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It’s mid-April, and that can only mean one thing in the hockey world: The quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup is upon us! Here’s a quick look at the first round matchups in the East (check out the West preview over here!) and our predictions. **Note: All TV listings provided are national broadcasts. Games in market will be televised locally.
Atlantic Division Matchups
1 Boston –vs– 4 Detroit
The Red Wings snuck into the playoffs with 93 points and as the only team with a negative goal differential (-8) to have a shot at Stanley Cup glory. They did so with the league’s hottest player (Gustav Nyquist) going on an absolute tear through the final 2 months of the regular season, but still lost nearly half of their post-Olympic games due to some shaky defense. On the other hand, the Bruins seemed to have locked up a playoff birth by mid-December and cruised through the entire season, taking home the Presidents’ Trophy with a cool 117 points and a monster +84 goal differential (best in the league by 27). They have 4 lines that work well together and they play a nasty brand of hockey that’s made for the playoffs.
Season Series: Red Wings 3-1
Series Opener: Friday @ 7:30pm ET on NBCSN
Prediction: The Red Wings have given the Bruins trouble all year, beating Rask and the Bruins in 3 of 4 attempts (all in regulation), including a 6-1 thrashing in late November. Keep an upset-alert eye on this one, but Boston is built for the playoffs. Bruins in 7.
2 Tampa Bay –vs– 3 Montreal
Tampa took the #2 seed in the Atlantic thanks in part to 12 wins in their final 17 games, and points in 2 more. Montreal won 11 of their final 15, and lost a 12th in overtime. Unfortunately for the Habs, one of their 3 regulation losses over that time was to the Bolts. That game might have spurred some bad blood between the sides with Douglas Murray delivering a brutal hit to the head of Mike Kostka. The Lightning have excelled behind the contributions of rookies Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson coupled with the return of Steven Stamkos from his gruesome leg injury. The Canadiens have allowed the 3rd fewest goals of East playoff teams (behind the Bruins and Rangers), but also scored the fewest.
Season Series: Lightning 3-1, but 3 of the games went to overtime. Each team won 1 in a shootout, and the Bolts took the 3rd in overtime.
Series Opener: Wednesday @ 7pm ET on CNBC
Prediction: The Lightning had a leg up on the Canadiens this year, but might have some issues in net if Ben Bishop isn’t healthy enough to give Carey Price a good fight in the goaltending battle. Lightning in 7.
Metropolitan Division Matchups
1 Pittsburgh –vs– 4 Columbus
The Penguins never seem to worry, no matter how many players are out of the lineup and who those players are. They seemingly locked up their playoff berth about a month into the season, when the entire rest of the Metropolitan struggling mightily. They struggled over the past month, winning just 4 of their final 17 games in regulation. Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets went on a run, winning 7 of their final 11 to snatch up the final playoff spot in the East.
Season Series: Penguins 5-0. The Blue Jackets lead for all of 56 seconds across the 5 games.
Series Opener: Wednesday @ 7:30pm ET on NBCSN
Prediction: The Penguins absolutely dominated the Blue Jackets this season. In fact, the last time they lost to Columbus was February 8, 2011. The only way I see Columbus taking this one is if Fleury returns to his form of last year’s playoffs and Bobrovsky stands on his head. Penguins in 5.
2 NY Rangers –vs– 3 Philadephia
The Rangers made a mad dash to lock up the #2 seed in the Metropolitan division, going 9-2-2 in their final 13 games, 8 of those games coming away from Madison Square Garden. Meanwhile, the Flyers made the playoffs behind a strong March, but limped to the finish, going 4-5-3 in their final 12 games. Games between these two sides are always hotly contested and come with a healthy serving of passion and physicality. The first playoff meeting between these two since 1997 should only add more fuel to that fire and make for an exciting series.
Season Series: All even 2-2, with the home team winning each game.
Series Opener: Thursday @ 7pm ET on CNBC
Prediction: The Rangers have seemed to dominate the Flyers in recent years, and all but the score looked to favor the Blueshirts this season. If Steve Mason is actually hurt, look out. It looks like he’ll be good to go, but Lundqvist still gives the Rangers a solid edge. Rangers in 5.