2019 NHL Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

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2019 EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF PREVIEW

The stage is set and the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs are officially ready to get underway. As always, the Eastern Conference is anyone’s to take and features some of the strongest teams in the league. There is the seemingly untouchable Tampa Bay Lightning who finished the regular season with a dominant 128 points. Then there are the defending champion Washington Capitals who once again topped the Metropolitan Division for the fourth straight season.

There are familiar faces with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets returning to the fray for another tilt at the cup, however, there are some new stories on the east coast as well. The New York Islanders, whom at the start of the season lost John Tavares to the Maple Leafs but gained Capitals’ cup-winning coach Barry Trotz, return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. And then there are the Carolina Hurricanes who have kept us entertained all season long with their crowd pleasing ‘storm surge’ celebrations. The Canes clinched the first wild card spot and will make their first playoff appearance in 10 years.

Let’s take a look at how the Eastern Conference stacks up in 2019.

 

Tampa Bay Lightning (A1) vs Columbus Blue Jackets (WC2)

Wednesday, April 10, 7 p.m.: Blue Jackets @ Lightning | USA, SN360, TVA Sports

Friday, April 12, 7 p.m.: Blue Jackets @ Lightning | CNBC, SN360, TVA Sports

Sunday, April 14, 7 p.m.: Lightning @ Blue Jackets | NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports

Tuesday, April 16, 7 p.m.: Lightning @ Blue Jackets | CNBC, SN360, TVA Sports

*Friday, April 19, TBD: Blue Jackets @ Lightning | TBD

*Sunday, April 21, TBD: Lightning @ Blue Jackets | TBD

*Tuesday, April 23, TBD: Blue Jackets @ Lightning | TBD

Key Players

Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Alex Killorn (17) celebrates scoring a goal with Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) during the third period in a game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 04, 2019, at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario Canada. The Tampa Bay Lightning won 3-1. (Photo by Nick Turchiaro/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Lightning: Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point and Andrei Vasilevskiy

Blue Jackets: Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson, Seth Jones and Sergei Bobrovsky

Head To Head

Tampa Bay have swept the regular season series in their match ups with the Blue Jackets for the last two seasons. Since 2014-15, the Bolts are 11-4-0 against Columbus.

The Lowdown

If you base this series entirely on statistics, on paper, the Lightning will move through to the second round with ease. These two teams have never faced off in a playoff series and Columbus has never won a playoff series. The Blue Jackets face arguably the most dangerous team in the NHL right now.

Andrei Vasilevskiy will take confidence into the series after his 31 saves and 4-0 shutout over Columbus on January 8 and with weapons such as Art Ross Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov (128 points).

For the Blue Jackets, top point scorer Artemi Panaran will be leading the charge and coach John Tortorella will be facing the team he led to the 2004 Stanley Cup. The big question for the Blue Jackets will be if they can face their playoff demons having never one a series? They gave the Capitals a run for their money last year. However, I can’t see them giving the Lightning the same challenge.

Prediction

This should be a relatively easy one for the Lightning but the Blue Jackets may get a small taste of playoff victory. Lighting in 5.

 

Boston Bruins (A2) vs Toronto Maple Leafs (A3)

Thursday, April 11, 7 p.m.: Maple Leafs @ Bruins | NBCSN, SN, CBC, TVA Sports

Saturday, April 13, 8 p.m.: Maple Leafs @ Bruins | NBC, CBC, TVA Sports

Monday, April 15, 7 p.m.: Bruins @ Maple Leafs | CBC, TVA Sports, NBCSN

Wednesday, April 17, 7 p.m.: Bruins @ Maple Leafs | CBC, TVA Sports, NBCSN

*Friday, April 19, TBD: Maple Leafs @ Bruins | TBD

*Sunday, April 21, TBD: Bruins @ Maple Leafs | TBD

*Tuesday, April 23, TBD: Maple Leafs @ Bruins | TBD

Key Players: 

Boston Bruins Goalie Tuukka Rask (40) keeps a close eye on the puck, and protects the corner of the net. During the Boston Bruins game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on April 06, 2019 at TD Garden in Boston, MA. (Photo by Michael Tureski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Bruins: David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Tuukka Rask

Maple Leafs: Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and Frederik Andersen

Head to Head

The Bruins took home the regular season series against the Maple Leafs with a 3-1-0 record and have the home ice advantage for this first round series which puts the odds in their favour.

The Lowdown

It is familiar territory for these two Atlantic Division teams, having met in the first round in the 2018 Playoffs. The Bruins took that series 4-3 which will no doubt still sting for the Maple Leafs, who gave up four third period goals to be bundled out in Game 7.

The sides have met 16 times in the postseason and Boston have tasted cup victory as recently as 2011. For Toronto, it has been a long dry spell with their last Stanley Cup coming in 1967. The Leafs do have an exciting team to watch and the injection of former Islander John Tavares (88 points this season) to a line up that already boasts the likes of Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and Morgan Rielly has been a successful addition this season.

Related: John Tavares Eclipses 300-career Goals

Goaltender Frederik Andersen holds a .914 SV% for the regular season and GAA of 2.77 and will be looking to take his consistent form into the postseason.

In Boston, things are looking up for the Bruins, finishing the regular season second in the conference behind the Lightning. Key names such as Marchand (who cracked the 100 point mark) along with Bergeron and Pastrnak will be the players that need to fire and the Bruins possess a strong amount of depth to push this series to the brink.

Prediction

Like last season, I expect this one to go the distance but I feel Toronto will be propelled by their strong forward line and spurred on by past disappointment. Maple Leafs in 7.

 

Washington Capitals (M1) vs Carolina Hurricanes (WC1)

Thursday, April 11, 7:30 p.m.: Hurricanes @ Capitals | USA, SN360, TVA Sports

Saturday, April 13, 3 p.m.: Hurricanes @ Capitals | NBC, SN, TVA Sports

Monday, April 15, 7 p.m.: Capitals @ Hurricanes | CNBC, SN, TVA Sports

Thursday, April 18, 7 p.m.: Capitals @ Hurricanes | SN360, TVA Sports

*Saturday, April 20, TBD: Hurricanes @ Capitals | TBD

*Monday, April 22, TBD: Capitals @ Hurricanes | TBD

*Wednesday, April 24, TBD: Hurricanes @ Capitals | TBD

Key Players

Carolina Hurricanes Defenceman Jaccob Slavin (74) leads the team in a skol clap and Storm Surge after winning a game between the Carolina Hurricanes and the New Jersey Devils at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC on November 18, 2018. (Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Capitals: Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson and Braden Holtby

Hurricanes: Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Justin Williams and Petr Mrazek

Head to Head

The Capitals took the regular season series with a 3-0-1 record over the Hurricanes and with the reigning cup champions finishing first in the Metropolitan Division and the Hurricanes clinching the first wildcard spot, Washington will take a slice of confidence into this series.

The Lowdown

Yet another example of a playoff match up that has never occurred and there is some excitement surrounding the Caps/Canes series. The Capitals proved last season that they have what it takes to go all the way and the Hurricanes are riding a fairy tale season and a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

For the Caps, captain Alex Ovechkin (who claimed the Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard Tropy for the eighth time) will be leading by example and with a line up that possesses a great amount of depth (Oshie, Wilson, Kuznetsov, Carlson) and a few new faces (Hagelin, Jensen), the Capitals have the ability to move the puck well and score when it counts. They will be brimming with confidence as the face Carolina.

Many believe that the bright lights of the playoffs may be all too much for the inexperienced Hurricanes however, they have proven a contender throughout the 2018-19 season, finishing just shy of the 99 point mark. All Star representative Sebastian Aho will be the one to watch for Canes fans, having led the Canes in scoring (30 goals) and points (83 points) this season. Former Capital and current Hurricanes Captain Justin Williams will no doubt push his team to their absolute limit in what is going to be a highly entertaining series

Prediction

The Hurricanes will put on a show and we may even see a Playoff style ‘Storm Surge’ but the Capitals experience will shine through. Capitals in 5.

 

New York Islanders (M2) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (M3)

Wednesday, April 10, 7:30 p.m.: Penguins @ Islanders | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports

Friday, April 12, 7:30 p.m.: Penguins @ Islanders | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports

Sunday, April 14, 12 p.m.: Islanders @ Penguins | NBC, SN, CBC, TVA Sports

Tuesday, April 16, 7:30 p.m.: Islanders @ Penguins | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports

*Thursday, April 18, TBD: Penguins @ Islanders | TBD

*Saturday, April 20, TBD: Islanders @ Penguins | TBD

*Monday, April 22, TBD: Penguins @ Islanders | TBD

Key Players

New York Islanders goaltender Thomas Greiss (1) goes low as the puck is played right in front of him during the Detroit Red Wings game versus the New York Islanders on March 16, 2019, at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Islanders: Matthew Barzal, Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson and Anders Lee

Penguins: Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Jake Guentzel and Matt Murray

Head to Head

In what have been some tight matchups, the Islanders finished with a 2-1-1 record for the regular season.

The Lowdown

After being in the spotlight over the off-season with the acquisition of Barry Trotz as Head Coach and the departure of John Tavares, the New York Islanders proved to be an unknown entity leading into the 2018-19 season. However, they have finished second in the Metropolitan Division and goaltenders Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss claimed the William M. Jennings trophy for fewest goals allowed (196) throughout the season.

The Isles have played the team game throughout the regular season and have put themselves in a strong position to challenge throughout the playoffs with top point scorer Matthew Barzal along with Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson and captain Anders Lee leading the way for Trotz’s men who will be lining up in the playoffs for the first time in three years. Will their lack of experience prove to be their Achilles’ heel?

On the other side of that question lies a team no stranger to the hype and pace of the playoffs. Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. In what will be their thirteenth straight playoffs appearance (which has included three Stanley Cups in 2009, 2016 and 2017). Although not as dominant as Penguins teams of the past, Pittsburgh are the new Detroit in regards to the team that everyone expects to be in the mix come the postseason.

Driven by the strength of names like Crosby and Kessel the Penguins know how to win. But don’t expect the Islanders to lie down. They play a very solid team game. It’s this series that could prove to be the upset of the Eastern Conference and it well may happen with this confident Islanders team.

Prediction

I can see this one being a see saw. Islanders in 6.

 

Written by Chris McRae / @ChrisMcRae04

Special to HockeyClan

 

 

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