My predictions for the Eastern Conference qualifying round finished 2-2. I’m not going to lie: I did not expect Montreal to do what they did against Pittsburgh. It was so much fun to watch Carey Price just shut the door. It was also very satisfying to watch Toronto get eliminated, considering a lot of people believed they would just score their way past Columbus. As for the other two series, congratulations to the Islander and Hurricanes. It was impressive to watch Carolina just have their way with the Rangers. For the Islander, Florida was just not that good of a hockey team, and they exploited that multiple times.
Now the “real” playoffs start. We move from a best-of-five series to the traditional best-of-seven. Let’s take a look at the matchups and pick some winners.
Washington Capitals Vs. New York Islanders
Prediction: Washington in 6
The Islanders are a well balanced hockey team. Their offence is good, and structurally, they play well as a team. The Capitals aren’t as balanced, but they have a lot of talent up front, and trying to slow that talent down is going to be a challenge.
Even though I’m going with Washington here, there are some question marks that need to be answered. The status of John Carlson is the most important one.
He didn’t play a single minute in the qualifying round, and we don’t know if he’ll be ready to go for game one on Wednesday. The Capitals finished third in the round robin tournament, and a big part of that was because they didn’t have their best defenceman in the lineup.
The other question mark is Brayden Holtby, specifically: can he be good? In three games, the veteran goalie posted a .925 SV% and a 1.98 GAA. Those are very encouraging numbers for a goalie who finished with a .897 SV% and a 3.11 GAA during the regular season. We’ve seen what good goaltending can do for a team, and the Capitals will go as far as Holtby takes them. He’s the biggest part of the equation, and so far, I think he can continue to play well. The Islanders don’t have the scariest offence in the league, but that doesn’t mean they can be taken lightly.
In the end, the Capitals should have enough firepower to get past the Islanders, but it won’t be as easy as people want to believe.
Boston Bruins Vs. Carolina Hurricanes
Prediction: Carolina in 5
The Boston Bruins came into the round robin tournament as the top team in the Eastern Conference, and yet, they lost all three games and scored just four goals. Maybe these games didn’t matter to them, but they did themselves no favours by having to face off against the Hurricanes, a team that dominated the Rangers from start to finish.
To make matters even worse, there’s a chance that Dougie Hamilton, who missed all three games in the qualifying round, suits up for game one. An already very good team is about to get better.
The Bruins do have the best goalie tandem in the league, but they also need to score goals. Petr Mrazek was very good in both games he played, and I do think that he can be the backbone his team needs to make it to the next round.
People like to point out that it was only three games and that you can’t use that small sample as a way to evaluate a team, and that’s fair, but how many times have we seen a team entering the playoffs get hot and just run with it? This is Carolina. They are just as deep as the Bruins up front, and they are playing some very good hockey. We can’t say that about Boston.
Maybe the Bruins turn on the jets and start clicking in this round, but I’m not going to “hope” for something to happen when I’m watching a team already do it. The Hurricanes are a better team than people give them credit for, and we are going to witness it this round.
Tampa Bay Lightning Vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Prediction: Tampa Bay in 7
The Columbus Blue Jackets aren’t the most exciting team to watch, but man are they good at playing hockey. As predicted, they gave the Leafs zero space to operate, which resulted in them scoring only three goals at even strength. They also got amazing goaltending from both their goalies. John Tortorella is using the players that he has in the best possible way. How can you root against them?
Well, they have to face off against the Lightning for the second time in as many years. Despite not having Steven Stamkos, they did enough to finish second in the round robin tournament. I can’t for the life of me expect them to lose to Columbus two years in a row. You have to believe that they learned their lesson, right?
I will say this, Columbus is going to give them a run for their money. They shut down the Leafs and made it look easy, so imagine what they could do to this Lightning team. The formula is going to be the same, but Tampa is a much deeper team than Toronto, and they aren’t just a skill team, they work hard all over the ice.
I do believe this series will go the distance, just because Columbus has the goaltending to do it. Even if Stamkos isn’t ready to play game one, you have to expect he’ll be ready to go at some point, and that’s a huge boost. Tampa Bay will want to get their revenge, so I don’t think motivation is a problem for them. Every team wants to win at this point, but for the Lightning, it’s more than that. They were embarrassed last year in front of the whole world. You know they won’t let that happen twice.
Philadelphia Flyers Vs. Montreal Canadiens
Prediction: Philadelphia in 6
I don’t think people understand just how good the Flyers are. They walked into the round robin tournament and beat every team. They are so deep up front, and on the blue line. It’s amazing that we aren’t talking about them as true Stanley Cup contenders. Their reward for being so good: the Montreal Canadiens.
Like I said, I didn’t expect the Habs to be here. Now I know why the league was terrified of allowing the Canadiens to participate in the qualifying round. Carey Price did everything he needed to do to carry his team to the next round. He was their best player, and look where they are. Don’t let anyone tell you that Price isn’t elite, because he just reminded everyone how good he is when there is something on the line.
Can he produce another miracle? Maybe, but this Flyers team is much deeper than the Penguins, specifically in goal. The Penguins’ decision to start Murray over Jarry cost them the series, but there won’t be a goalie controversy in this series. Carter Hart was pretty much unbeatable in his two games, and I expect him to be unbeatable in this series.
The Canadiens don’t generate a ton of offence, and that ultimately going to be the reason why they lose this series. Having elite goaltending can only carry you so far. It’s unrealistic to ask Carey Price to stop 95% of all the shots he faces every game. Even if he can, the Habs gave up 133 shots in four games. That’s 33.5 Sh/GM! Yes they did play one overtime game, but you can’t give good teams a ton of chances to score goals.
On top of asking Price to stop a crazy amount of shots, they gave their goalie very little support when up a man. The Canadiens scored ZERO goals on the power play. The only good news is the Flyers also scored none, but Montreal’s penalty kill isn’t exactly amazing, and they took way too many penalties in the qualifying round. The Penguins just couldn’t make them pay for it.
I’d love to see Montreal get past the Flyers here, but we have to be realistic. We knew that the Penguins didn’t have a ton of depth past their top-6, and that Matt Murray was a liability, but what weakness do the Flyers have? What can the Habs exploit? Is a hotdog a sandwich? Ok forget the last question, but still, the Canadiens have a very difficult road ahead, and they don’t have a distinct advantage in the goaltending category. Maybe they pull a rabbit out of their hat, but I expect the Flyers to be able to get past the Canadiens without having to go to game seven.