Michael Pellegrino Staff Writer
The time of year has come again for the best of the NHL to vie for one of the most coveted trophies in sports, the Stanley Cup. From the Golden Knights’ unprecedented success in their inaugural season, to the Penguins looking to win their third consecutive championship, these playoffs have plenty of potential to excite and amaze like only the NHL playoffs can. Here is how I think the Eastern Conference will play out:
After clinching the top overall seed in the east with the Bruins’ loss on the last day of the regular season, Tampa Bay matches up against a Devils team making their first playoff appearance since 2012. The Lightning have had a rough few years, from losing to the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup finals, then losing to Pittsburgh in the conference finals, followed by not making the playoffs last season. Tampa has much to prove this year, Nikita Kucherov leads the team with 100 points, having an unbelievable season. The biggest question mark surrounding this series is the health of Steven Stamkos, Tampa’s captain and second to Kucherov in points on the team. If he is healthy, and ready to go, then the Lightning have a serious chance of making a deep run this season.
New Jersey is a surprise team in the East, with only one player on the team having more than 60 points this season in Taylor Hall. However, this team relies on pure grit, and teamwork to really win games. Players such as Kyle Palmeri and Travis Zajac perfectly exemplify this ideal which led the Devils to the playoffs. Their 3-0-0 record against Tampa will add to their motivation, however the Lightning have too much talent and experience for the Devils to overcome.
Prediction: Tampa Bay wins Series 4-1
The next matchup is Boston vs Toronto. Boston’s young core may prove to be either an asset with their tenacity, or a hindrance with their inexperience in the playoffs. The Bruins are hoping that seasoned veterans such as Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, and the goalkeeping of Tuukka Rask can guide them through the playoffs. Toronto is relying on their young stud in Auston Matthews as well as points leader Mitchell Marner to put away their division rival.
Boston wins Series 4-3
On the other matchup, Washington plays the Blue Jackets. Washington once again finds itself in a very good position to make the Stanley Cup Finals but standing in their way is a Columbus team that can surprise people. Columbus had a recent 10-game winning streak towards the end of the season, but a losing record (1-3) against Washington this season.
The Capitals are led by star Alex Ovechkin, who leads the league with 49 goals, and leads his team with 87 points. This is another situation where the Capitals have all the right pieces in place and should win this series. However their recent playoff history shows that they may struggle in the first round, and lose in the second, leading to an early exit for a good team. Stars are abundant in this series with Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Cam Atkinson and Artemi Panarin to just name a few.
Prediction: Washington wins Series 4-2
In arguably the most anticipated first-round matchup, the battle for Pennsylvania takes place, with Pittsburgh taking on Philadelphia. The Penguins are looking to become the first team to win three consecutive Stanley Cups since the Islanders won four consecutive cups from 1979-1983. Philadelphia snuck into the playoffs at the end of the season, after a tight battle with Florida and Columbus.
Claude Giroux is having a historic season, with 34 goals and 102 points to his name. Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby all lead the Penguins in points by a wide margin, so they will have to do much of the heavy lifting if they want to win a third straight cup for Pittsburgh.
Prediction: Pittsburgh wins Series 4-2
“The Penguins are looking to become the first team to win three consecutive Stanley Cups”