When writing up these first round matchups I realized that not one of them features a divisional rivalry. I am too lazy to check but I am not sure that has ever happened before. Anyway, here are my eastern conference predictions.
NY Islanders at Buffalo
|NY Islanders (road)||Buffalo (home)|
|Predicted Winner||Buffalo (Good)|
|Last 10 Games||6-3-1||7-3-0|
Through some gritty play, some surprise goaltending and some luck the Islanders managed to find their way into the playoffs but unfortunately for them in the first round they are going to play the best team in the east just as they are getting healthy for the first time in a long time. In other words, it is going to be real tough for the Islanders to move on to the next round. That said, if Dubielewicz can provide quality goaltending like he has the past week I think the Islanders could steal a few games. The Islanders may not have any superstars on their team but they have some very good, hard working players like Blake, Smyth, Hunter, Witt, Hill, etc. and should make the Sabres work for their wins. But in the end, the Sabres have by far the better talent, depth and probably goaltending.
My Prediction: Sabres in 6
Tampa Bay at New Jersey
|Tampa Bay (road)||New Jersey (home)|
|Predicted Winner||New Jersey (Good)|
|Last 10 Games||5-4-1||6-3-1|
Those who read my blog will know that I do not think that Tampa is a very good team. Tampa is really just a 4 player team of Lecavalier, St. Louis, Richards and Boyle. Their goaltending is weak, they don’t have a lot of quality depth and if it werent for their shootout play they wouldn’t have been close to making the playoffs. All that said, Tampa has beaten the Devils 3 times this year including both games in New Jersey (one by a shootout) so who knows, maybe they have a chance. Plus, I am not completely sold on the Devils either. But even so, I think between Brodeur and their defensive oriented game the Devils play they will shut down Tampa’s big 3 forwards and New Jersey will get enough offense to put away the Lightning fairly easily.
My Prediction: New Jersey in 5
NY Rangers at Atlanta
|NY Rangers (road)||Atlanta (home)|
|Predicted Winner||Atlanta (Some)|
|Last 10 Games||7-2-1||6-3-1|
This is a real interesting series between two fairly similar clubs. Both teams are using second year goalies (Lundqvist, Lehtonen) with real promising careers ahead of them. Both teams rely heavily on 4 forwards (Jagr, Straka, Nylander, Shanahan vs Hossa, Kozlov, Kovalchuk and Tkachuk) for offense with 3 of them being European and both teams have decent, though relatively anonymous group of defensemen. The Rangers have a super pest in Sean Avery and the Thrashers have gritty veteren forward Scott Mellanby. For the Rangers I really like that Lundqvist is going into the playoffs playing the best hockey of his season if not his young career and that might be the difference. But I also think that the Thrashers have a little more experience and leadership with guys like Mellanby, Holik, Rucchin, DeVries as well as coach Hartley and that bodes well for the Thrashers. This should be an exciting and long playoff series but in the end I’ll go with the team with home ice advantage.
My Prediction: Thrashers in 7
Pittsburgh at Ottawa
|Pittsburgh (road)||Ottawa (home)|
|Predicted Winner||Ottawa (Good)|
|Last 10 Games||6-3-1||6-2-2|
In some ways this is kind of like the San Jose-Nashville series in the west where both teams are quality offensive teams but both teams have their question marks. For Nashville it was their small, soft players and for San Jose it was relying heavily on a couple of young defensemen. In this series it is lack of leadership and grit for the Senators along with carrying the heavy burden of numerous playoff failures in the past. For Pittsburgh it is depending heavily on 3 forwards aged 20 and under a 22 year old goalie and a second year defenseman in Ryan Whitney. I normally would not want to pick a team with that much youth but Crosby and Malkin are rare talents that might be the exception to the rule and Ottawa isn’t exactly a veteren laden, playoff hardened team. Ottawa has their own 21 year old defenseman, a 24 year old second year goalie, and a 23 year old number one center and most of the rest of their team just 25-26 years of age. But what I think will be the difference in this series is the veteren leadership that the Penguins have that the Senators don’t. Between Roberts and Recchi the Penguins might have the two best playoff experienced leaders in the game. Recchi has a pair of Stanley Cups and 135 games of playoff experience. Roberts has a Stanley Cup and 114 games of NHL experience. Ottawa doesn’t have an equivalent and if those two guys can keep Pittsburgh’s young players focused and confident I like Pittsburgh’s chances in this series. Before I make my prediction I will add that it will be critically important for both teams to stay out of the penalty box as both teams have the ability to be especially devastating on the power play.
My Prediction: Pittsburgh in 6