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2017 NHL Playoff Predictions: Eastern Conference

2017 NHL Playoff Predictions:

With the NHL regular season coming to an end, it’s time to look forward to the post-season. In this edition, I’ll be looking at the Eastern Conference matchups, recapping their meetings during the season and what each team will need to win the series. Additionally, I’ll add my pick as to who I think is going to win and in how many games. Hope to see what everyone else’s predictions are!

Montreal Canadiens (1st Atlantic) vs. New York Rangers (WC1)

Season Series: 3-0 Montreal

Carey Price NHLThe Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers will meet in what can only be described as one of the most even matchups of the first round. Both teams rely heavily on strong goaltending and defensive structure and both use a speed game to create offense. Despite their similarities, the Habs have only lost three regular season games to the New York Rangers since the lockout-shortened season in 2012-13, sweeping the season series 3-0 this year. Normally, the Habs lean on Carey Price, but when it comes to the Rangers their offense seems to come to life. The Canadiens scored 12 goals against the Rangers this season, which is tied for their third-highest total against any other team in the National Hockey League. That being said, Price has still been Price with a GAA of 2.27 and a .922 SV% against the Blueshirts, while Henrik Lundqvist has struggled mightily when facing the tricolor. The King comes into the series with a 4.04 GAA and .871 SV% versus the Habs this year, and will absolutely have to re-discover his game if the Rangers intend to move on to the next round. In addition to Lundqvist finding his game, his teammates will have to provide him with some support as well, since no Ranger had more than Derek Stepan’s 3 points against Montreal all season, while Max Pacioretty led the way for the Canadiens with a goal and 4 assists. We all know the big guns on both teams will need to be at their best, but if Price continues his hot streak he should be able to shut down the Rangers so this series will be a battle of the depth, where I feel the Canadiens have the edge.

Storyline to watch: Kreider vs. Price. It was the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals when Chris Kreider infamously took a run at Carey Price, effectively removing the goaltender from the playoffs and subsequently causing him to miss a good chunk of the following season. With Shea Weber now donning the red, white and blue it will be interesting to see how many liberties the Rangers try to take with Price and how quickly Weber and the rest of the Canadiens shut that down.

Canadiens win 4-2

Pittsburgh Penguins (2nd Metro) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (3rd Metro)

Season Series: 2-2

[the_ad id=”384″]The defending Stanley Cup champions will open the 2017 playoffs against the team that came dangerously close to breaking their NHL-record 17-game winning streak. The Columbus Blue Jackets won an impressive 16 games in a row between Nov. 29, 2016 – Jan. 3, 2017 that helped them vault into the playoffs and, despite losing 6 straight before defeating the Maple Leafs in the final game of the season, should be able to give the Pens some difficulties in the first round. Both of these teams play a high-paced offensive game and both are loaded with skill and talent up front. The season series between the 2 teams was remarkably close, with each team winning 2 games, while Columbus had the edge in goal scoring, having 12 goals to Pittsburgh’s 10. While Matt Murray’s numbers (3.16 GAA, .909 sv%) against the Jackets this year are pedestrian at best, a 7-1 drubbing on December 22nd tilted the scales in the Blue Jackets’ favor, so if we eliminate that, the series gets even closer. Regardless, Sergei Bobrovsky should take home the Vezina after an unbelievable season and if he remains in top form, Bob vs Crosby will be one of the most entertaining matchups of the entire Playoffs.

Storyline to watchCrosby vs. Dubinsky. I don’t know if there are two guys in the NHL who like each other less than Sid and Brandon Dubinsky, as their rivalry goes back nearly 3 years to when Dubinsky was a member of the New York Rangers organization. Since then, the two men have constantly battled and even dropped the gloves back in February 2015. This will be the second time in 3 years that the Jackets and Penguins meet in the playoffs, and we should expect a heated 4-7 games between these two gentlemen.

Penguins win 4-2

Washington Capitals (1st Metro) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (WC2)

Season Series: 2-1 Washington

[the_ad id=”693″]The Toronto Maple Leafs are the team unlucky enough to have to face the juggernaut Washington Capitals in the first round after losing their final regular season game to Columbus Blue Jackets. A win would have given them a matchup against the far less intimidating and injury-decimated Ottawa Senators. Alas, they will focus their attention on the task at hand. The Capitals won the President’s Trophy for the second straight year as the NHL’s top team and come into the playoffs as the obvious choice to take home the big prize. It would be unwise, however, for the Caps to underestimate the young Leafs. They may be young and inexperienced, but just getting to the playoffs has been an enormous win for the Buds, so they really have nothing to lose coming into this series as the underdog. We know that both of these teams can score, as both teams boast 5 players with 20 goals or more so goaltending will be one of the biggest factors between these two clubs. Washington’s Braden Holtby should once again be a Vezina Trophy candidate and will be tough to beat, and while Frederik Andersen is streaky, when he’s on he is one of the better goaltenders in the NHL. In addition to goaltending, special teams will also be a determining factor in who moves past this round. The Leafs and Capitals finished 2nd and 4th respectively (23.8%, 23.1%) in power play percentage, while they both finished top 10 in penalty kill percentage, with the Caps at 7th (83.8%) and the Buds at 10th (82.5%). Both teams will need to stay disciplined to give themselves a shot at progressing.

Storyline to watch: Auston Matthews first playoff appearance. From first overall to the first playoff game in less than 12 months. Leafs fans could not have asked for a better inaugural season for their number 1 pick from the 2016 draft, as he comes into the playoffs as one of only three players in the National Hockey League to crack the 40 goal mark, eclipsing established snipers like Brad Marchand, Vladimir Tarasenko, Max Pacioretty and first-round opponent Alex Ovechkin. If Matthews and fellow Leafs rookies William Nylander and Mitch Marner can keep up the offense, they will give their team a good chance at pulling off arguably the biggest upset in recent playoff history.

Maple Leafs wins 4-3

Ottawa Senators (2nd Atlantic) vs. Boston Bruins (3rd Atlantic)

Season Series: 4-0 Ottawa

Interestingly enough, the modern iteration of the Ottawa Senators has never faced the Boston Bruins in the post-season, so this series is uncharted territory. Judging by this season’s results, it would appear as though the Sens have the advantage, going 4-0 against the Bruins while scoring twice as many goals as their counterparts, 12-6. Craig Anderson has been outstanding against Boston this year going 4-0 with a 1.47 GAA and a .946 SV% while Mike Hoffman led the way up front with 1 goal and 4 assists. The Bruins will be without defensemen Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug for at least game 1 of the series, while the Senators will be receiving some much-needed reinforcements, as forward Zack Smith and defensemen, Erik Karlsson and Marc Methot will all return from injury to start the series. While the Sens had the edge in the season, the Bruins special teams were far and away better, having a powerplay of 21.7% to the Senators 17.0%, while their penalty kill was tops in the league at 85.7% compared to the 79.7% the Sens put up while a man short. Ottawa was 4th in the NHL in average penalty minutes per game, at 10:20, so they’ll need to figure out a way to stay out of the box if they’re going to keep the Bruins power play at bay.

Storyline to watch: Marchand vs. Karlsson. While this series doesn’t have one storyline that screams out above the rest, it will be interesting to watch one of the NHL’s top defenseman try to stop one of its top goal scorers, as Erik Karlsson takes on Brad Marchand. Marchand finished the season 3rd overall in goal scoring with 39 while Karlsson blocked 201 shots over the season, good for second in the league. Each team will need these two men to be at their absolute best in order to succeed.

Senators win 4-2


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