The Eastern Conference was a much different story compared to the past few season. In the past, the East was seen as a weaker conference, with less parity, compared to the West.
The teams were not as strong; they played with more finesse and were not seen to be as big of competitors for the Stanley Cup. This season is a much different story.
The Washington Capitals have been the most dominate team in the NHL this season, followed by a Pittsburg Penguins team that is storming into the playoffs. The New York Rangers, New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers have nothing to be ashamed of either with star-studded talent.
Oh yeah, that is just the Metropolitan Division.
The Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and the Detroit Red Wings are all in from the Atlantic Division, but don’t have the same firepower as the teams out of the Metropolitan. Either way, the East is not longer the pushover that they used to be.
Metropolitan Division Winner Washington Capitals v. Wild Card no. 2 Philadelphia Flyers:
The Capitals have been almost unstoppable. They play great in their own zone; have a goaltender who is putting together an extraordinary season and a guy who flat out loves to score goals. He loves it more than anyone else in the league.
Led by Alexander Ovechkin, the Capitals are a team nobody wants to mess with. Ovechkin led the league in goals with 50 to go along with 71 points. Another Russian, Evgeny Kuznetsov led the team with 77 points, including 57 assist. They are great on the power play, great on the penalty kill and great in 5 on 5 hockey. What more could you want?
Oh yeah, a goaltender who tied the NHL record in win in a season.
Braden Holtby tied Martin Brodeur’s record of 48 wins in a season, playing in 12 fewer games. Holtby went 48-9-7 with a .922 save percentage and allowed just 2.20 goals per game.
As a team, the Capitals were second in the NHL in scoring, averaging 3.02 goals per game. They also gave up the second fewest goals in the league, giving up 2.33 goals per game. That is just fantastic. It will be very hard for the Flyers to upset the Capitals in this one.
The Flyers have talent, but just not enough to over come Ovechkin and the Capitals.
Led by Claude Giroux (22 goals, 67 points) the Flyers are a team on the rise. Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek are great players with different skills. Simmonds is a great player to have in a playoff setting. He is big, strong and plays with no fear. He can put the puck in the net and drops the mitts with anyone. Voracek is great at creating for his teammates with 44 assists on the season.
Shayne Gostisbehere played in just 64 games for the Flyers, but he made his presence known. The rookie defensemen had 46 points with 17 goals, which pretty impressive for a rookie, especially from the blue line. He will be in the talk for the Calder Trophy.
The Capitals will have too much power, from more players in this one. They will get the win and move on to round two.
Prediction: Capitals in 5
Metropolitan no. 2 Pittsburg Penguins v. Metropolitan no. 3 New York Rangers:
What a treat this will be. The Penguins and the Rangers are meeting for the second time in a row in the playoffs. This series is one fans should be most excited to watch.
Sidney Crosby (36 goals, 85 points) who has been on an absolute tear in the second half of the season leads the Penguins into the series. His supporting cast is no joke either.
Phil Kessel (26 goals, 59 points) skated in all 82 games for the Pens, and has been better than in previous seasons. Evgeni Malkin (27 goals, 58 points) played in only 57 games, but looks like he will miss some time. He is a big loss and Patric Hornquvist (22 goals, 51 points) will be one of the players that has to step up for the Penguins.
The Penguins have been playing great, using a second half surge to get them into the playoffs, but the experience of the Rangers is no joke, either.
Henrik Lundqvist makes the Rangers go, and the net minder was incredible again this season. He went 35-21-7 with 2.48 goals against average and a 9.20 save percentage.
Lundqvist is one of those goalies that a can steal a series.
Mats Zuccarello (26 goals, 61 points) put together a fine season along with Derick Brassard (27 goals, 58 points) and Derek Stepan. Their defense has been a bit of an issue, though.
Allowing 2.62 goals per game is not the Rangers’ way of doing things, usually. They will have to sharpen up on the blue line to contest the favored Penguins.
This series is going to be a lot of fun to watch and will go seven games. The Penguins, behind Crosby, will make it out alive.
Prediction: Penguins in 7
Atlantic Division Winner Florida Panthers v. Wild Card no. 1 New York Islanders:
The Florida Panthers are awesome to watch. They have young studs in Jonathan Huberdeau (20 goals, 59 points), Aleksander Barkov (28 goals, 59 points), Nick Bjugstad (15 goals, 34 points) and Aaron Ekblad (15 goals, 36 points). They are all great core players and will be a force for the next decade.
The Panthers are led by none other than 44-year-old-phenom Jaromir Jagr (27 goals, 66 points). Jagr has been a force, per usual, and leads a young cast of cats into the playoffs. The Panthers solid defense, allowing 2.44 goals per game will be a key for them, along with their young players playing big under the bright playoff lights.
The Islanders’ have their own studs in John Tavares (33 goals, 70 points), and Kyle Okposo (22 goals, 64 points) to lead them.
Tavares and Okposo will have to be stellar for the Islanders who eclipsed the 100-point mark and still only ended up with a Wild Card spot.
Blue liners Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuck will have to shut down Jagr and company to help out the goalie tandem of Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak. The Islanders played a great series against the Capitals in 2015, but the Panthers will be a tough challenge.
The mix of youth and experience should lead the Panthers to victory.
Prediction: Panthers in 7
Atlantic Division no. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning v. Atlantic Division no. 3 Detroit Red Wings:
Another treat in the east.
The Bolts and Wings are back it again after a crazy series in the 2015 playoffs. Both teams have plenty of talent, but the Bolts will be without star forward Steven Stamkos.
Stamkos is missing because of blood clots, and the Wings will have to take advantage of the Bolts missing one of their stars.
The Bolts will have to rely on Nikita Kucherov (30 goals, 66 points) and defensemen Victor Hedman (37 assists, 47 points) to lead them back to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Ben Bishop is great in net, saving 92 percent of shots faced and allowing 2.06 goals per game. He will have to be great to stop the Red Wings’ offense. Bishop is the main reason the Lightning has giving up only 2.41 goals per game.
The Red Wings are still led by Henrik Zetterberg (37 assist, 50 points) and Pavel Datsyuk (16 goals, 33 points) and the veterans will be huge for the Wings this postseason.
Datsyuk is set to retire from the NHL this season, and the Wings will need to continue using their depth to defeat the Lightning. Tomas Tatar, Dylan Larkin, Gustav Nyquist and Justin Abdelkader will have to play great for the Red Wings to continue their tradition.
After last season’s hiccup in the playoffs, a redemption shot at the Lightning should be enough for the Wings to get the motivation to knock off reigning Eastern Conference Champions.
Prediction: Red Wings in 6