The balance of power in the Eastern Conference is firmly planted in the Atlantic Division. Saying four out of the best five teams in the East are in that division isn’t a stretch. With that said, divisional races are completely different than the playoffs, where the Bruins will feel right at home. With that said, there are some real chances for some big surprises coming out of this bracket.
#1 vs #8
New York Rangers vs Ottawa Senators
The Sens took the season series, and presents some real challenges for the blueshirts. Ottawa employs a lot of speed throughout their lineup, and feeds off the transition game. New York plays the steady, fundamentally sound game that requires shot blocking, and physicality. The Rangers can ill afford to look past Ottawa, but the depth of New York will prove to be too much. Plus, the advantage in goal belongs firmly to the Rangers. New York in 5.
#2 vs #7
Boston Bruins vs Washington Capitals
This may be the most unpredictable series, because while the Bruins are steady and we know exactly what the Bruins will be bringing, and we have no idea what the Capitals will be bringing. Alex Ovechkin has turned on the jets and is back to leading the team like he should be, and the return of his good buddy Nicklas Backstrom. They aren’t as deep as the Bruins, and the Caps’ goaltending is a bit unproven with Braden Holtby getting the reigns. The Bruins just keep pouring on the forward depth, and even without Nathan Horton there’s still plenty of offensive punch. But with that said, the Capitals can score. Taking the safe pick, Bruins in 7.
#3 vs #6
Florida Panthers vs New Jersey Devils
The feel good story of the year, the Panthers, win the division and host a very tough opponent. Lucky them. Lost in the normal Devils mold is their scoring, Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, and David Clarkson all have tallied 30+ goal seasons, and there’s still Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac and Petr Sykora to worry about. The Panthers have their own forward depth, and it’s lined with two-way forwards. The difference will come down to goaltending, where the Panthers will either choose between the inconsistency of Jose Theodore or the “okay” game of Scott Clemmensen. Marty Broduer at this stage of his career and Johan Hedberg aren’t leaps and bound better, but better nonetheless. Originally I picked the Devils in 4 on FangFaction’s podcast, but I’m changing it to Devils in 6 due to Florida winning a pair of home games.
#4 vs #5
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Philadelphia Flyers
While all the “experts” are picking the Penguins, did they suddenly forget that the Flyers owned the Penguins for the last two years? Even after the roster change for the Flyers, they still had their way with the Penguins. Why? Philly’s top players are more physical, and just the nature of their game. Pittsburgh has more talent than any other team in the league right now, and it’s really not close outside of the Canucks. But it’s not a skills competition. The Bruins pushed around the Canucks, and made the more talented team play the Bruins game towards the end of the series. Expect the Flyers to do the same. It’s an absolute shame Chris Pronger won’t be around for this series, to even further clinch Philly’s claim to being the ultimate playoff villain. Flyers in 6. And Scott Hartnell will continue becoming a star.
From the second round forward, the Eastern Conference will be playing 90’s hockey. It will be glorious.