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The NHL Stanley Cup playoffs are finally set and the first round matchups are awesome. There are going to be some very good teams that are going to be out after playing only a few games. All 8 teams in the Eastern Conference are talented enough to win the Stanley Cup so these matchups are going to be extremely difficult to predict.
Florida Panthers 1st in the Atlantic Division vs. Washington Capitals the 2nd Wild-Card: The Panthers finished the regular season with the most points (122) in the entire NHL. They scored 340 goals which is 25 more than Toronto who finished 2nd. They also had the most wins with 58. This is an explosive, exciting team that was so consistent all year. They are the clear favorites to come out of the East, but they have very little tradition and experience to fall back on and that could be a concern. Meanwhile, Washington lost 5 of their final 6 games, and blew a golden opportunity to finish in 3rd in the Metropolitan division and avoid this first round matchup. They were up and down all season and at times had trouble stopping teams. The slump they are in is disturbing, but any team with Alex Ovechkin is dangerous. I think Florida is the best team, obviously, and it is going to take a unbelievable effort from the Capitals to win this series. I’ll take Florida in 5 or 6.
Toronto Maple Leafs 2nd in the Atlantic Division vs. Tampa Bay 3rd in the Atlantic Division: The Leafs ended the season with 115 points and finished the year on a 9-2-1 run. They are explosive offensively and a great regular season. They have to brush aside the criticism and pressure they are going to face from the media in Canada, about their repeated failures getting out of the first round the last few years. They are capable of making a deep run. However, they might have received the worst draw in the first round having to play the 2-time defending champion Tampa Bay the Lightning. Tampa won 5 of their last 6 and are primed and ready to begin the defense of their title. They have the talent, and more importantly, the experience necessary to win the Stanley Cup. If you believe in the law of averages, it is a fact it is extremely difficult to win three titles in a row. But, it any team can do it, it is the Lightning. This series is too difficult to predict, I’ll just say it’s probably going the distance.
Carolina Hurricanes 1st in the Metro Division vs. Boston Bruins The 1st Wild-Card Team: The Hurricanes had a great year winning 54 games and finishing with 116 total points. They gave up the fewest goals of any of the other 16 teams in the playoffs, but they can score goals as well. They finished the regular season on an 8-2 run and are in top form. They also are very difficult to beat home as they amassed a 29-8-4 record in Charlotte. The Bruins have the experience of always making the playoffs on their side. However, they have struggled offensively at times and they will need some scoring from all 4 of their lines. Their defense is solid and these games should be low-scoring. We have a matchup of an experienced Boston Bruins team against a more talented, but less tested playoff team in Carolina. I like Carolina in 6.
New York Rangers 2nd in the Metropolitan Division vs. Pittsburgh Penguins 3rd in the Metropolitan: The Rangers are one of the lowest scoring teams in the playoffs, yet they won 52 games and ended up with 110 points. They are a tight-checking defensive minded bunch and they usually get very solid goaltending. They finished the year on an 8-3-1 run and will be a tough to knock out. The Penguins held off the Capitals for 3rd place, but it was mainly because the Capitals collapsed down the stretch. Pittsburgh finished the regular season going 4-5-3 down the stretch. They are a good playoff team and have the necessary experience. This is another tough series to predict and it should go at least 6 games. I’ll give the slight nod to the Rangers.
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