Playoff Previews : The Eastern Conference 1st Round

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The greatest time of the year is almost upon us; the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Here is my take on the opening round of Eastern Conference matchups.

Atlantic Division

(1) Boston Bruins (117 pts, 54-19-9) vs (WC) Detroit Red Wings (93 pts, 38-29-15)

Series Schedule

Gm 1

Friday, April 18 at 6:30 pm CDT

Red Wings at Bruins

Gm 2

Sunday, April 20 at 2 pm CDT

Red Wings at Bruins

Gm 3

Tuesday, April 22 at 6:30 pm CDT

Bruins at Red Wings

Gm 4

Thursday, April 24 at 7 pm CDT

Bruins at Red Wings

Gm 5*

Saturday, April 26 at 2 pm CDT

Red Wings at Bruins

Gm 6*

Monday, April 28 (Time TBD)

Bruins at Red Wings

Gm 7*

Wednesday, April 30 (Time TBD)

Red Wings at Bruins

Regular Season Series:

10/5/2013

@BOS 4, DET 1

10/14/2013

DET 3, @BOS 2

11/27/2013

@DET 7, BOS 1

4/2/2014

@DET 3, BOS 2

Leading Scorers:

BOS

DET

Points

David Krejic, 69

Points

Daniel Alfredsson & Niklas Kronwell, 49

Goals

Patrice Bergeron & Jarome Iginla, 30

Goals

Gustav Nyquist, 28

Assists

David Krejic, 50

Assists

Niklas Kronwall, 41

Goalie Matchup:

Tukka Rask (36-15-6, .930 save %, 2.04 GAA, 7 SO) vs Jimmy Howard (21-19-11, .910 save %, 2.66 GAA, 2 SO)

The Bruins and Red Wings are set to meet up for their eight playoff meeting against each other and the first one since 1957.  Boston has won four out of the previous seven playoff series.  These two teams have taken different paths to the post season.  The Bruins have spent almost the entire regular season as the class of the Eastern Conference.  The Red Wings had scratch and claw for every point during an injury plagued season to extend their playoff appearance streak to 23 straight years.

On paper, the Bruins should win this series in a cake walk, much like the Blackhawks were supposed to roll over Detroit in the Western Conference Semi Finals last season.  But the Red Wings have the best coach in the game, Mike Babcock, behind their bench.  All you have to do is take a look at what Babcock had to work with down the stretch this season to realize you can never count out the Wings.

Tuukka Rask, who will be a top pick for the Vezina Trophy, struggled mightily against the Wings the year.  He went 1-3 with a .871 save % and 3.29 GAA which was a far cry from the numbers he put up against the rest of the league.

The most intriguing thing to watch in this series will be if the Bruins can handle the new influx of speed the Red Wings have added to their lineup.  We all saw how the Blackhawks speed caused fits for the Bruins last year, and there could be more of the same with Detroit.  The team who gets the better play from their blue line will ultimately win this series.  The Bruins have young defensemen who could be pulled out of position by the faster players on Detroit.  The Red Wings' biggest weakness, since the retirement of Niklas Lindstrom, has been their defense.  They still have the physical presence of Niklas Kronwall but they have some holes to worry about.  Guys like Brendan Smith and Danny Dekeyser are going to be tested by the physical style of play the Bruins will bring.

In the end, the size and experience of the Bruins will win out.  Boston takes the series in six games but it won't be easy.

(2) Tampa Bay Lightning 101 pts, 46-27-9) vs (3) Montreal Canadiens (100 pts, 46-28-8)

Series Schedule:

Gm 1

Wednesday, April 16 at 6 pm CDT

Canadiens at Lightning

Gm 2

Friday, April 18 at 6 pm CDT

Canadiens at Lightning

Gm 3

Sunday, April 20 at 6 pm CDT

Lightning at Canadiens

Gm 4

Tuesday, April 22 at 6 pm CDT

Lightning at Canadiens

Gm 5*

Thursday, April 24 at 6 pm CDT

Canadiens at Lightning

Gm 6*

Sunday, April 27 (Time TBD)

Lightning at Canadiens

Gm 7*

Tuessday, April 29 (Time TBD)

Canadiens at Lightning

Regular Season Series

11/12/2013

TB 2, @MTL 1 (SO)

12/28/2013

@TB 2, MTL 1 (SO)

2/1/2014

TB 2, @MTL 1 (OT)

4/1/2014

@TB 3, MTL 1

Leading Scorers

TB

MTL

Points

Ondrej Palat, 59

Points

Max Pacioretty, 60

Goals

Valterri Flippula, 25

Goals

Max Pacioretty, 39

Assists

Victor Hedman, 42

Assists

P.K. Subban, 43

Goalie Matchup

Ben Bishop, if healthy (34-17-4, .924 save %, 2.23 GAA, 5 SO) vs Carey Price (34-20-5, .927 save%, 2.32 GAA, 6 SO)

If you were on Mars for the entire regular season and I told you that Steven Stamkos missed 45 games and the Lightning traded away Martin St. Louis, you'd say they finished dead last. Well, they finished second in the Atlantic Division, thanks to a great coaching job by Jon Cooper.  Despite losing Stamkos for half the season, the Bolts used a balanced attack to finish 9th in the league in scoring with 2.83 goals per game.

The Montreal Canadiens, who finished the season 21st in scoring, only scored four goals in their four regular season losses to Tampa Bay.  Three of those for games occurred before the Habs acquired Thomas Vanek, who has bolstered their offense.  The Canadiens will have to find some consistent scoring if they want to make a deep playoff run.

This series is going to come down to goaltending.  Carey Price enjoyed one of his best seasons, posting a career best goals against average and save percentage to go along with his Olympic gold medal (thanks Stephane Waite).  Ben Bishop, who should be a Vezina finalist, injured his elbow back on April 8th and is uncertain for the playoffs.  The Lightning are screwed if he can't make it because Andres Lindback has been a hot mess for most of the season.  If Lindback can't be trusted Cooper will have to turn to rookie Kristers Gudlevskis, who we all remember for his 55 save performance for Latvia against Team Canada in the Olympics. Gudlevskis has played in the ECHL, Sochi, the AHL and now the NHL this season which is a pretty amazing story.

Coaching makes a huge difference come playoff time and I think Cooper holds a big advantage over Michelle Therrien.  A seven game series is a chess match, and Therrien got pantsed in last year's series against Ottawa.  Despite all the adversity, I think Tampa wins this series in seven games.

Metropolitan Division

(1) Pittsburgh Penguins (109 pts 51-24-7) vs (WC) Columbus Blue Jackets (93 pts 43-32-7)

Series Schedule

Gm 1

Wednesday, April 16 at 6:30 pm CDT

Blue Jackets at Penguins

Gm 2

Saturday, April 19 at 6 pm CDT

Blue Jackets at Penguins

Gm 3

Monday, April 21 at 6 pm CDT

Penguins at Blue Jackets

Gm 4

Wednesday, April 23 at 6 pm CDT

Penguins at Blue Jackets

Gm 5*

Saturday, April 26 at (Time TBD)

Blue Jackets at Penguins

Gm 6*

Monday, April 28 (Time TBD)

Penguins at Blue Jackets

Gm 7*

Wednesday, April 30 (Time TBD)

Blue Jackets at Penguins

Regular Season Series

11/1/2013

@PIT 4, CBJ 2

11/2/2013

PIT 3, @CBJ 0

12/9/2013

@PIT 2, CBJ 1

12/29/2013

PIT 5, @CBJ 3

3/28/2014

PIT 2, @CBJ 1

Leading Scorers

PIT

CBJ

Points

Sidney Crosby, 104

Points

Ryan Johansen, 63

Goals

Sidney Crosby, 36

Goals

Ryan Johansen, 33

Assists

Sidney Crosby, 68

Assists

James Wisniewski, 44

Goalie Matchup

Marc-Andre Fleury (39-18-5, .915 save %, 2.37 GAA, 5 SO) vs Sergei Bobrovsky (32-20-5, .923 save %, 2.38 GAA, 5 SO)

The Penguins were still able to win the Metro Division despite having a ton of injuries on their blue line, which goes to show the Metro Division is lousy.  Marc-Andre Feury enjoyed one of his best seasons as he tied a career high with five shutouts. But, ever since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009, Fleury has pretty much piddled down his leg come playoff time.

Sidney Crosby was able to stay healthy for the entire season, which does not set up well for the Blue Jackets. Ryan Johansen is an emerging as a potential superstar and could have a major coming out party if he can lead team past the hockey media darlings.

The Blue Jackets are one of the heaviest hitting teams in the NHL.  They will definitely try and use their physicality to their advantage, but as we know here in Chicago, the Pens have some big hitters as well.  The Blue Jackets are still seeking for their first playoff game win in franchise history and they will get it in this series. But, that is all they are going to get as the Penguins yearly collapse will come in the second round as the Pittsburgh moves on in five games.

(2) New York Rangers (96 pts, 45-31-6) vs (3) Philadelphia Flyers (94 pts, 42-20-10)

Series Schedule

Gm 1

Thursday, April 17 at 6 pm CDT

Flyers at Rangers

Gm 2

Sunday, April 20 at 11 am CDT

Flyers at Rangers

Gm 3

Tuesday, April 22 at 7 pm CDT

Rangers at Flyers

Gm 4

Friday, April 25 at 6 pm CDT

Rangers at Flyers

Gm 5*

Sunday, April 27 at 11 am CDT

Flyers at Rangers

Gm 6*

Tuesday, April 29 (Time TBD)

Rangers at Flyers

Gm 7*

Wednesday, April 30 (Time TBD)

Flyers at Rangers

Regular Season Series

10/21/2014

@PHI 2, NYR 1

1/12/2014

@NYR 4, PHI 1

3/1/2014

@PHI 4, NYR 2

3/26/2004

@NYR 3, PHI 1

Leading Scorers

NYR

PHI

Points

Mats Zucarrello, 59

Points

Claude Giroux, 86

Goals

Rick Nash, 26

Goals

Wayne Simmonds, 29

Assists

Mats Zucarrello & Derek Stepan 40

Assists

Claude Giroux, 58

Goalie Matchup

Henrik Lundqvist (33-24-5, .920 save %, 2.36 GAA, 5 SO) vs Steve Mason (33-18-7, .917 save %, 2.50 GAA, 4 SO)

This series is going to be a fun one.  There will be something for everyone; skill, physical play and hatred.  The Rangers had a crazy start to their season with nine straight road games to begin the year while having to gel under a new head coach.  World class goaltender Henrik Lundqvist struggled to start the year but has been a beast down the stretch.

The Flyers made a head coaching change just three games into the season when they fired Peter Laviolette and replaced him with Craig Berube.  The coaching change did not have an immediate effect as the Flyers went as Claude Giroux did this season.  When he struggled in October, the team tanked.  When he became a Hart Trophy candidate afterwards, the Flyers took off.

I want to pick the Flyers in this series, I really do, but there is no way I can pick Steve Mason over Henrik Lundqvist.  The home team won every game during the regular season series and that trend will carry over to the playoffs, Rangers in 7.

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