The Series Breakdown will take an in-depth look into each of the series in the Eastern Conference Playoffs First Round action. This will include: the top players to look for, which players could be the breakout stars, and a series prediction.
1. New York Rangers vs. 8. Pittsburgh Penguins
Here is where familiarity breeds contempt, better known as the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Rangers did not make this much of a contest in the regular season, and the last matchup was a 5-2 trouncing of the Penguins. It will be the type of series where a player like Chris Kreider should thrive, much like last year. Everyone remembers the Rangers were down three games to one when Kreider returned to the lineup and instantly sparked the Rangers. Pittsburgh will not have Kris Letang in this series, and that will be tough to recover from. While New York has been one of the healthiest teams, Pittsburgh has been among the five most banged up teams and can barely come up with six NHL caliber defensemen (some will debate this). If there was a series for Rick Nash to pile up the points, this might be it. It makes Kevin Hayes a nice breakout candidate as well. His points/60 were staggering in the final weeks of the season. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are going to get their points, but who in the depth roles will be there to pick up the slack once the top two lines are locked up.
Players to Watch
- Rick Nash
- Chris Kreider
- Sidney Crosby
- Marc-Andre Fleury
Kevin Hayes of the Rangers. Once Lee Stempniak was traded, confidence seemed to rise in the forward, as he was not only given more ice time, but his role was increased his well. Hayes provides a balance of power and speed that can be tough to stop in the playoffs, especially for a team that is depleted defensively like the Penguins are. The Rangers can roll out their pace over four lines, and Hayes comes as the icing on the cake. He will be a handful for Pittsburgh to handle.
I have the Rangers over the Penguins in five games. The only way Pittsburgh makes this is a series is if they remember what they did last year against New York early on in that series. Now, the problem is with all the injuries, that task will be made that much more difficult. Pittsburgh may be able to keep it close, but the Rangers are just too balanced.
2. Montreal Canadiens vs. 7. Ottawa Senators
You have two goalies that are absolutely on top of their game. Andrew Hammond is 20-1-2 which is ridiculous. Carey Price is not only a runaway Vezina winner for best goalie, but he may just win the Hart Trophy for MVP. This is going to be a series where the injury status of Max Pacioretty could go a long way in determining the series. As of now, Pacioretty was not on a line in practice, so keep an eye out for the latest. The young guns in Ottawa (Mark Stone, Mika Zinbanejad, Mike Hoffman) could be a real twist in this series. People forget that Mark Stone was one of the hottest players in the second half. It sounds crazy, but Carey Price is going to have to steal games in this series, as Ottawa has more offensive talent.
Players to Watch
- Max Pacioretty
- Carey Price
- Mark Stone
- Erik Karlsson
Here is where we go in a different direction and go with Mike Hoffman. His speed and hands are going to be much needed in the playoffs. Yes we could put Mark Stone here, but everyone knows about him now. Will he get the power play time Hoffman started to get later in the season? That is the big question. Keep an eye out for him anyway, as he could really surprise.
Montreal will take down Ottawa in seven games. It will be a tough series, but Carey Price is a true difference maker, where, at some point, Andrew Hammond may finally show some weaknesses. People forget that the format of a playoff series almost creates a lean on momentum.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning vs. 6. Detroit Red Wings
This is where we find out about Tampa Bay. Detroit can be a tough team to play against; although, the last 30-35 games were not exactly a great stretch. Tampa has a habit of keeping teams in games, and this could come back to haunt them. Their offensive potential cannot be disputed, however. The triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Nikita Kucherov will be a stacked line in GPP’s, but watch for Steven Stamkos, Henrik Zetterberg, and Pavel Datsyuk in cash games. An interesting wrinkle will be Petr Mrazek, who will start in Game 1. Ben Bishop’s first playoff series in Tampa will also be something to keep an eye on, as well. Can Tampa Bay limit the scoring chances that they did not last year? That’s the question.
Players to Watch
- Tyler Johnson
- Ben Bishop
- Pavel Datsyuk
- Petr Mrazek
This is again where I’ll go in a bit of a different direction and side with Anton Stralman. It will not be from the true, conventional point production, but more from the blocked shots and shots on goal. Stralman’s game seems to go up a notch in the playoffs, and his regular season was very good as it was. In the playoffs, it is all about finding unexpected sources for points, and the price should be right on the defenseman.
Tampa will beat Detroit in six games. This will be a tougher series than most will give it credit for, but ultimately, the Lightning have too much depth, and the Red Wings have not shown an ability to flip the switch here in the second half.
4. New York Islanders vs. 5. Washington Capitals
This could be a series where everything goes out the window. There are lots of questions: Does Jaroslav Halak revert back to his early season form? Will Braden Holtby finally figure out the Islanders? There is also the Washington power play versus the Islanders penalty kill, which in of itself should be worth the price of admission just to see what Alex Ovechkin and company can do. Washington, however, disappears for long stretches at 5 on 5, and that is an area where John Tavares often thrives. The Islanders are the new kids on the playoff block, and that youthful exuberance may prove a little more than we expect.
Players to Watch
- Alex Ovechkin
- Braden Holtby
- John Tavares
- Jaroslav Halak
Ryan Strome would be an obvious choice for everyone, but Anders Lee gets the nod here. Lee is probably one of the most versatile forwards the Islanders have. He can be a threat shorthanded or on the power play. His speed and power moves at even strength could be a real game changer in a series expected to see lots of turning points.
The New York Islanders will win in seven over the Washington Capitals. This may very well be the craziest series of the first round, so my suggestion is just go along for the ride. You will be glad that you did.