Three more series are getting under way this evening with the Eastern Conference in this time. I expect higher scoring games than yesterday. Here are my thoughts:
- Toronto Maple Leafs (5) vs Boston Bruins (4)
All original 6 teams are in the playoffs this spring and this is the only match up between good old rivals. The Bruins have not been too hot lately and they came out flat last weekend to let Montreal get away with the Northeast division title. Still they will start the series at TD Garden with a second best home ice record in the Eastern Conference this season after Pittsburgh. The Leafs have been excellent on the road this year but they have not won in Boston. The outcome of the first two games in Boston will dictate the rest of the series. With only 3 goals in 22 career games against his former team, Phil Kessel’s performance will be a key to the Leafs’ success. This is his time to shine and produce. Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Jaromir Jagr are the ones to watch for Boston at the front. Tyler Seguin and Nathan Horton are barely a factor at this point. The Bruins had problems with scoring at times but with a good defense, good penalty killing % and a reliable Tuukka Rask in the net they can win in many ways. So can the Leafs. Randy Carlyle has experience in the playoffs. He built his team the way he wanted it to play and it paid off. They can hit and adjust to any type of games. The Bruins must forget their last 10 games of the season (3-5-2) and build from there. However they are not the same team they were two years ago and I believe Claude Julien’s job is on the block if the B’s are not playing anymore two weeks from now.
Prediction: Toronto in 7 games.
- New York Islanders (8) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (1)
The Penguins won 4 of their 5 games vs the Islanders in the regular season and they are going in the playoffs with a lot of confidence and a great record both on home ice and on the road. They have been the best team in the Eastern Conference and even with injured key players at the front and at the blue line they kept on winning. The presence of both veterans Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow is a major plus in terms of experience and leadership for their quest of the Cup. The Isles are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and they are on the rise with John Tavares leading the way. They don’t have the roster to compete with the Pens at this time. Nabokov is in my opinion superior to Fleury and Vokoun but for the Isles to move on to the second round they would have had to meet another team than Pittsburgh.
Prediction: Pittsburgh in 5.
- San Jose Sharks (6) vs Vancouver Canucks (3)
The Canucks remind me a lot of the Bruins this season and I believe Alain Vigneault’s job is also on the line if the Canucks take an early exit against the Sharks. These two teams met in the Western Conference Finals two years ago and both rosters are not that different. The Sharks are playing well at home while they were 8-14-2 away this season and Vancouver is not a friendly place to play especially during the playoffs. Both teams are in the top 10 in the league for goals for per game and for goals against per game. Special teams and face off winning % are favorable to the Sharks. I would go with San Jose as winner of a long series but I believe goaltending will make the difference for the Canucks.
Prediction: Vancouver in 6.
I shall be back tomorrow with a final post on the first round playoffs predictions as two series in the Eastern Conference are starting. They are not easy ones to figure out either.