The NHL regular season is now behind us and it’s time to focus on the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It came down to the last day of the regular season for some teams in the Eastern Conference to find out who they’re going to play and now all the match-ups are set. You’ve got a lot of stories, a lot of big names, and some familiar faces in the Playoffs who are looking for the cup. The first round match-ups are looking great and there will be some interesting things to look for.
NHL Eastern Conference Playoffs Preview
The Eastern Conference
Blue Jackets vs Lightning
The Columbus Blue Jackets will face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Lightning having home-ice advantage. The Lightning is clearly the best team by far in the playoffs as they finished with 128 points which is 21 points ahead of the next best team. The Blue Jackets just got into the last playoff spot with 98 points. They went all in at the trade deadline and surrounded their team with stars but got off to a very slow start with all the talent. As the season winded down, the Blue Jackets turned on the Jets as they went 7-1-0 in their last eight.
The Lightning swept the season series 3-0. They finished the season first on the power play and tied for second on the penalty kill. The Blues Jackets might have a chance if they can be sound defensively and stay out of the penalty box. That might not even work as the Lightning are just that much better. This is a tough draw for the Jackets but anything can happen in Stanley Cup Playoffs. The first game is on Wednesday at 7:00 ET.
Penguins vs Islanders
This match-up might not be talked about as much as the others but this is quietly one of the best series in the first round. The Pittsburgh Penguins will visit the New York Islanders in game one on Wednesday at 7:30 ET. The Penguins struggled well into the season but got it going as we thought they would. The Penguins are still the team to beat with the top name players they have led by Sidney Crosby. They still finished with 100 points and finished top five on the power play. The Islanders got off to a hot start and continued their good play throughout the season. They lead the division for a large part of the year but fell to second before it was all said and done. The Islanders have allowed the fewest goals in the league following a season where they gave up the most. Barry Trotz and the goaltending has gotten this team where they are now.
The season series was tied at 2-1-1 as they have gone neck and neck all season. The difference in this series will be the goaltending. Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss have been great for this team as they split time this season. Lehner 2.13 goals against average and a .930 save percentage. Greiss had 2.28 goals against and a .927 save percentage. Matt Murray has great numbers in his playoff career as he has 2.08 goals against average and a .923 save percentage in 44 games in the playoffs. There’s no doubt that it will come down to the goaltending in this series. If the Islanders can keep up the great goaltending then they have a chance to take down the Penguins and vise versa.
Hurricanes vs Capitals
The Carolina Hurricanes come into the playoffs playing their best hockey in a long time. They rallied behind their post-game celebrations and tuned out the critics who doubted them. They finished in the first wild-card spot with 99 points. The Washington Capitals are the defending cup champions and will be looking to win their second cup in a row. The Capitals finished first in the Metropolitan division with 104 points. The Capitals have talent led by their captain Alex Ovechkin who scored 50+ goals this season. They have seven players with 20 or more goals and can really pass the puck. The Hurricanes average 34.4 shots on goal which was the best in the league and they only gave up 28.6 shots per game which was the third fewest in the league.
The Capitals won the season series with a 4-0-0 record and look to have the same record against them in the postseason. The Hurricanes need depth scoring if they want to hang in there. They also need their goaltender Petr Mrazek to put up good numbers like he did down the stretch. Game one is on Thursday at 7:30 ET.
Maple Leafs vs Bruins
The Toronto Maple Leafs will be returning to the playoffs again after getting knocked out by these Boston Bruins. This series might be the best in the conference on paper. The Bruins Finished second in the Atlantic with 107 points and the Leafs in third with 100 points. These two always produce great games and it gets even better as they meet in the playoffs for the second time in two years. The Leafs will try to advance for the first time since 2004. The Leafs got stronger this season with the addition of John Tavares down the middle. They also added defensemen Jake Muzzin from the LA Kings at the trade deadline.
The Bruins won the season series 3-1 but as we know, in the playoffs, it’s a different story. Their goaltending looks strong as they have Tuukka Rask to start who has been hot down the stretch. They also have a good backup option in Jaroslav Halak who has been good this season when needed. Maple Leafs goalie Frederick Andersen has been good all season but has struggled down the stretch. He has been an important piece to this team and will have to be in the playoffs. Both goalies actually have to be on top on their game as both teams can score the puck with no problem. Game one between these two teams will be on Thursday at 7:00 CT.
Playoffs in every sport are great but there is something about the Stanley Cup Playoffs that make it more intriguing than the rest. The Eastern Conference has a lot of powerhouses and will generate some great playoff series throughout. Can the Lightning continue their outstanding play? Do the Capitals have what it takes to repeat? Can the Penguins get back to the top? All of these questions will get answered but there is one thought on every player’s mind and that is the Stanley Cup.
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