The Stanley Cup Playoffs are right around the corner and the East Division matchups have been set after all four teams finished the regular season. This season has been very different as division realignment was necessary to complete the 2021 campaign.
The East Division has been grueling but it has been one of the best divisions in the league. It’s been a tight race for the top spot all season but the Pittsburgh Penguins came out on top with 77 points followed by the Washington Capitals (77), Boston Bruins (73), and the New York Islanders (71). The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs will be one of a kind but it will be fascinating to see division opponents grind it out for two series before facing other divisions foes.
Stanley Cup Playoffs: East Division Preview
Islanders (4) vs Penguins (1)
Head To Head: Penguins (6-2-0); Islanders (2-4-2)
This round one matchup is easily one of the most interesting of them all. Even with the shakeup this season, these two longtime division rivals happen to face each other right off the hop. This will be the sixth playoff series between the two, with the most recent going the Islanders way in 2019 in the form of a sweep.
The Penguins would like to forget about that and what happened last year in the qualifying round. This year, they finished first atop the East Division in a tight race, while the Islanders finished fourth. Pittsburgh is towards the top in goals per game with 3.5 and that’s due to Sidney Crosby, who leads the team in goals (24) and assists (38), along with Jake Guentzel, who keeps getting better and better each year as he has 23 goals. On the other hand, the Islanders are at the bottom of the league in goals per game with 2.7 as they fail to bring in a 20 goal scorer but Brock Nelson leads them with 18 goals and Mathew Barzal leads in points.
Where the offense might lack, the defense and goaltending succeed for New York. Semyon Varlamov has been excellent in net as he’s got a 2.02 goals-against average while carrying a .930 save percentage in 34 games. Although the Penguins might not be able to match the Islanders’ goaltending, they can put up a fight with Tristan Jarry. He’s 29-5-3 with a 2.75 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage. You would like those numbers to come down a little but the Penguins’ offense allows it to be that way. In this series, the case might be defense vs offense and that could go either way as we’ve seen in the past.
Bruins (3) vs Capitals (2)
Head To Head: Bruins (4-1-2); Capitals (3-4-0)
This series will be a heavyweight bout between two teams who have superstar experience in their lineups. The Capitals are just a few years removed from their Stanley Cup victory in 2018 and they are one of the favorites to get back to that same position. The Bruins on the other hand are two years removed from a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 2019 (lost to St. Louis).
This Washington team has talent all around to do just that yet again. The regular stars are generating again for the Capitals as Alex Ovechkin leads this team with 24 goals and Nicklas Backstrom leads in assists with 38. One of the best defensemen in all of the league is contributing well to this team as John Carlson has the second-most points on the team with 44. The Capitals are top three in goals per game but the goaltending has been up and down as they give up almost three goals a game. Vitek Vanecek has to be rock solid in goal if the Capitals plan on competing with the Bruins.
The Capitals’ special teams have proven to be lethal as they are top five on both the power play and penalty kill. With this offense, that combination is the recipe for success but the Bruins aren’t too bad themselves as they have one of the best penalty kills in the league and a top ten power play. We’ve seen this Bruins offense get hotter than any other in this league, especially with Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak doing their thing. They also added Taylor Hall at the deadline, who seems to be fitting right in with this team.
With Tuukka Rask being his normal self (.913 save percentage, 2.28 GAA), he just might be able to stagger this Capitals offense, as hard as that is. This series will be won in the trenches and the winner will come out with a well-deserved victory. These two teams played their final game of the regular season against each other but both rested key players for this great series ahead in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Other Stanley Cup Playoffs Divisional Matchups