The regular season is over, and it’s time for NHL Playoffs. Preview the Eastern conference and you see the strength they carry. All 8 playoff teams from the East finished the regular season over 100 points. Let’s take a look at the first round matchups for the Atlantic division. Panthers finished first in the division and the NHL with 122 points, Maple Leafs in second with 115, and the Lightning took third with 110. The Capitals will join their corner of the bracket from the Metropolitan division as they took the 2nd wild card slot and must face the top seed.
Panthers (1A) vs Capitals (2WC)
With the Presidents Trophy in their grasp, the Panthers now look to claim their first Stanley Cup. The highlight of their season has been having a +94 goal differential. Part of that has been their impressive play from Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight in goal. However, you don’t reach that goal differential by chance. With four players at 30+ goals and a player over 100 points, you can easily reach an impressive 337 goals as a team for the regular season. They even had a few of their defensemen creep up in their teams points race with Aaron Ekblad and MacKenzie Weegar racking up some quality assists Their team first mentality has helped them all year. Don’t think they’re going to let a “curse” keep them from the Cup.
Ever since their Cup win in 2018, the Capitals have not been the same team. Three consecutive years of a first round exit, and two coaching changes hasn’t been easy on the club. Nonetheless, they are still a contender. With a goalscorer like Alexander Ovechkin, and assist man Evgeny Kuznetsov they will always be a possible winner. That being said, they have turned a little into a one dimensional team. They have a below average power play, and a slightly above average penalty kill. Their biggest problem comes in net, with Ilya Samsonov posting a save percentage of .896, worst of all the Eastern playoff teams goalies.
I look to see the Capitals put up a fight, but the feeling is that the Panthers are going to be a little too overwhelming. Depending on the status of Ovechkin too, they may start the series without him after his collision into the boards a few games before the end of the year. Bobrovsky wants a cup, bad. Having never lifted it, the 33 year old netminder may just have a few tricks up his sleeve to help his team advance this year.
My pick, Panthers in 5.
Maple Leafs (2A) vs Lightning (3A)
Now the sixth season in a row the Maple Leafs have made the playoffs, they look to make it past the first round for the first time since 2013. There is a massive monkey on their back. Having the Rocket Richard winner does lighten the mode a little. However nothing short of a Cup final will satisfy the hungry fans in Toronto. Obviously their hope is for Auston Matthews to lead the way, but he will need support for a deep run. Michael Bunting will look to make a statement as a rookie, while John Tavares continues to fight for his place on the Cup. Put it all together, and they have a strong offense that beat up defense and posted a +62 differential. Their only question mark will be the reliability of Jake Campbell. He’s known to shut games down, but also has been battling injuries.
With winning the Cup back to back already, the Lightning look to make it a 3 peat. Possible yes, with a fair amount of their team still in tact they can make a run. Obviously with the Smythe winner, and runner up for the Vezina last season, they have full faith in Andrei Vasilevskiy. Why shouldn’t you? He once again has posted stellar numbers with nearly the same save percentage as last season with 20 more games. Once again too, he has a strong offense in front of him. Steven Stamkos finished the year with 106 points and played all but one game.
This matchup will be full of emotion. A team that has struggled to get to the second round, and a team that is returning to defend their title… again. Stamkos and Matthews dueling it out as the top offensive players, but it’s the amount of support they get that will determine this series. It could come down to special teams though. The Lightning are the second highest in the League for penalty minutes, while their opponent finished the season as the top power play converting team. If, the Lightning can keep it clean and stay out of the box, they will save themselves some heart ache.
My pick, Lightning in 7.
Eastern conference playoff hockey is a sight to behold. Enjoy these series along with the rest of the playoff hockey this spring. Stick to Fantom Sports for all your sports reading!
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