and goals against this season.
The Canadians made their way to sixth in the Eastern Conference and second in the Northeast Division by blacks and blues. The top 10 in goals against and penalty kill, the Canadians make up for their below average offense with solid defense, that allows them to power through many high scoring teams.
In this battle of polar opposites, the Canadians defeated the Bruins four out of six times this season. The Canadians defense can match the Bruins offense, but the Bruins defense is far better than the Canadians offense, being 21st in Goals Per Game this season.
Even though the season stats say otherwise, I feel that the Bruins will benefit from having home-ice advantage, winning their two games against the Canadians this season at home, and will end up defeating the Canadians in seven, 4-3.
Finally, we take a look at the No. 4 seed Pittsburgh Penguins vs. the No. 5 seed Tampa Bay Lightning.
Although the Penguins ended up fourth in the Eastern Conference and first in the Atlantic Division, they could have been much better. With injuries to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins lacked the offense power that they usually have, but made up for it by having one of the best defenses in the league.
The Lightning are exactly the opposite, as their lackluster defense was made up for by an amazing offense, putting them second in the Southeast Division and fifth in the Conference. The line of Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier, and Martin St. Louis is arguably the best offensive scoring line in the NHL, and will play a key role in the playoffs for the Lightning.
This is also a very tough matchup to call. With the season series split at two games a piece (with the home team winning each time), the defense of the Penguins clearly matches the offense of the Lightning.
In a seven game series, a defense can slip up, and the Penguins simply do not have the offense to match up against the powerful Lightning. Even though the Penguins have home ice, I think that offense in the end will overpower defense, and the Lightning will win in seven.