NHL Playoffs: Eastern Conference Preview

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Legit Title Contenders

(all odds per vegasinsider.com)

Boston Bruins (3/1 to win the Stanley Cup)

The Boston Bruins enter the NHL playoffs as the best team in the Eastern Conference and arguably the best team in the NHL after winning the Presidents Trophy or the league’s best record. They have four quality lines full of skill and experience. They also come in with Tuukka Rask who is an elite goalie that can carry a team through the playoffs on their way to a Stanley Cup. The 2014 Bruins team have much of the same team that won the cup in 11. They have a good mix of age and youth that makes them a strong cup contender.

Key for a deep run

The Bruins need to remain focused on each team throughout the NHL playoffs. Luckily for them, they match up with the Detroit Red Wings which should garner their full attention. Round 1 will be key for the Bruins. If they get out of round 1, which is expected I would expect to see them in the Eastern Conference Final. They would likely face the other legit title contender in the East, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Pittsburgh Penguins (7/1 to win the Stanley Cup)

The Penguins come into the NHL playoffs much more under the radar then they are typically used to. The past couple of seasons have seen the Penguins struggle and exit earlier than expected. Marc Andre Fleury has been impressive this season and yet everyone has been waiting to see what happens when the playoffs begin. Tomas Vokun missed the entire season due to a blood clot. He has however played in a few conditioning games in the AHL. However if the Penguins need to rely on Vokun, they are likely on the way out.

Key for a deep run:

The Penguins must get healthy and stay that way throughout the playoffs. Malkin is expected to return for the Playoffs. Kris Letang has come back from his stroke in late February and seems to back where he left off. Letang will provide scoring from the blue line and is key to the power play.

 

In the Mix

Detroit Red Wings (25/1 to win the Stanley Cup)

While the Red Wings are only a wild card entering the playoffs, they me be one of the scariest teams in the Eastern Conference. The Red Wings are not exactly the team they wanted to see waiting after they worked so hard to win their respective divisions. The Wings are looking for their 23 straight playoff appearance and are getting healthy at the right time.

Key for a deep run

Much like with the Penguins, the Red Wings must stay healthy. The return of Pavel Datsyuk and Daniel Alfredsson is pivotal for the Red Wings in the 2014 NHL playoffs. The return of Henrik Zetterberg is seeming more and more likely coming off of back surgery in February.  The Red Wings have talent on all four forward lines and on their blue line. This team is starting look like the team many expected to see all season.

Tampa Bay Lightning (25/1 to win the Stanley Cup)

The Lightning are a supremely talented team lead by Steven Stamkos. The Lightning moved Martin St Louis at the trade deadline to fellow Eastern Conference playoff team, New York Rangers. St Louis was one of the few players left from the Tampa Bays cup win 2004. The Lightning showed poise with Steven Stamkos missing time and the St. Louis trade. This poise should help them in the playoffs against talented opponents.

Key to a deep run:

Goaltending is going to be key for Tampa Bay. Ben Bishop will need to take control of the job from game 1 and provide stability in net. If Bishop struggles, back up Anders Lindback will need to come in and right the ship. If Tampa Bay needs to make the move to Lindback, they will need to do it before the series gets away from them.

Montreal Canadiens (20/1 to win the Stanley Cup)

The Montreal Canadiens are Canada’s only representative in the NHL playoffs. Montreal has been playing inconsistently down the stretch but has what it takes to get hot and make a run. The goaltending of Carey Price will be crucial to the Canadiens success. Scoring has been an issue all season and Price will get much of the burden to keep the Canadiens in games.

Key to a deep run

The Canadiens will need to get their top lines scoring especially Thomas Vanek and Max Paccioretty. Scoring in 5 on 5 has been a struggle for Montreal a majority of the season and was a big factor in the Canadiens making the move to get Vanek from the New York Islanders

 

Wildcards (if things go right)

New York Rangers (20/1 to win the Stanley Cup)

Henrik Lundqvist is an elite goaltender. In the playoffs goaltending is pivotal for surviving and advancing. In past seasons stellar goaltending has proven to outperform even the most potent offenses. Yes Pittsburgh i’m looking at you. The addition of Martin St Louis gives the Rangers a guy who has won a cup and provides tons of veteran leadership.

Key to a deep run

The Blue line for the Rangers will be key to their success. Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and company will need to help take pressure Lundqvist as well as jump in on the rush and provide goal scoring help.

Philadelphia Flyers (30/1 to win the Stanley Cup)

Even after a sluggish start that saw the Flyers look horrendous out of the gate losing 7 of their first 8, and yet somehow Philadelphia has found itself in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Flyers have come together and are playing much better. Not surprisingly Claude Giroux has improved after struggling early in the season.

Key to a deep run

The Flyers must get consistency in net. The potential loss of Steve Mason could prove to be devastating to the Flyers and their 2014 playoff hopes. Ray Emery is a veteran with playoff experience. He will need to strong between the pipes.

 

Here for the parting gifts

Columbus Blue Jackets (50/1 to win the Stanley Cup)

The Columbus Blue Jackets enter the playoffs with little expectation from the outside. They have a young team with little playoff experience. Sergei Bobrovsky will need to be impressive if they are to make any kind of a run in the playoffs.

Key to a deep run

The Blue Jackets will need to play as a team and support each other. The blue liners will need to be strong in front of Bobrovsky as well as support the rush and provide goal scoring. Columbus doesn’t have the dominant goal scorer they once had in Rick Nash. Ryan Johansen has been their top goal scorer all season but will need his teammates to chip in as well.

 

First round series

(series prices per Sports Interaction)

Boston Bruins (-333) v Detroit Red Wings (+220)

Congratulations Boston! You had the Best record in the Eastern Conference and your reward is a first round matchup with the scariest wild card team who just happens to be getting everyone back right before the playoffs start. A perennial Western Conference playoff team, the Red Wings are in the playoffs in their first season in the East. The Red Wings have tons of experience, a talented goalie in Jimmy Howard and the leader for the Jack Adams (coach of the year) in Mike Babcock. This team should make this a very competitive series and i believe they can win it.

Prediction: Red Wings in 7

Pittsburgh Penguins (-385) v Columbus Blue Jackets (+250)

This series will be important for the Penguins. Their recent struggles especially against inferior opponents in the first round is well documented. Marc Andre Fleury will need to be better to help the penguins advance.  Sidney Crosby should be impressive in this series. The Penguins should be back at full strength with Letang back and Evgeni Malkin working to play game 1. The Penguins power play should be dominant and carry them through this series. For Columbus this series is a great experience for their young talent. Sergei Bobrovsky will need to play well for the Blue Jackets to win more than one or two games. The Penguins have collapsed under the pressure early in the playoffs before. If Columbus steals a win in Pittsburgh and heads home to get a couple wins the pressure could mount. They could find themselves in the middle of a fight in this series.

Prediction: Penguins in 5

 

Tampa Bay Lightning (-118) v Montreal Canadiens (-118)

This series is arguably the most competitive of any in the Eastern Conference. The Lighting are led by Steven Stamkos. The Lightning goaltending will need to be strong for the Lightning to win this series. Montreal has a strong blue line and have Carey Price in net. They have issues scoring consistently especially in 5 on 5. The stability of Price makes me believe the the Canadiens are going to win this series.

Prediction: Canadiens in 6

 

New York Rangers(-141) v Philadelphia Flyers (+100)

Another tough series to predict, The Rangers and Flyers are two physical teams that should provide grind it out series. Claude Giroux has stepped his play and helped the Flyers improve immensely along with Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds. They may be without Steve Mason for the playoffs which is a big loss. Ray Emery will have to shoulder the load in goal and the Flyers defenseman must provide him with support. Conversely the Rangers situation in goal is stable and Henerik Lundqvist is the a rock in goal. The Rangers will need to play well on the blue line and not put all the pressure on him. The Rangers should be able to score enough to win this series.

Prediction: Ranger in 7

Western Conference Preview

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